Trump’s aura fades, expectations shift after his Iowa defeat

Candidates now head to New Hampshire, where tycoon-turned-politician is expected to win

Donald Trump in Iowa on Monday, after conceding his defeat to Ted Cruz.
Donald Trump in Iowa on Monday, after conceding his defeat to Ted Cruz.CARLOS BARRIA (REUTERS)
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The defeat of the business mogul and showman Donald Trump in Iowa on Monday breaks the suspense of the last few months. Yes, Trump – the man who boastfully predicted his unbreakable winning streak, and who said that, with him as president, the United States would get back to winning – is a mere mortal after all. His aura of invincibility, which was as irritating as it was frightening for some, is fading after his loss in the Iowa caucuses to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a classic conservative candidate who has the backing of the Christian right.

The Republican campaign to put one of their own in the White House after Democratic President Barack Obama leaves is entering a new phase. After Iowa, the next state to vote will be New Hampshire, on February 9.

Trump jumped into the race last summer like a UPO – an unidentified political object

Neither Iowa nor New Hampshire – two small states with 3.1 and 1.2 million residents, respectively, in a country of 300 million – will decide the nomination but they are used as vetting processes to trim down the list of party candidates and make some predictions about the possible results.

The unknown factor in this campaign has been the phenomenon surrounding Trump, who is not a classic politician but a man who is better known for his skyscrapers, casinos, and reality TV shows than for his ideas. He jumped into the race last summer like a UPO – an unidentified political object. He attracted large crowds at his gatherings, monopolized hours and hours of TV and despite predictions to the contrary, he remained at the top of voter polls thanks to his offensive language and unpredictable style, which defied all laws of civility and electoral conduct. A mix of clown and demagogue, his rise shook up the political world and media coverage. At a time when there is widespread discontent regarding the role of society’s elites, he knew how to push the right buttons.

But the phenomenon had to be put to the infallible test: voting. First, the Trump bubble has not burst. Earning second place in Iowa should not be considered a bad outcome for a multimillionaire New Yorker who refused to campaign the way other politicians have to in this state: door-to-door, with long days on the road and nights in motels.

Trump fed his followers the illusion that they would stop being losers and become winners once more. But now, for the first time, Donald Trump is a loser

But it is a terrible result given the expectations he set up for himself and that everyone – the media and his rivals included – helped to heighten.

The bubble has not burst but it’s coming down to Earth. Trump told voters that since he has always won in life and in business, if they took him to the White House, the United States would win again after years of decline. There was no insult worse than “loser” in his vocabulary. He fed his followers – many of them Caucasian men of European descent, who have felt the impact of the storms that have shaken up the middle class in this country – the illusion that they would stop being losers and become winners once more. But now, for the first time, Donald Trump is a loser. In fact, he lost twice. First, he lost the caucuses in Iowa. Ted Cruz received 27 percent of the votes, Trump followed with 24 percent and Marco Rubio with 23 percent. Second, Trump lost his magic touch in Iowa. He has lost the ability to deny predictions of his eventual demise.

He even accused his own voters of not appreciating the fact that he has financed his own campaign instead of taking donations

Cruz, son of a Cuban Protestant pastor, defeated Trump thanks to his solid organization and because he was able to mobilize evangelical Protestants, who make up 60 percent of Republicans in Iowa. There is some doubt about whether Cruz can rally Republican votes in other states.

In the aftermath of Iowa, Trump published a series of messages on Twitter in which he blamed the press for interpreting the Iowa caucus incorrectly. In his opinion, being in second place is a good result. And he accused his own voters of not appreciating the fact that he has financed his own campaign instead of taking donations.

Still, Trump is not finished yet. He is expected to win in New Hampshire’s primary and he strongly appeals to some who are clearly dissatisfied. But he is no longer unbeatable. His bullying style may be less effective now. He has learned that an electoral campaign in the United States is more complicated than a reality TV show or a Manhattan real estate deal.

English version by Dyane Jean Francois.

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