As I detailed back in October when Carson had temporarily taken over Trump in Iowa polling numbers, that state's caucus results are not informative about what happens with the national nomination. The polls had been close in the month leading up to the caucus anyway, so the slight advantage to Cruz is not a mind-blowing reversal of our expectations.
There have been 7 Republican caucus seasons that were up for grabs (meaning, there was no incumbent Republican President). Of those 7, only 3 of them correctly predicted the national results. The way things look now, they are going to lower that batting average to only 3 out of 8, since Trump so dominates Cruz et al everywhere else.
As for New Hampshire, they correctly predicted the outcome in 5 of those 7 times. The South Carolina primary predicted the outcome correctly in 6 of those 7 times, with the sole exception being local favorite Newt Gingrich winning in 2012. Trump is wiping the mat with everyone else in those states, including the local favorites.
He's going to bulldoze in the next two primaries, which are far more predictive of who gets the nomination, and the next one is only a week away. So just brush off the nattering nabobs of negativism for the next week, and it'll be right back on track toward the nomination, and then the general.
I wouldn't get too bent out of shape by all the what-if's about Trump's performance in Iowa. According to polling results at the caucuses, Trump won handily among those who showed up to caucus for the first time, while it was Cruz for those who had caucused before. These new-comers were fully 45% of everyone who showed up. Trump is indeed bringing out lots of new-comers, and he is picking up many more of them than are the other candidates. In states where masturbatory values-conservatism has no appeal, the droves of new-comers will be even more strongly tilted towards Trump.
Trump supporters have also made up their minds for a long time. Cruz won among those who made up their mind between a week and a month ago, and Rubio won among those who made up their mind in the last few days or the day of the caucus itself. Disturbingly 35% of the caucus-goers were from this fickle mush-head demographic that overwhelmingly went for Rubio, and nearly as much for Cruz, and not nearly as much for Trump.
The best thing the Trump movement can do is convince people who haven't made up their mind yet to STAY HOME for their primary. "Too many choices, maybe it's better to just sit it out on the sidelines and then go vote for real when it really matters in November and there's only two candidates to choose from, and who will clearly differ from each other." Or something to that effect. Wishy-washy airheads may swerve into the path of the Trump train, and we don't need any bumps on what should be a full-steam ahead victory.
It's important not to confuse two kinds of "unforeseen" voters -- those who typically do not participate in Republican primaries, but who have made up their minds for awhile now to vote for the breath-of-fresh-air candidate; and those who have a vague feeling that it's important to perform their civic duty by voting in the primary, but who will put off thinking about who to support until a few days before. These procrastinating conformist wimps will naturally blink when push comes to shove, and will go with the choice that's most respectable to public opinion.
Maybe a line like, "Hey don't worry, voting in the primary isn't like jury duty -- if you're just not feeling that into it, no one will blame you for waiting until November to vote".
The two areas where Trump could improve are in getting more in touch with his supporters ("ground game"), rather than hoping that they'll all turn out. In Iowa, it made no difference whether someone had contacted the voter about Trump or not, whereas Cruz gained five percentage points among those who had been contacted about him. Most people (just over 60%) fell into the "had not been contacted" category, but that still leaves a sizable minority who could be swayed one way or another by a phone call or a knock on the door.
And more importantly, Trump needs to ruin Cruz's reputation as an outsider candidate. In Iowa, half of caucus-goers wanted an insider, and half wanted an outsider. So this is a big group if they're won over. Trump easily dominates Cruz and Rubio with those who prefer outsiders (46 to 20 to 7 percent), but even 20% of their vote is too high for Cruz. If he could have stolen 10 points away from Cruz among that group, he would've easily won.
Not surprisingly, Trump has only 3% support among the half who want someone experienced in politics, so there's no point in trying to win them over. What he needs to do is more fully consolidate the support from those who want an outsider and are sick of business as usual.
Concretely, that means letting the Canadian birth issue go to the back burner, and focus more on Cruz's insider background from start to finish -- policy adviser for Bush Jr., wife works for Goldman Sachs, sweetheart loans totaling $1 million from Goldman and Citi, which he did not disclose, being in the pocket of Big Oil, fighting to quintuple H-1B visas on behalf of CEOs who want to outsource their white collar professional jobs, supporting amnesty, and so on.
Like a typical weasel, Cruz cynically aped the outsider positions only when it became clear that there was a second path toward the nomination, and he wanted to circumvent the in-fighting among the overt Establishment candidates.
The polls at the Iowa caucus show that Cruz does far better among those who want an experienced politician -- 35% among them, but also enjoys having it both ways with the 20% among those who want an outsider. (Rubio is the anti-Trump who only polls well with voters who want an insider.) Trump could point to that and say, "See, Cruz does nearly twice as well with the voters who want business as usual. My people are all from those who want a real change for once." Somehow, he has to cut off that support from the anti-Establishment voters, while allowing the pro-Establishment ones to keep on supporting him.
Emphasize that most of Cruz's gay slapfights are with Rubio, i.e. they're really both duking it out for Establishment favorite position, in more of a good cop / bad cop way, instead of Cruz being a sincere populist or nationalist.
Furthermore, hammer him over having the character traits of an unctuous used car salesman, seductive traveling salesman, snake oil huckster, etc. He's a wolf in sheep's clothing, a false prophet. He's the crypto-Establishment candidate.
And remind the outsider-preferring group that although Sarah Palin supported Cruz awhile ago before his views would become revealed, the First Lady of the Tea Party has endorsed Mr. Trump over her former protege -- for a reason. Trump is the real outsider, and a self-funding one to boot, not a Wall Street-owned sell-out like Cruz.
Obviously the Trump campaign has probably thought of most of this stuff already, but it's important to get this out there more broadly. Whether it's talking to people face-to-face, over social media, or anonymously in comments / forums / Twitter, we can give the Trump train the extra oomph it needs to roll over Goldman Ted.