Donald Trump bid badly wounded in Iowa

Story highlights

  • Ted Cruz won the Republican Iowa caucuses on Monday night
  • Tim Stanley: Cruz had an amazing ground operation where Donald Trump relied too much on national exposure

Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Donald Trump must be very disappointed to discover that three quarters of Iowa Republicans are weak, low energy and have no interest in making America great again. The rest of the country, meanwhile, has been reminded that the Iowa caucus is a cruel thing to navigate. Many a high-profile, nationally popular campaign has been destroyed on those rocks. Trump's ship isn't sunk, but it'll be taking on water.

You might ask why so many people are surprised by this result. Ted Cruz was always a strong contender, yapping at Trump's heels -- while Marco Rubio had been rising slowly in the polls for some time. History, as I previously argued, was also on Cruz's side. A lot of Iowans traditionally make up their minds at the last minute; the state favors religious conservatives; and Cruz had an amazing ground operation where Trump relied too much on national exposure.
Timothy Stanley
The reason why we were reluctant to tip Cruz as the likely winner, however, was because we were all suckered by The Donald's hype. Trump -- who has never run for office before and, therefore, never actually won an election -- did a great impression of someone who was already the nominee. He scooped Sarah Palin's endorsement, along with a few prominent evangelicals, and oozed that brash self-confidence of a man who is virtually unstoppable.
    And polling suggests that Trump did indeed bring many new people into the caucus process. The problem is so did Cruz and Rubio -- resulting in a historically high turnout. And both those men enjoyed an anti-establishment dynamic of their own. Cruz won the votes of those who described themselves as very conservative: he is despised by the Washington elite, is anti-ethanol subsidies in a state that deifies them and has a reputation for shutting down government just to make a point. A vote for Cruz was as much a vote of protest as a vote for Trump.
    Likewise, a vote for Marco Rubio may well have been a vote of protest against Cruz and Trump. Rubio appears to have done well among those with a college education -- a fact that bodes well in future primaries. Republican primary participants tend to be, proportionately, a little more male, older, richer and better educated than the general citizenry.
    Even Ben Carson, lest we forget him, got a sound 9% and finished way ahead of Jeb Bush -- the man with the big bucks. Iowa has traditionally been nice to Bushes. It voted for George H. W. Bush against Ronald Reagan in 1980, and it kick-started George W. Bush's race to the presidency in 2000. Jeb's defeat was a humiliation.
    Where does all of this leave us? It's not as clear as you might think.
    Ted Cruz has a bounce but will be eclipsed in a lot of media chatter about Trump's defeat and Rubio's rise. Trump obviously isn't going anywhere -- he's still way ahead in polling in New Hampshire. But he's badly wounded. The Trump pitch was always that he was a winner. He won by promising to win. Now that he's lost, his halo of golden hair will slip.
    As for Rubio, he faces the problem that he still only came in third. In New Hampshire, his vote will be split with that of Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. Neither took Iowa too seriously in the past few days, so they won't see their own vote as a verdict on their candidacies. They have every right to stay in. Ergo, New Hampshire may well go to Donald Trump and the campaign will remain tight for a lot longer.
    There is something rather wonderful in all of this.
    Having dominated the headlines for so long, Trump's campaign created an establishment vibe of its very own. It was top down in its approach -- hinging on the attractiveness of the man rather than the efforts of grass-roots activists.
    Iowa showed that this isn't good enough. American democracy still prefers candidates to go from door to door and picnic to picnic, shaking hands. Trump is going have to conquer his self-confessed germophobia if he's going to win