Here’s How Iowa Will Play Out…

IowaWow. It’s already here. The Iowa Caucus is tomorrow.

Here’s a candidate-by-candidate review of what could happen, what should happen, and what will happen after the votes are tallied:

Donald Trump

  • Best-case scenario: A strong 1st place finish (35 percent+)
  • Worst-case scenario: Losing to Ted Cruz and finishing second.

Trump currently leads the polls in Iowa, but will polls translate to the ballot box? We honestly have no clue, but we should certainly have a better idea after Tuesday.

Regardless of what happens in Iowa, Trump is here to stay. Losing Iowa will not end his candidacy — not when he’s leading literally everywhere else.

  • PREDICTION: Donald Trump wins Iowa by a slim margin over Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz

  • Best-case scenario: A strong 1st place finish (35 percent+)
  • Worst-case scenario: Losing to Donald Trump and finishing second.

Ted Cruz is in a very different position than Donald Trump. While Trump would like to win Iowa, it’s not as crucial for him — even if Cruz wins Iowa, Trump will still be seen as the de facto front runner. But Cruz needs Iowa to help him breakout as a viable candidate. If he fails to win Iowa, it’s hard to see his path to victory — could he win New Hampshire? South Carolina? Seems unlikely.

  • PREDICTION: Cruz finishes a close second, spins it as a victory, and stays in the race.

Marco Rubio

  • Best-case scenario: A strong 3rd place finish (20┬ápercent+)
  • Worst-case scenario: Finishing 4th or worse, especially behind Christie or Bush.

Marco Rubio is in an enviable position in Iowa, believe it or not. He’s benefitting from the soft bigotry of low expectations. No one expects him to win. No one even expects him to finish second. So if he finishes third by a reasonable margin, and especially if he’s able to come close to second, everyone will view it as a big victory for Rubio as we head into New Hampshire. It could really spur momentum for him.

This is, of course, crazy. It seems ridiculous that Ted Cruz can be hurt by a second place finish, while Marco Rubio can be helped by a third place finish, but expectations matter. Rubio is playing the long game and hoping to be one of the last candidates remaining to contest Trump for the nomination. The thinking is that in a two- or three-way race, Rubio may be able to take the lead, given his high favorables with GOP voters.

All he has to do is survive in Iowa, and he will.

  • PREDICTION: Rubio finishes in third place with 20 percent of the vote, and his “surprising” strong performance emerges in the national media as the big takeaway from Iowa.

Rand Paul

  • Best-case scenario: Finishing 3rd place ahead of Marco Rubio
  • Worst-case scenario: Finishing 5th or worse.

Rand Paul claims to have a strong ground game in Iowa. We’ll see. He needs to surprise here to keep his campaign going, but let’s not forget how well his father, Ron Paul, did in Iowa in 2012. I expect a surprisingly high contingent of libertarian-leaning caucus-goers, and if that happens, Rand could surprise some people.

  • PREDICTION: Rand Paul finishes in fourth place and stays in the race.

Jeb! Bush

  • Best-case scenario: Marco Rubio performs badly, finishing 4th or worse.
  • Worst-case scenario: Marco Rubio finishes in a strong 3rd place.

Jeb! doesn’t need to win in Iowa. Instead, he needs Marco Rubio to lose in Iowa. That’s presumably why his Super PAC, Right to Rise, has spent so much money hitting Rubio on the airwaves.

If Rubio surges, Jeb!’s candidacy has no shot, so for Jeb!, it’s all about that scorched earth strategy.

  • PREDICTION: Jeb! sits alone in his Iowa hotel room as he watches the election returns. Jeb! grimaces as CNN makes the call: Donald Trump wins Iowa. Jeb! huddles up in a snuggie with a wine cooler in hand. Jeb! glares at the open copy of “The Art of the Deal” on the table. “Darn it, Donald,” Jeb mutters under his breath. A single tear streams down his face.CNN then reports breaking news: Marco Rubio has finished in a strong third place. “This is absolutely impressive,” one pundit raves. “We didn’t see this coming. Rubio is surging!” another opines. Jeb! curls his right fist into a ball, nostrils flaring, as rage overcomes him.Suddenly, Jeb! realizes that everything will be okay. “It’s just Iowa,” Jeb! reminds himself. “We can do this.” Jeb! picks himself up by the bootstraps, boards a flight to Manchester, New Hampshire, and gets back to work. GO JEB!

Ben Carson

  • Best-case scenario: Finishing 3rd place ahead of Marco Rubio
  • Worst-case scenario: Finishing 5th or worse.

Remember back in October when Ben Carson was leading Iowa? That seems like an eternity ago now. Carson lost most of his support to Ted Cruz, and his fledgling campaign seems like an afterthought at this point. Like most candidates, Carson’s best bet in Iowa is to surprise people. He also is benefiting from low expectations, so with a third place finish, he could shake things up and dominate the media narrative for the week heading into New Hampshire.

I’m not betting on that happening, though.

  • PREDICTION: Carson finishes sixth and drops out.

Chris Christie

  • Best-case scenario: Beating Marco Rubio.
  • Worst-case scenario:┬áMarco Rubio finishes in a strong 3rd place.

According to reports on the ground from The Pulse 2016‘s own Shane Vander Hart, the Christie campaign has been bombarding Iowa voters with direct mail over the last couple weeks. Christie definitely wants to do well in Iowa to create some momentum headed into New Hampshire.

But similar to Jeb!, Christie should be more concerned with how Rubio does. If Rubio gains momentum from Iowa, it’s going to be hard for any “establishment lane” candidate to usurp him. If Rubio fails, Christie stands to benefit.

  • PREDICTION: Christie finishes seventh and stays in the race.

Mike Huckabee

  • Best-case scenario: Finishing in the top 5.
  • Worst-case scenario: Not finishing in the top 5.

Huckabee won Iowa in 2008. He would need to do something special there again in order to become a relevant player in the 2016 campaign. If he fails to emerge in Iowa, he’ll have no choice but to drop out.

  • PREDICTION: Huckabee finishes eighth and drops out.

Rick Santorum

  • Best-case scenario: Finishing in the top 5.
  • Worst-case scenario: Not finishing in the top 5.

Santorum won Iowa in 2012. He would also need to do something special there again to play a significant role in the 2016 campaign. Similar to Huckabee, Santorum has no path to victory if he falls flat in Iowa. It’s Iowa or bust.

  • PREDICTION: Santorum finishes ninth and drops out.

Carly Fiorina

  • Best-case scenario: Finishing in the top 5.
  • Worst-case scenario: Not finishing in the top 5.

Fiorina can lose Iowa and probably stay in for New Hampshire, but anything less than a top 5 finish would have to be disappointing for her. Her best moments have come on the debate stage, but unfortunately, that hasn’t appeared to translate to the polls.

  • PREDICTION: Fiorina finishes tenth and stays in the race.

John Kasich

  • Best-case scenario: Marco Rubio performs badly, finishing 4th or worse.
  • Worst-case scenario: Marco Rubio finishes in a strong 3rd place.

Kasich is surging in New Hampshire, and if Rubio falls flat in Iowa, Kasich could easily become the go-to establishment candidate. He needs Rubio to fail.

  • PREDICTION: Kasich finishes eleventh and stays in the race.

Jon Schweppe is Deputy Director of Communications for the American Principles Project.