Monday 24 October 2016

Trump's cloak of invincibility slips while Hillary can take comfort in spite of 'tie'

Niall O'Dowd

Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30

'Trump’s refusal to do that debate came back to haunt him.' Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
'Trump’s refusal to do that debate came back to haunt him.' Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The 'New York Daily News' headline said it all: "Dead Clown Walking", with a picture of Donald Trump with a clown's red nose after his shocking defeat in Iowa.

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Meanwhile, the 'New York Post' led with "Cruzified" with a glum and tired-looking Trump staring off the page. For Rupert Murdoch, it was a long-awaited take down of a hated rival who had dissed Murdoch's Fox News and the final debate because of what he claimed was bias by panellist Megyn Kelly.

In fact, Trump's refusal to do that debate came back to haunt him. Iowans who decided their vote during the final week went overwhemingly against him.

But back in his native city, the whoops of joy could be heard. Welcome to New York, where the one-time hometown hero and fawned-over gossip magnet was reduced to tabloid titter as gleeful New Yorkers looked on.

Liberal New York had been awaiting this day but was surprised it had come so soon. The hatred of immigrants, the desire to close American borders to Muslims, the sabre rattling about bombing Syria had all reduced Trump from local and national celebrity to comparisons with Hitler in his early days.

Ashamed New Yorkers, who knew Trump as a moderate Republican for decades with quite mainstream views, were disgusted.

However, according to the polls, the GOP followers had seemed to be eating it up.

But like with the British election, the pollsters had it spectacularly wrong, showing Trump leading by an average of seven points heading into the caucuses.

Trump seemed to have defied the laws of political gravity, using only an air game, flying in on his Trump jet and speaking to big rallies. He had no ground game, very little knocking on doors, or making phone calls.

Senator Ted Cruz was doing the very opposite, visiting all 99 of Iowa's counties, putting a huge workforce on the ground and spending endless days in Iowa. Yet the polls showed him slipping.

But the result quickly proved that old ways were best. The reality is that Iowans were not impressed by the aeronautics. The Iowa caucuses proved that there is a line between celebrity gawking and actual political support.

What many Iowans suspected was that Trump's massive crowds were drawn by his fame as much as any political backing. Folks in Iowa don't meet many celebrities other than the John Deere tractor salesman. Trump was a space oddity, a deus ex machina dropping from the skies on their cornfields and wheatfields,a magnificent man in a flying machine.

But he was too exotic a creature with too many flip flops for the homespun Iowa rural population who embrace their God and their guns in almost equal measure.

Of course, Trump can still come roaring back but the inevitability factor is now gone. Had he won Iowa and then New Hampshire, he was likely unbeatable for the nomination. Senator Marco Rubio's close third finally gives the establishment someone to wrap around with funding and support.

Defeat was never a word in Trump's dictionary and it comes harder for him than any other candidate, given his obsession with winning. He is now at the point where he needs badly to win in New Hampshire or the great cloak of invincibility will become a tattered garment.

Over on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton appeared to have eked out the narrowest of victories in what essentially became a tie.

Eight years ago, Hillary lost to a storming outsider named Barack Obama. This time around it was not as dramatic but Bernie Sanders put her to the pin of her collar.

Like all ties, both sides can claim moral victories and assume the mantle of front runner.

But there was hardly a state more set up for Sanders than Iowa.

It was 95pc white and he leads in large numbers among white men, and he had no Hispanic or black voters in any real numbers to worry about.

He will enjoy the same luxury in New Hampshire as well as being from the next state over.

Clinton's strategy was she had to win in either Iowa or new Hampshire in the early primaries or face a much tougher race.

She got half a loaf in Iowa which was certainly a lot better than eight years ago and her underdog status in New Hampshire will suit her. Eight years ago after losing Iowa, she went to New Hampshire 11 points behind and pulled off a dramatic victory. She will be hoping for the same.

Sanders has proven a doughty warrior and the Clintons will ignore him at their peril.

The other change has been that it is far less likely she or Sanders would face their dream candidate, Donald Trump, in the election proper. It would be a brave person who would predict right now who will occupy the Oval Office come late January 2017.

Finally, a note about former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who dropped out of the race after a very disappointing showing in Iowa.

The Irish American seemed to have an excellent chance when he entered the race but Sanders quickly stole a march and never looked back as Hillary's main opponent. O'Malley's campaign ended in tears, proving again just what a tough game politics really is. He will be back, I predict.

Irish Independent

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