Speaking to Extra just hours before the Iowa caucuses on Monday, Donald Trump supporter Sarah Palin expressed confidence in the accuracy of the polls showing The Donald maintaining his lead. “Usually, I say polls are only good for strippers and cross-country skiers,” she quipped, “but in this case, I do think that the polls are accurate and are reflecting that the American people, the electorate … we’re looking for something different.”
In the evening, televisions in the Sheraton West Des Moines Hotel conference room where Trump is set to present his victory speech are tuned to CNN instead of the Fox News Channel more typically seen at GOP rallies — not a surprise here, given Trump’s boycott of the network’s final pre-caucus debate over his disdain for host Megyn Kelly just days prior.
As the caucus precinct results trickle in, Trump maintains a steady second place, sandwiched between eventual winner Ted Cruz and the establishment-favored Marco Rubio. Still, before it’s called for Cruz, Trump’s supporters, like Palin earlier in the day, remain confident he will prevail.
“Always confident, very confident,” says Eric Riedinger, 56, who earlier in the evening read a speech prepared by the Trump campaign at his caucus, which the candidate won with 20 votes. (Asked if he thinks Trump will go on to win the general election against the eventual Democratic nominee, Riedinger adds, “Game. Set. Match. Win.”)
Riedinger is chatting with Jade Handy, 43, who also attended a small Des Moines caucus site carried by Trump. Handy seems less sure of a Trump win, suspecting that some voters in the state think the candidate may have an electability problem because he’s an outside-the-Beltway businessman. “This is Iowa,” he says. “We’re not the most conservative state in the country, thanks to the Des Moines Register, so I don’t think that’s surprising.” Even if Trump loses, he adds, “This is a long race. This isn’t a sprint. I think he’s still got a great chance.”
Trump does lose: The numbers hold, and Cruz, receiving 27.7 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting, emerges victorious as the third consecutive winner of the state’s GOP caucuses endorsed by social conservative kingmaker Bob Vander Plaats, the man who led the charge to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010 over their ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Trump remains in second with 24.3 percent, with Rubio close behind at 23.1 percent.
Soon after Cruz is projected to win, an uncharacteristically humble Trump takes to the stage, “really honored” by his second-place finish, congratulating Cruz on his victory without throwing Iowans under the bus for his defeat. Still, Trump says, he remains optimistic about polls showing him in the lead in other states and that, post-primary, he’ll defeat “Hillary Clinton or Bernie or whoever the hell they throw up there.”
Handy hopes Democrats will throw up Bernie, “because that should be a landslide.” Or Hillary: “They’re both socialists. I don’t think either of them can define the difference between a liberal and a socialist.”
Additional reporting contributed by Jon Lemons