Saturday 24 March 2018

Defeated and deflated: Trump party falls flat

After fuelling a campaign with bombast and pomp, Donald Trump failed to pass his first electoral test

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as his wife Melania watches at a caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as his wife Melania watches at a caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Ruth Sherlock

DONALD Trump was relying on a surge of rebel voters to win the election he had already claimed as his, but on Monday night they turned out in their thousands, only to back the candidate he had said "nobody liked".

Running a campaign based on bombast and pomp, Mr Trump believed he had energised a new movement in American politics - a populist revolt.

Buoyed by his own success Mr Trump had earlier in the day told his supporters at a rally in Cedar Rapids that he would soon be winning so much that they would be "sick of winning".

With nearly all of Iowa's precincts counted, Mr Cruz had 28 per cent of the vote to Mr Trump's 24 per cent.

And in an even greater humiliation for the Republican frontrunner, he almost also lost to Marco Rubio, the establishment choice that had been languishing in barely single digits in the polls but who surged to 23 per cent in the vote.

Read more: Cruz ahead of Trump, Democrat race tight as candidates move to New Hampshire

At the Donald Trump caucus "party", the atmosphere was anything but festive.

Mr Trump's concession speech was perhaps the shortest public appearance he has given in his long career.

It was smattered with the usual "winning" phrases: after congratulating his opponents, Mr Trump quickly moved on to the strength of his support in New Hampshire, the setting for the next primary race.

He even included some promises that were classic Trump: "Iowa we love you. You're very special," he told the crowd. "I think I might come back here and buy a farm."

But behind the pasted-on smile he seemed deflated.

Mr Trump family's barely concealed their disappointment.

The second they stepped away from the podium in at the Sheraton hotel in Des Moines the faces of his sons fell and darkened even further as the televisions around them blasted out the phrase 'this is Ted Cruz's night'.

The Republican frontrunner had worked hard in the state to erode support from Mr Cruz, the Texas senator running on a hard Right religious agenda.

He had tried to belittle him, describing him as the candidate that “nobody liked”.

Read more: US Election: Here are the takeaways from the Iowa caucuses

In an effort to woo the state's powerful evangelical voting bloc, Mr Trump hardened his stances on abortion (declaring himself pro-life when he has in the past suggested a more liberal position).

He brought out the bible and even enlisted the help of Jerry Falwell, the president of Liberty University, an evangelical institution that teaches against evolution.

But on the night, it seemed the evangelicals ultimately chose the man who they associated with the most: Mr Cruz, is the son of a pastor.

Pollsters had said that a high turnout would favour Mr Trump, as he drew voters to the polls who had been so previously disillusioned with American politics that they had "checked out" of the system long ago.

A record 185,000 people participated in this year's Iowa caucus, where the first votes of the US 2016 election were cast, according to Edison Research, which conducted entrance polls at precincts across the state.

But this show of force, with a turnout that included some 46 per cent of people who had never previously engaged in American politics, was not, ultimately on Mr Trump's side.

Supporters at the Mr Trump’s concession speech wandered around the room, where no drinks or food was allowed, watching the results come in with bewilderment.

After supporting a candidate that has predicted his whole campaign on winning, they were not expecting such a quick loss.

"I am really disappointed," said one young Trump supporter, who, feeling a little humiliated, did not want to be named. "Rubio washed out the Trump vote. People chose more with their feelings than they did their head. That's not what we need in choosing a president."

Others tried to put a brave face on the loss, saying that Iowans have not traditionally chosen the candidate who ultimately becomes the nominee. “This is a good omen,” said one supporter. “He will win New Hampshire next, and then he will win, win, win.”

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