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February 02, 2016

The Big Loss For Donald Trump: The Dog That Didn't Bark

Before getting to that, let me pass along a theory from Pat Caddell. Pat Caddell noted that New Hampshire voted for Clinton in 2008, after Obama had won Iowa.

He doesn't think New Hampshire really loved Clinton. Rather, given that Obama had won Iowa, New Hampshire voters were confronted with a dilemma: If we vote for Obama, essentially Obama is the winner of the entire primary. Back to back wins will make him nigh-unstoppable.

Caddell's idea is that it wasn't that New Hampshire was really backing Clinton, so much as it was saying "Let's make sure this Obama is really acceptable, let's have a longer nomination process."

He thinks that given all the talk that if Trump won Iowa (given his big lead in New Hampshire) that the nomination would be all but his caused Iowa voters, this time, to take a step back and ask: Do we really want such a short nomination process? Are we really entirely comfortable with Trump? Maybe we should keep kicking the tires on this thing a while longer and vote for Cruz (and also, the huge third-place finisher who really won everything, Marco Rubio).

That's a theory. However, here's another important consideration.

All along, I have been open to the idea of a Trump candidacy on the possibility that there was an X Factor lurking out there, a mass of voters -- doesn't have to be huge, just 2-3% would be plenty big -- who were disaffected from the political system but who could be induced into it by the Trump candidacy.

Personally, I felt like Iowa in Caddell's theory. I was interested in this idea, while not being convinced it was actually accurate. I, too, wanted a longer nomination process to test this theory of Democrats crossing over to Trump, and long-alienated Perot/Buchanan voters rejoining the process.

Trump's second place finish is not some huge setback -- except that it calls into question the size of this hypothesized block of Trump voters willing to vote for Trump but not other candidates.

Trump's three big selling points are his position on immigration, his rejection of politically correct norms, and the possibility he can motivate a large block of disaffected voters back into the political process.

After Iowa, I don't know how much juice this third consideration has in it. In a way, Trump's good performance with evangelicals is bad for him, because we already knew evangelicals had high voting rates -- that is, they were always already part of the political process. They were known votes.

Thus, to the extent you think Trump did well with evangelicals, you have to deduct those Already Known Voters from his hypothesized pool of Non-Voters Suddenly Becoming Voters.

While he probably does attract more of such voters than most -- and we can attribute a bit of the very high turnout to a few of those non-voters deciding to vote -- Trump's second-place finish suggests (though it does not prove) that Trump's X Factor might really be a rather less impressive Z Factor. Something that exists, but not in some kind of paradigm-disrupting size.

I suppose this is where entrance and exit polling could provide further tenuous clues.

But the big proof -- Trump rolls to a comfortable win in Iowa, powered by new voters -- did not happen. We're left with the possibility of lesser proofs, of a phenomenon of a lesser dimension.

It could be that Trump remains a viable candidate, and maybe even improves along the way (as he's improved already). But in the first big test of one of the most important justifications for his candidacy, he failed to deliver these long-sought-after Missing Voters.

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posted by Ace at 03:15 PM

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