“Do the rules of politics still apply?” a lot of people are asking. In Iowa, in the run up to the Fox News debate and around Iowa in watering holes afterwards, the question kept coming up.
Yes. The fundamental rules of politics still apply. We are seeing those rules in action.
The candidate who gets the most positive media attention, does great.
Donald Trump has, without question, gotten more than his fair share of media attention and it has largely been positive, or at least uncritical. From CNN to Fox News to MSNBC to the networks to the newspapers, Donald Trump has dominated media coverage and gotten more free media than all the other candidates.
Not only that, but the media has ditched editorial objectivity for ratings by letting Trump come on programs whenever he wants by telephone. This is a novelty in the political press, but it feeds into the fundamental rule about free media and media coverage.
The candidate who stays on message does great.
Donald Trump has seemed off message, but his whole message is outrage and an attack at politically correct culture. He has kept that up since he announced with talk of Mexican rapists.
The candidate with the simplest message is most likely to connect with voters.
Trump’s message, some say, is on a fourth grade level. It is easy to understand, consistent in terms of its attacks on political correctness, and gives the media copious soundbites to replay.
Today, in Iowa, two other fundamental rule of politics is going to be tested, and I think it is going to hold too.
In close races, the candidate with the best ground game wins.
Ted Cruz, indisputably has the best ground game operation in Iowa. While it does not compare to Barack Obama’s in 2008, it has been expansive, thorough, and sustained over time. He knows where his voters are, which voters can be pressured to come his way, the talking points to get those voters his way, and how to get those voters to the polls. If this rule holds, Cruz wins Iowa.
The third place candidate does well when the top two kick the crap out of each other.
For the last month, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have been relentlessly blasting each other. We are already seeing “Marcomentum” in Iowa and the late polling reflects it. Rubio is going to do better in Iowa today than he would have a month ago because of the fighting between Trump and Cruz.
To be sure, Donald Trump has run an unconventional campaign. Some of the rules that Donald Trump has been breaking are not really rules, just precedents. It’s like South Carolina. It used to be that no Republican ever won the nomination unless they won South Carolina. Then in 2012, Newt Gingrich won South Carolina and Mitt Romney became the nominee. That was not a fundamental political rule. It was just a precedent.
The rules themselves still matter. Donald Trump’s campaign looks like it is defying the rules because it is defying campaign orthodoxy and what consultants recommend. Trump’s campaign is certainly blowing up campaign strategies in some cases, but the rules are still there and I believe they still matter.