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If Fundamentals Still Matter, Donald Trump Probably Has a Howard Dean Moment in Iowa

By  |  January 15, 2016, 09:45pm

I have been saying for a while that the fundamentals still matter. I think they do. They particularly matter in caucuses, which are not like primaries. Caucuses require a lot of time, are not always where you’d show up to vote in a primary, etc. If those fundamentals really do matter, Donald Trump probably cannot win Iowa. He can’t because he has not invested in a ground game operation there.

The New York Times has a pretty detailed look at Donald Trump, which makes him sound more like the second coming of Howard Dean 2004 than an outsider on the cusp of winning it all. Dean, you will remember, stole headlines across the nation in 2004 for his enterprising operation. He campaign had money pouring in, he had more energy and larger rallies than any other candidate. But while his campaign was investing in flash, tech, and coliseums for the crowds showing up, the other campaigns were investing in boots on the ground in Iowa to get out voters. Polling showed Dean ahead almost to the end, trending down slightly before the caucus. But CNN, on January 15, 2004, had Howard Dean at 19% and Wesley Clark at 14%. In the end, Dean came in third.

Trump looks like he is repeating that mistake and if his supporters see their man bleed, particularly when he has not really bled this campaign season, it may become impossible to stop that bleeding.

In fact, data from Iowa from multiple parties shows there has not been a huge spike in interest about the caucuses. There has not been a new wave of voters registering. There has not been a huge spike in calls to the state or party about the location of caucus events, etc. And, if the New York Times is to be believed, Trump’s campaign is not in any meaningful way offsetting the need to call the state or party to get information.

One volunteer leader enlisted by Donald J. Trump to turn out Iowa voters has yet to knock on a single door or to make a phone call. Another is a “9/11 truther” with a website claiming that the Sept. 11 attacks were a government conspiracy. A third caucus precinct captain, who like the others attended a training session in West Des Moines last month, said the campaign’s goal of having them each enlist 25 supporters was unrealistic.

“There’s probably not even 25 registered voters in a precinct,” said the captain, Kathy Hawk, a retired trauma therapist in Ottumwa, who began making calls only on Monday.

Mr. Trump, who Iowa polls show is neck-and-neck with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, may well win the caucuses, now less than three weeks away. But if he does, it will probably be in spite of his organizing team, which after months of scattershot efforts led by a paid staff of more than a dozen people, still seems amateurish and halting, committing basic organizing errors.

It does not get better from there. At some of the more recent rallies, there has been an uptick in interest from Trump supporters about showing up for Trump. It is still possible it could happen and it could be possible that all of Trump’s supporters are highly motivated self-starters. But the data in Iowa from multiple campaigns does not suggest that.

In fact, the data in Iowa from several campaigns and super PACs I spoke to all say the data in Iowa suggests the most motivated, self-starting voters who have turned out to caucus in the past and are highly likely to turn out this time are overwhelming leaning toward Ted Cruz.

If Iowa is as tight as the polls are claiming, this could spell a Howard Dean repeat for Trump. If so, what will be Trump’s version of the Dean Scream?