The candidate who hates losers lost. And a party searching for a path around him found two possible options, just on the first day of voting.
Donald Trump now has two first-tier challengers offering alternative visions for a deeply divided party. Ted Cruz gets the boost that comes with an Iowa win, while Marco Rubio secures momentum going into a New Hampshire contest where the GOP establishment will look to regain its footing.
More broadly, the results in Monday’s Iowa caucuses showed that while the anger coursing through the nation’s political veins can turn into votes, it isn’t necessarily destined to dominate the GOP race.
Rubio channeled Barack Obama in offering a victory speech of a concession, offering himself as a generational contrast for a party anxious about its future.
“They told me that we have no chance because my hair wasn't gray enough and my boots were too high,” Rubio said. “Now the moment has arrived for this generation of Americans to rise up to the calling of our heritage.”
Cruz’s stunner of a victory showed that a core conservative message can still prevail, even if it comes from someone with a title of United States senator.
“Iowa has proclaimed to the world: morning is coming,” Cruz said, echoing Ronald Reagan before offering some Obama of his own. “Courageous conservatives said, ‘Yes we can.’ ”
For all the talk of walls and Muslim bans and just plain anger, Republican voters in Iowa cast ballots based on their values. More than four in 10 Republicans said they wanted someone who “shared my values,” far and away the top attribute.
Among that group, Cruz won more of a third of votes, and Rubio took one in five. Trump was left with just 5 percent of that group.
In defeat, Trump was more gracious that the viewing public has come to expect. He joked that he may buy property in Iowa –- his questioning of Iowans’ brainpower now months in the past. He showed just a glimpse of the fight he’ll continue to wage.
“We will go on to get the Republican nomination, and we will go on to easily beat Hillary or Bernie or whoever the hell they throw up there,” he said.
The Trump movement is nowhere close to over –- not with his unlimited resources and big polling leads in other states. The other candidates will still be pressed to internalize the lessons offered by Trump’s candidacy.
“He’s a messenger to every other political leader in the country,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who was publicly neutral in the caucuses, said before the voting began Monday.
But the simple fact that Trump has rivals standing gives solace to a party reeling from what his candidacy represents. Suddenly, the race for the GOP nomination is wide open.