Senator Ted Cruz's upset victory against Donald Trump has robbed "The Donald" of his stock answer to any criticism from rivals— that he is winning and his critics are losers.
Now that he has lost, Mr. Trump may finally have to try to come up with some substantive arguments about the complex issues facing this country, rather than simply boast about the great things he will do when he becomes president.
Trump may turn out to be like the Wizard of Oz, after the curtain was pulled back to reveal the real man who was been busy projecting an awesome image.
Everything, however, depends on Trump's followers, and on how much they have what William James called "the will to believe." Iowa's system of caucuses forced those followers to confront other people with different views before they could vote. In other states, they can simply walk into the voting booth and vote their unchallenged beliefs.
Although Trump was defeated in Iowa, he was by no means routed. Without the special handicap that the Iowa caucuses presented, he may still bluff his way through to the Republican nomination. And with Hillary Clinton's lies and illegalities catching up with her more and more, this could still end up with a President Trump in the White House.
With this country at a crossroads, facing social degeneration at home and dire threats from abroad, the last thing we need is an uninformed bluffer with a runaway ego in charge of our fate. Neither Trump's talent as a media performer nor his wheeler-dealer economic success is a substitute for the depth of knowledge and the chastening experience required for governing a great nation.
What about the alternatives to Trump?
After months of media fixation on Trump, and so-called "debates" that featured sound-bites which seldom got below the surface, we know remarkably little about the other candidates. The fact that there have been so many candidates has added to the problem of trying to understand any of them.
We can only hope that never again will the fate of this nation depend upon a media gimmick like these "debates," which obscure and mislead far more than they inform us about anything beyond the candidates' talents for glib responses.
Having each candidate sit down alone with an experienced interviewer for an hour-long, in-depth discussion of the problems facing the country would tell us a lot more about the things that matter. But such discussions would be unlikely to have as high media ratings as the sound-bite circuses we have seen.
With current realities being what they are, we can only make our choices among the alternatives available. That means both the existing candidates and the existing ways of learning about them.
There is much to be said for choosing among candidates with a track record of governing that we can judge. But none of the candidates with experience as a governor had voter support as high as 10 percent in Iowa.
Senator Ted Cruz's experience as attorney general of Texas is the next best substitute. But it is still only a substitute. Others have zero experience of actually running a governmental organization and having to take responsibility for the consequences of how it ran.
Senator Cruz's refusal to pander to the sacred cow of ethanol subsidies in Iowa showed a resolve that is rare in politics, and may account for the Republican establishment's sudden shift to a more favorable view of wheeler-dealer Trump— someone who can "rise above principle," as an old-time politician once put it.
Dr. Ben Carson's monumental achievements as a brain surgeon, and as a human being, have made him an obvious favorite, even among people who did not vote for him. But you have to get the votes.
Only three people received enough votes in Iowa to lift them above 10 percent— Senator Cruz, Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio. Unless something spectacular happens in New Hampshire, these may be the voters' only viable choices.
Senator Rubio has both a heart-warming personal story and an attractive personality. But his fling at joining with ultra-liberal Democrat Chuck Schumer to try to push an amnesty bill through the senate suggests that he too has the ability to "rise above principle" that is all too prevalent in politics.