Donald Trump’s loss in Iowa cannot be chalked up to a wave of antidisestablishmentarianism. After all, Iowa winner Ted Cruz is hardly a Beltway favorite. But the downing of the Donald makes total sense if you realize that, when it comes to campaign mentality, Trump is the establishment candidate. He’s even campaigning like it in South Carolina, fresh off his New Hampshire win.
This is counterintuitive because Trump earns much of his support from the idea that he is running against the Washington establishment. He gives voters the idea that he is here to disrupt the system that has failed them and rig it in their favor instead. This works so well because voters have legitimate reasons to distrust the system.
As has been noted countless times, the 2014 election of a Republican Congress and the subsequent voter disappointment in conservative legislation is enough reason for voters to seek candidates with an anti-establishment message. Voters are reacting against Republican candidates who pander to their conservativism for their votes then go on to betray conservative principles once in office. Voters feel taken for granted.
Donald Trump Takes Voters for Granted
But in Iowa, Trump did exactly this—he took voters for granted. He assumed that his usual bravado and politically incorrect comments were enough to win him the historically tight Iowa caucuses. He assumed he could win Iowa without attending the only Republican debate held in the state and without a serious grassroots campaign.
Trump even told attendees at one Iowa rally, “I have the most loyal people, where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like incredible.” This shows tremendous disrespect for voters—the same disrespect Trump supporters are supposedly rallying against. Trump himself admitted after Iowa he had “never realized” the importance of meeting voters in person to ask for their votes: “It would seem to me that people would just go out and vote.”
Trump repeated this mistake in New Hampshire. After the initial Iowa shock set in, Trump’s campaign squeezed in a few more stops in the Granite State. However, Trump only made around 40 stops to the state. In contrast, his opponents Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush all made 80, 185, and 111, respectively.
Already underperforming in face-to-face events, Trump cancelled all his campaign stops due to snow, including a town hall in Londonderry—one of the few voter-focused events he was hosting. Trump’s campaign said these cancellations were because nearby airports were closed (they weren’t) but that should not have been a problem for the Donald, who travels via his private jet.
The Little People Exist to Make Me Win
Think what you want about Ted Cruz’s controversial Iowa mailers: he asked for votes. Not only does he ask for votes, Cruz expects to earn them. Cruz’s South Carolina headquarters are calling in people from across the country to reach South Carolina voters in person. Even the candidate many say is the establishment’s choice, Rubio, practices asking for votes. It’s at the end of most of his speeches: “I ask for your vote.”
Even a month out from the primaries, the Washington Post reported Trump’s New Hampshire hub was empty. In addition, there is growing evidence that his usual tactic of drawing crowds at rallies is beginning to diminish. Trump won New Hampshire because his genuinely conservative opponents divided the other votes among them, as the New Hampshire Union-Leader pointed out, not because he has the overwhelming support he claims.
Donald Trump does not give voters the dignity of acting like he ought to earn their votes. He thought that showing up for a few rallies and a view inside his private jet would be enough for the little people of Iowa. Since he won New Hampshire with little change of tactics, he almost certainly thinks he’ll get votes in South Carolina just for existing.
The biggest lie the Donald ever told was that his philosophy was somehow different than that of the Republican establishment. It is clear that Trump and the GOP have the exact same view of voters: a patronizing view of an expendable herd that can be easily swayed by rhetoric without needing proof candidates can achieve results through the political process. For voters burned by the 2014 midterm elections, this is some serious déjà vu.