DES MOINES (MEDIA GENERAL) – Donald Trump built a presidential campaign and real estate empire by portraying himself as a never-fail winner. The Iowa caucuses upset that plan going forward.
Cruz won. Trump lost.
“I want to congratulate Ted and I want to congratulate all of the incredible candidates,” said a gracious Trump in a concession speech.
Supporters gathered at the Des Moines Sheraton ballroom to celebrate what they expected would be a huge victory. But as the night wore on, larger and larger crowds gathered around giant-screen monitors blaring CNN results, which showed their candidate was in trouble.
In the span of an hour, their faces fell and hopes deflated.
“With about 99 percent of the GOP vote in, Cruz was ahead of Trump 28 percent to 24 percent. Rubio was at 23 percent,” reported CNN.
In a brief speech, Trump tried to cheer up the crowd, telling them, “I love you people, I love you people. … You’re special.”
Reactions were mixed among Trump supporters, when asked if they could eventually support Cruz or Rubio if Trump petered out.
“We may as well write our country away, unless they take Donald Trump for the ride with them. Now, we need Donald Trump in the White House,” seethed Rhonda Isley, of Des Moines.
But others are newly open to Trump alternatives.
William Sims, of Des Moines, said he originally rooted, and caucused, for Trump but can see himself voting for conservative alternatives.
“I like Rubio, I like Cruz,” Sims said. “They have good views; they have good messages, as well.”
Cruz moves into New Hampshire with the wind at his back, thanks to his big Iowa win. However, the Texan’s heavily religious message might not win over as many voters in the independently-minded Live Free or Die state.
The Texas senator, surrounded by his smiling family, told the roaring crowd, “Iowa has sent notice, that the Republican nominee and the next President of the United States will not be chosen by the media, will not be chosen by the Washington establishment, will not be chosen by the lobbyists. But will be chosen by the most incredible, powerful force where all sovereignty resides in our nation by we, the people – the American people.”
Looking ahead, Trump remains dominant in the Granite State according to the latest Real Clear Politics average, where he sits on a 21-point lead.
And then there’s Rubio.
Media buzz is already swirling about freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, being Iowa’s biggest winner. The 44-year-old was polling at a distant third going into Monday evening, and came out able to claim a comeback victory with an estimated 23 percent of the vote.
Rubio did everything short of anointing himself the winner, telling supporters, “This is the moment they said would never happen … The people of this great state have sent a very clear message; after seven years of Barack Obama, we are not waiting any longer to take our country back.”
Trump reassured his disappointed supporters that he’s headed to New Hampshire right away and “will go on to get the Republican nomination, and we will go on to easily beat Hillary or Bernie or whoever the hell they throw up there.”
In his Iowa farewell, the real estate tycoon told the crowd he’ll be back soon – and might even buy a new farm on his next visit.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales