The polls said Donald Trump was going to win the Iowa Caucus. It mirrored his message of always winning and doing everything better than everyone else. He came in second place. The question now is where does Mr. Trump go from here?
Like all the other candidates seeking to be our next president, Republican or Democratic, Mr. Trump needs one thing. Victories.
In modern history – at least since the advent of the Iowa Caucuses in 1972 -- the eventual Republican nominee has always been the candidate declared the winner of two of the first three primary contests.
This cannot be understated: winning and winning early is arguably the single biggest determinant in securing the nomination.
As Mr. Trump well knows, Americans love nothing more than winners.
But his success moving forward is really impacted by two factors: first, an outside factor, and second, a strategic decision he has to make now.
The outside factor is Bernie Sanders. More than one reporter has confided to me that the very same people can be found at rallies for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire.
Many of these voters are not thinking of the 2016 election in terms of conservative or liberal, but are instead making their decisions on whether or not the candidate seems to understand their concerns and offers the hope of action and solutions. They want someone who hears their anger while giving short shrift to political philosophy or party.
Thus, the momentum Senator Sanders has coming out of Iowa will impact who shows up to vote for Mr. Trump in New Hampshire. Mr. Trump is now competing with Senator Sanders to be the “right person” for voters totally done with anything resembling the status quo.
This distinct group of voters will be pivotal for both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Beyond voters registering to vote in the other party’s contest, unregistered primary goers can choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary when they show up to cast their ballot. Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders may win their respective primaries, but both will not.
Further, if Iowa started a trend, we will have record turnout of first-time primary voters going forward. Iowa also clearly showed that it is a mistake to assume first-time participants on the Republican side will be Trump supporters.
For Mr. Trump -- and really the rest of the field not named Ted Cruz -- going 0-2 would make securing a win in South Carolina all the harder.
This brings us to the strategic decision Mr. Trump has to make as he battles against the rising tides of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders.
Given how much Mr. Trump touts the fact that he is self-funding his run for the White House and not seeking campaign contributions, he has to decide how much of his own money he is willing to spend to win.
A winning campaign operation is not free. Media advertising to promote his ideas and defend him when attacked is expensive. Staff needs to be paid. A turnout operation must be well-funded and staffed with people who know what they are doing.
The reason Mr. Trump’s voter contact and voter turnout operation seemed to be invisible in Iowa is because it is essentially non-existent. Mr. Trump is going to need to spend real money to convince his key demographic to turn out and vote in the Republican primary for him, not Bernie Sanders.
New Hampshire and South Carolina will be key to securing the nomination.
Republicans like frontrunners. Winning in the early states establishes who the front runners are.
For Mr. Trump to earn the nomination after losing Iowa, he must come in first place in New Hampshire and South Carolina.