Donald Trump just got tagged with the moniker he hates the most: loser. The real estate billionaire got badly beaten in the Iowa caucuses by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and finished only narrowly ahead of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who surged to a surprisingly strong third place finish.
The loss does not mean Trump is finished. He still holds big poll leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina. But things can change fast now that actual voting is underway. And Trump failed the first test of whether he could fully turn out his coalition of angry, blue collar, less-educated supporters. Will polls in other early voting states also wind up overestimating Trump's support? It's quite possible. And entrance polls showed late deciders went heavily for Cruz, suggesting Trump's decision to skip the final debate turned out to be a very bad one.
New Hampshire should be somewhat friendlier terrain for Trump. It has fewer evangelical voters and tends to ignore results in Iowa. But Trump's brand is built on always winning. Now that he has lost, his numbers could begin to sag. Trump was low key in defeat, congratulating Cruz and thanking Iowans before quickly exiting the stage. There was no screaming Howard Dean moment foretelling a rapid decline.
Still, Cruz is a relentless force, and his campaign clearly out-organized Trump in Iowa. But the biggest story coming out of the Hawkeye State is the rise of Rubio, who delivered what amounted to a victory speech before jetting off to New Hampshire. The Florida senator is now clearly the leader in the more mainstream, establishment-friendly lane of the GOP primary.