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Tonight, I'm feeling better about America

Tonight was my seventh Iowa caucus, and it occurred to me that only once have I caucused twice in the same place.

Every precinct is different. Kellogg was folksy and informal; the south side of Des Moines was crowded, chaotic, and a bit nuts. Four years ago I was technically in the suburbs (the street I lived on was the city limit), and my caucus was at a school that was almost impossible to find. I was the only one there willing to speak for my candidate and I wound up on the County Central Committee.

I escaped that fate this year since the Rubio people and everybody else had our downtown Des Moines caucus well covered. The caucus was at the State Historical Society museum, a beautiful modern building that actually had an exhibit dedicated to the caucuses.The large meeting rooms downstairs were filled to the brim with Democrats. This is Des Moines, after all.

I swam through a sea of Clinton and Sanders and even O'Malley people to get upstairs   to the classroom where a mere 209 Republicans were shoehorned in. I knew nobody there. But the first thing I noticed was that there were more Rubio stickers on people's shirts than other people's; I drew no particular conclusions from that, of course.

There were a few visible Trump people and a couple who could be identified as Cruz folks. There were far more of Jeb's people there than I had expected, and they, too, were wearing shirts and buttons and stickers in sufficient quantity to be noticed.

The caucus got started ten minutes late- which I don't think is strictly legal. As I remember, the doors are supposed to be closed at the stroke of seven. Oh, well. Republicans, I understand, had a record turnout this year, something that was supposed to favor Trump.

The meeting was very well run. After the pledge of allegiance (since there was no flag in the room, we imagined one) the meeting was called to order and everybody accepted the temporary chair's suggestion that he and the temporary secretary we made permanent by acclamation.

Then the candidates' representatives got to speak in alphabetical order. Yes, there was a state chair for the almost invisible Bush campaign, and she gave a fine (although inaudible) summary of the governor's record and the reasons why he should be the nominee. I listened with sympathy, of course, but also with the knowledge that it just wasn't going to happen.

Oddly, the Cruz person was a doctor from Texas who the campaign had brought up here. That was my first hint that things might not go exactly as I had expected; they couldn't find a local they trusted to give the speech!  She gave a spirited talk with a bit less ranting than I expected from that campaign (though she did get carried away at one point and claimed that the United States being founded on the Judeo-Christian tradition was in the Constitution- an odd assertion in the midst of a speech whose main thrust was that Ted Cruz was an expert on the Constitution and would ride to its rescue like a knight in shining armor). She had to be told by the crowd that her time was up, which she accepted graciously.

The Carson campaign's representative was an African-American lady who gave the best speech of the evening. Not only that, but you could actually hear her! Our guy did a decent job, though again, very few people heard him.   A lady gave a brief and very nice presentation (which nobody heard) for Chris Christie, and a guy I remembered arguing with about Ron Paul in a bar a cycle or two ago gave a competent presentation for Rand the Bland. A fellow gave a short speech for Rick Santorum, and then the Trump guy got up.

He was a youngish self-described entrepreneur with a bit of "rah rah" about him. It was all I could do to keep from heckling when he talked about the brave men and women of our military (who become "losers" in his candidate's book if they're captured) and from laughing out loud when the representative of the least electable of all the candidates claimed that Trump was the only candidate who could beat Hillary. I think I managed to confine myself to loudly rolling my eyes.

No one spoke for Kasich, Fiorina, Huckabee or Gilmour.

Something else unprecedented: the chair had us fill out our ballots and drop them in a box on the way out. Those interested in hearing the result or in participating in the consideration of   resolutions and the election of members of the County Central Committee and delegates to the County and Congressional District conventions could re-enter after a short break. Again, I don't think that was strictly legal, but it was a wonderful bit of common sense since only a handful of us cared about that stuff anyway.

I stood behind the tellers as the votes were counted.   Trump jumped off to a strong early lead. Then it seemed that for every vote Trump got, we got one. Finally, it got to the point where we were getting two or three votes for every one he got (with occasional votes for others sprinkled in). When the teller had to get a second sheet of paper because she ran out of room for Rubio votes on her tally sheet, I thought that maybe we had a chance.

The final result in Des Moines Precinct 55:

Rubio 88
Trump 37
Paul 22
Bush 21
Christie 11
Cruz 10
Kasich 10
Carson 7
Fiorina 1
Santorum 1

Gilmour and poor Mike Huckabee, who would drop out of the race later in the evening, got no votes at all.

No resolutions were presented, and the election of Central Committee members and delegates was pretty cut and dried. The handful of us who were still around voted to adjourn, and I headed over to the Marriott.

There I saw the statewide figures on Fox and CNN and realized that we had come within a whisker of actually beating Il Duce and finishing second. I stayed long enough to hear Sen. Rubio's speech and get beer spilled on the back of my shirt, and went home.

So Sen. Rubio is on a plane to New Hampshire by now, Sen. Cruz is sure that God- Whom he claims wanted him to run- won this thing for him (though it should be said that Jesus also got a round of applause during Sen. Rubio's speech).

I think the myth of Donald Trump has had a hole poked in it. Clearly Marco has established himself as the candidate of the Center Right, just as Cruz is the candidate of the Hard Right. Both have earned the right to be considered as The Donald's electoral equal until proven otherwise.

For the rest of the field, I think it's just a matter of playing out the string. Iowa has done its job, which is not to select a president or even a nominee- it seldom does either- but rather to winnow the field, to get us to the point where we know the identity of the handful of candidates who have an actual shot at the nomination.

If Trump loses again in New Hampshire, I think he's on the run. I expect Marco to get a big bump; obviously, the same will be the case with Cruz.

I think the traditional wisdom about their being "three tickets out of Iowa" will hold true this year. It's now a three-man race. Only one of the three- Rubio- has any chance of actually being elected. The process of getting to the convention is going to be an interesting one. But I continue to doubt- even more now that he's lost his first actual test- that when all is said and done the Republicans of America are going to buy what Trump is selling.

Cruz is a serious candidate. He is clearly the guy for the red meat crowd, the true believers. And Rubio is the candidate of those who want to actually win. If he's the "establishment" candidate now, he is, as somebody said tonight, the most conservative "establishment" candidate in history.

And I think he's going to do it. One thing that jumped out at me both in the speech I heard him make the other day and tonight is his optimism. As far as Rubio is concerned, it is, in the classic phrase of the Reagan re-election campaign, "morning in America." Rubio's slogan is "A New American Century." He never wearies of explaining that his goal is to make the 21st Century, not the century in which an America which reached its peak in the 20th goes into decline, but the century in which the American dream is reborn and expanded, and in which America does the Twentieth Century one better.

Psychologist Martin Seligman has written an interesting book in which he documents his theory that the winning candidate in presidential elections is nearly always the candidate who presents a message of optimism and hope. If so, come January 20th of next year Marco Rubio will take the oath of office as our new president.

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