The experts knew all along: Donald Trump was never going to win. You can't trust those caucus and primary polls. Calm down, everybody. The great winner is actually a loser. He couldn’t even beat someone as unattractive as Ted Cruz.
If only things were that simple. The truth is that Trump, with no serious 'ground game' to speak of in Iowa, came second. It is more than possible that his campaign will now disintegrate. It's also possible that he will find a way to bounce back and press home his enormous poll lead in New Hampshire next week. But even if Trumpmania does now vanish in a great puff of orange smoke, his candidacy has shaken the Republican Party, and American politics, to the core. The Trump phenomenon cannot yet be brushed aside as a curious anomaly.
Ted Cruz, meanwhile, deserves more recognition for the skill he showed in holding off the Trump challenge in Iowa. He didn't confront Trump too early, and actually went out of his way to pander to the Donald's ego, which meant he didn't find himself on the wrong side of a Trump onslaught. And when they came, his attacks -- he called Trump the establishment's friend and said he had 'New York' values -- appear to have been more effective the polls suggested. There is also a scurrilous theory that Cruz's campaign put about the rumour that Ben Carson had announced he was withdrawing from the race just before voting began, in order to pick off some of Carson's votes. If true, it suggests that Cruz and his team have more than enough Machiavellian cunning to triumph in the long run.
The Republican winner of the night, for the press pack at least, is Marco Rubio, who did much better than expected and nearly caught Trump with 23 per cent of the vote. He is now, as I wrote yesterday, well placed to sweep up the establishment's support and win over mainstream Republican voters as he moves towards New Hampshire. Jeb Bush and John Kasich will now come under pressure to bow out and make way for Marco.
The Grand Old Party won't sit comfortably with Rubio as their man, however. He has proven himself to be a sloppy campaigner and a bad TV performer in the last few weeks. As the preferred nominee of Goldman Sachs Republicans, he could find himself mauled by so skilful a counter-establishmentarian as Cruz. Yes, Cruz's polling has been flat in recent weeks, but Rubio's has actually been slipping nationally. And in the current climate, the media's eagerness to hype Rubio could backfire on him. As one clearly frustrated Cruz spokesman put it last night, 'Marco Rubio's going to come in third. Coming in first is a lot better than coming in third.' It's a reasonable point.