In a post-caucus analysis, the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, identified six factors causing Donald Trump’s surprise second place finish whereas polls had shown him well ahead: the get-out-the-vote game, a record Republican turnout, evangelicals opting for Ted Cruz, late deciders opting for Marco Rubio, the lack of geographical strongholds and an apparent indifference to Cruz’s unpopular stand on a big local farm issue, renewable fuel (corn-based ethanol).

None of these, including the record turnout, gave possible significance to crossover voting. In fact, one is hard put to find any media reference to this perfectly legal aspect of the caucuses. In Iowa, one may switch party registration on the very night of the other party’s caucus and vote in it. Thus, Democrats more concerned about whom the Republicans would send up against their candidate than about who the Democratic candidate will be could vote in the Republican caucus and significantly alter its outcome.

The huge Republican turnout was half again as large as the previous record, some 180,000 voters as opposed to some 120,000 – a difference of about 60,000 votes. It is reported that 45% of the 2016 Republican caucus participants were doing so for the first time. That means that of the record 180,000-plus voters, more than 80,000 were new to the caucus. How many of these 80,000 were actually last minute crossovers from the Democratic Party intent on picking the least effective (in their eyes) Republican candidate?

Given that the difference between Cruz’s first place finish and Trump’s second was only about 6,000 votes, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how easily even an informal word of mouth Democratic Party push to deny Trump victory could easily succeed. In fact, it’s harder to imagine how it could have been otherwise.

Why would Democrats not want to run against oddball anti-establishment Trump? For starters in nearly all national polls, Trump beats all other Republicans by double digits and is also enormously popular among traditional Democratic constituencies, such as labor. He carries the coveted banner of “not-from-Washington-DC” and is substantially self-financing his own campaign. His tell-it-like-it-is style is very popular. He dominates the news, even about debates he doesn’t attend. He is more moderate than core Republican Party activists generally prefer, making him potentially more appealing to the independent (and deciding) voter. Trump currently presents the biggest threat to the eventual Democratic candidate.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is thought of generally as far too conservative to make the necessary inroads among independents. His overtly religious pronouncements are seen as over the top for a moderate secular society. His at times angry demeanor works against him and his physical appearance does not match the youthful ideal one sees in establishment favorite Marco Rubio and saw in America’s eternally youthful John F. Kennedy. As different and defiant as he is, Trump’s character works in his favor. As different and defiant as Cruz is, his character works against him. In other words, Democrats should prefer a run against Cruz than against Trump. If 6,000 perfectly legal votes for Cruz is all one needs to upset the applecart, why not?

On the Democratic side a telling phenomenon is taking place – the media is cleaning up Bernie Sanders. A search via his Senate website engine for “socialist” places the latest reference at the end of November 2015. Although he has always been openly and proudly socialist, the site does not employ that term .

A recent Washington Post article labeled “leftist” the pronouncedly socialist Liberty Union Party Sanders once was a candidate for, and while acknowledging that “he is a self-described democratic socialist”, the article leaves it at that. One has to wonder whether the word “socialist” in 2016 is about to garner the same opprobrium that Barrack Obama’s middle name did in 2008. Five points if you can say it out loud.

That article also labeled Sanders “pro-Israel” although his actions are dangerously pro-Palestinian. Since they have but two candidates perhaps the Democrats and the media, should they lose Hillary, have decided to play it safe.

The common takeaway from the caucuses is that polls cannot be trusted – anti-establishment Trump is evidently not as big a deal as everyone thought. In truth however, since other caucuses and primaries do not necessarily permit crossover voting to distort results, Trump is still very much a big deal. Polls can be trusted. What can’t be trusted is that things are always what they seem.
 

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