In a speech before his loss at the Iowa caucuses Monday, Donald Trump said he felt “guilty” about not spending enough money in the state.
“I’m self-funding my own campaign, it’s my money,” Trump said. “So far I have spent very little money, very little. I need to start spending for two reasons: Number one, I feel guilty. Number two, I don’t want to take a chance.”
At the time, Trump used his guilt as a jab, ascribing it to his then-success in the polls over other candidates, namely Jeb Bush, who spent significant amounts of money in the state without seeing correspondingly large poll numbers. But, by spending little in Iowa Trump had already taken a chance — one that may now lead to a different kind of guilt down the road.
The erstwhile frontrunner in the Republican race for the presidential nomination took several risks in Iowa, including not showing up to a debate — and for the most part, they might not have paid off, as evidenced by his second place finish in a state he was projected to win. In contrast, his opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) at his rally in Iowa City the day before spent his time portraying himself as a true conservative, evoking time-tested symbols like the Bible and the Constitution.
For Iowa though, where, according to NPR, 53 percent of voters consider religion “very important” and where more Evangelical voters participated than anticipated, Cruz’s morals emphasis was more appealing. The candidate won the state’s caucus with 27.6 percent of votes. Trump took second carrying 24.3 percent.
In addition to not campaigning as much as his opponents, Trump refused to attend the last Republican debate a mere two days before the caucus, following tension with moderator Megyn Kelly stemming from the first Republican debate in August where he said he felt she did not treat him fairly.
At the rally, Trump said he believed had he attended the debate, it would have had its highest ratings ever.
“You have to stick up for your rights in life,” Trump said. “I wanted to debate so badly the other night. I wanted to go back. But when people don’t treat you properly, just like when people don’t treat our country properly … We would’ve broken the (rating) record that night, but we did the right thing. Frankly, Fox is great. We’re back, we’re friends, all of that stuff, but I said I’m not going into that debate.”
Instead of debating, Trump held a rally for veterans that night and said he raised $6 million.
At the time, Trump said his absence from the debate showed how strong of a leader he is, versus Cruz, whom he has called a “puppet” and a “nervous wreck.” His rally was comparatively more policy-focused than Cruz, who focused on building up his character at his rally and whose expressed policy platform was largely focused on dismantling Obama administration policies.
Aaron Kall, director of the Michigan Debate Program and an expert on presidential debates, said missing the debate because of his feud with Kelly only hurt him instead of making him look strong as Trump said it would.
“It made him look weak,” Kall said. “That he wouldn’t attend a debate because of a conflict with a moderator kind of showed that he had poor negotiating skills because he tried to get the moderator excluded and when Fox news decided to stick with her he basically was left with no choice but to skip the debate. And it was just disrespectful for the voters of Iowa.”
Kall said the small margin between the candidates’ polling numbers, and how soon the debate was to the caucus, made Trump’s choice to skip it even riskier.
“The debate was just a few days before people made their decision and some entrance poll data of people right before they voted revealed that those that decided late in the process, just in the last few days, he only won a very small percentage of — only about 15 percent,” Kall said. “Where Rubio and Cruz won just about half of the overall voters. So, I think it definitely hurt him with those late deciding voters.”
But after the loss, Trump didn’t express any of the guilt he had joked about on Sunday — after results came in, he tweeted he was taking the second place in stride.
However, in a series of further tweets, Trump did associate the loss with the little time he spent campaigning in the state.
That kind of rhetoric mirrored the confidence he expressed pre-caucus — and the kind of confidence that’s characterized his campaign. On Sunday, Trump said he anticipated he would win the race so extremely he would garner votes in historically blue states — using Michigan as an example.
And if his intentions of winning come together, Trump said he believes the country will win as well — a lot.
“We don’t win anymore,” Trump said Sunday. “Our country doesn’t win. We used to win. We used to win plenty. We have great, young, brilliant people, but we don’t have the leadership on top. To think that ISIS — oh, we’re going to win. We’re going to win so much. You’re going to get so tired of winning. We’re going to win. We’re going to keep winning — It’s true. It’s true. We’re going to keep winning. You’re going to say, ‘Mr. President, please, please we can’t stand it. We’re winning too much.’ I’m going to say: ‘I’m sorry, I’m not changing a thing, we’re going to keep winning.’ But we’re not winning at all now.”
Speaking to that idea of winning in terms of his policy platform, Trump said he anticipates to win in both trade and the military. Winning, the businessman said, is “the cheapest thing we can do.”
Trump promised voters as president he would work to be tougher on trade relations with China, increase border security by resurrecting a high wall on the U.S. southern border and defending the second amendment.
Former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin (R) introduced Trump and said she had faith in his policies, citing his confidence.
“Donald Trump: He builds things, big, big things,” Palin said. “You have to ask yourself: What has his opponents ever built? Big, big vocabularies. Big debt. Big, big war chests again — being able to spend other people’s money, and that is the problem: That we have had no leadership in D.C. to stop the D.C. insanity.”
It’s not clear whether that rhetoric will change — or if anything will despite the candidate’s second place finish. In the next caucuses, Trump may not be faced with the same religious barrier he found in Iowa — Tuesday’s caucuses in New Hampshire feature one of the lowest percentage of the population who consider religion as important at 33 percent, according to the NPR survey.
However, Kall said at least one thing might be different for future primaries. He said he believes Trump will not miss another debate — regardless of the organizers.
An upcoming March 3rd debate held in Detroit will be monitored by the same Fox News team as the Iowan one, including Kelly.
“He was really defensive at the beginning about it being the right decision, and standing up for himself and everything,” Kall said, “but kind of in his post-mortem of what went wrong in Iowa he, I think, kind of came to the realization that basically admitting publicly that it was probably a mistake not to go and it probably did hurt him with some people.”