Word that Ted Cruz had edged out Donald Trump in the first real test of the 2016 presidential election cycle sent TV News pundits into an ecstasy of relief tonight. They’d spent much of the day speculating with grim geniality that if Trump finished ahead of Cruz in tonight’s Iowa caucuses he’d been unstoppable. Six months earlier, virtually all of them had dismissed as reality-TV drivel Trump’s announcement he was running for the White House and their slow, begrudging acceptance of his viability has been a major storyline of the presidential election cycle – that and their shock at the record-breaking audiences Trump has brought to GOP debates. Even today, some continued to complain they “could not believe” Trump was still in the race and going strong. “Six months ago, nobody believed this man would be leading the pack and very possibly going to win tonight,” marveled one, who added, “he’s turned into a real candidate – he’s acting like a politician!”
When the dust settled tonight, Trump had under-performed expectations he would pull 31% of the vote, instead clocking 24%, barely ahead of Rubio’s 23%, and about 5,000 voters shy of Cruz’s 28%.
“Since he came out and declared his candidacy last summer…he has really only won!” CNN’s Jake Tapper said gleefully of Trump.
Meanwhile, with 93% of votes counted, Hillary Clinton had 49.8% of the votes to Bernie Sanders’ 49.6%, giving Sanders’ camp grounds to declare victory, given that he was the coming-out-of-nowhere” candidate and Clinton had been regarded the inevitable nominee. “The people of Iowa sent a profound message to the political establishment, the economic establishment and, by the way, the media establishment,” Sanders said in his victory lap speech. “That is: given the enormous crisis facing our country, it is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics.”
TV news outlets widely reported Dem candidate Martin O’Malley would suspend his campaign long before those stats came in, given that he was hovering between 0% and 1% all night. News that Huckabee was doing same came later in the night.
“I have to start by saying I absolutely love the people of Iowa!” Trump said after voting wrapped. “We finished second and I’m honored and I want to congratulate Ted and all of the incredible candidates…We’re just so happy with the way everything worked out.”
Trump said he’s heading to New Hampshire tomorrow afternoon where “we think we’re going to be proclaiming victory.” Trump insisted he will wind up the GOP nominee and, in a nod to Clinton’s razor-thin lead over Sanders in Iowa, added he will “go on to easily beat Hillary or Bernie or whoever they put up.”
“I think I might come here and buy a farm!” he concluded.
“God bless the great state of Iowa,” Cruz said as he began taking his victory lap. “Let me first of all say, ‘To God be the glory.’ …Iowa has sent notice the Republican nominee will not be chosen by the media, will not be chosen by the Washington establishment, will not be chosen by the lobbyists.”
“This is a huge win for Ted Cruz. He needed to win this state and people were predicting his demise in this race if he did not,” FNC’s Megyn Kelly said when the dust settled.
Meanwhile, finishing third, Rubio simpered, “So, this is the moment they said would never happen. For months they told us we had no chance. …My hair wasn’t grey enough – and my boots were too high.”
Tonight’s Iowa turnout broke GOP attendance records, including a hefty number of first-time voters which, TV news experts also incorrectly forecast, would be great for Trump, but appears instead to have most helped Rubio and talk turned to Trump having damaged his campaign when he boycotted FNC’s GOP debate.
Speaking of the media, Brian Williams’ first primetime news anchor appearance since his six-month suspension by NBC News will be remembered for tonight’s apology he had to deliver after a U.S. veteran used an expletive on MSNBC. The young woman, when asked at a caucus site about Bernie Sanders’ position on veterans’ healthcare, responded, “The VA is more screwed up than it has been in a while. I am a vet, my mom’s a vet…The fact that I haven’t gotten benefits in three months, because the VA is so f*cked up, really has me concerned.”
“When you listen in to caucuses, you take the good with the bad,” Williams explained to MSNBC viewers who might not be aware that’s how people talk these days. “People often talk the way they do on the street,” Williams explained, joking, “We apologize for a bit of French that snuck in to our French-to-English translation there.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.