Donald Trump, loser

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump blows a kiss after speaking at his Monday night caucus rally in West Des Moines, Iowa. Jae C. Hong | AP

Give Iowans credit; they don’t much like bullies. Oh, sure, they liked Donald Trump enough to give him a second-place finish but the story out of the caucuses last night isn’t who won so much as who didn’t.

Politics is theater and we in the media bit on the bright shiny object. Again.

“In Iowa, the voters finally started answering the question the media couldn’t,” the Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi writes today.

“He may not be quite as strong as he looks,” the New York Times’ Nate Cohn posits. May not? Gutsy call.

“He leads by a wide margin in polling in New Hampshire, so he’ll have a strong opportunity to rebound,” he adds.

Polling. Journalists aren’t quick when it comes to learning lessons. Saturday’s Des Moines Register poll had Trump over Ted Cruz by 7 percent.

Polls aren’t political science, Politico’s Steven Shepard notes correctly. Polls are about business. Polls are about getting your sponsoring news organizations name on competing media.

Iowans considered their decisions up until the last minute. According to the entrance poll, more than a third, 35 percent, of GOP caucus-goers said they decided on their vote in the final days of the race.

But, for the most part, the polls didn’t do the same. That’s not necessarily a bug: News organizations use polls to explain the narrative of the race and for other business purposes. That’s why the Des Moines Register poll comes out on a Saturday night – so it’s ready for Sunday’s newspaper.

Of the polls conducted by live telephone interviewers, only one survey – from Quinnipiac University – was in the field all the way until Caucus Day. But that poll, which showed Trump with a 7-point lead, was conducted over the course of an entire week.

The second-newest poll was the Des Moines Register survey, conducted by Iowa polling legend J. Ann Selzer. But that poll was conducted last Tuesday through Friday, meaning it also may have missed any late movement.

Whatever. We’re under no illusion the news industry is going to ever get religion on the use of polling data.

Meanwhile, U.S. News’ Thomas Jefferson Street blog isn’t quite so timid on Trump’s predicament. “The emperor has no clothes,” it said.

No? OK, OK. Hope springs eternal. More likely, Trump ditches the cowed alter ego that spoke in Iowa and unleashes the rage on voters he feels betrayed him once he gets to New Hampshire and South Carolina. The big question is whether or not that will lead to his inevitable unraveling.

Spoiler alert: Of course it will.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver says Trump now looks like Pat Buchanan. Ouch.

There may have been a more basic reason for Trump’s loss: the dude just ain’t all that popular. Even among Republicans.

The final Des Moines Register poll before Monday’s vote showed Trump with a favorable rating of only 50 percent favorable against an unfavorable rating of 47 percent among Republican voters. (By contrast, Cruz had a favorable rating of 65 percent and Rubio was at 70 percent.) It’s almost unprecedented for a candidate to win a caucus or a primary when he has break-even favorables within his own party.

Still, Trump had seemed poised to do it, in part because of the intensity of his support. He’s highly differentiated from the rest of the field — a strategic advantage in such a crowded race — and the voters who like Trump like him an awful lot. The disproportionate media coverage of Trump played a large role, too, though.

Most Republican voters like several candidates. How does a Republican voter who likes (for example) Trump, Cruz and Chris Christie choose among them? The answer seems to have a lot to do with which candidate is getting the most news coverage.

Shortly before Trump spoke in Des Moines last night, his goons were rounding up journalists to prevent them from talking to supporters.

Give Iowa credit. They know a bully when they see one. And last night they made him a loser.

Discussion point: What’s your analysis?