That this is a year when everything is up for grabs was confirmed Monday night in Iowa, with two almost equally unacceptable outsiders – Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump – running 1 and 2 in Iowa's Republican caucuses. The party establishment would take their own lives if one of them actually wins the nomination.
The surprise of the night was how well Sen. Marco Rubio did – so well he gave a speech thanking his lord and savior Jesus Christ as if he'd won the whole thing.
Maybe he has. Before Monday night, he was in no man's land, neither fish nor fowl, establishment or insurgent. His party had dismissed him as an Obama clone, an inexperienced first-term senator, his hair not gray enough, his boots too high, leaping in before his time. That's been a public and particular affront to his mentor Jeb Bush. You couldn't find their differences with a microscope. Having jumped the line, Rubio hadn't looked strong enough to challenge the unacceptable front-runners.
Now he does. That sound you hear this morning is the Republican Party revving its motors in the establishment lane (or on the shoulder of the road), ready to race toward Rubio as its personal savior if he can extend his Iowa showing into the New Hampshire primary next week.
Rubio had little establishment competition in Iowa. He'll have more in New Hampshire with two governors, one of whom – Ohio's John Kasich – has a lot of support in his state and, as of Sunday, the endorsement of The New York Times at his back.
By contrast, Trump's RPMs were way down as he conceded to Cruz, whispering his name once in one of the shortest speeches he's ever given. He recalled how he was warned by everyone not to go to Iowa, he couldn't win. He didn't, but never mind. A candidate who spends the first 20 minutes of every rally recounting how far ahead he is in the polls, he blithely skipped over the one that counted to the ones that don't.
In a matter of minutes, Iowa had become just an outlier poll with a margin of error so great, it meant nothing next to the ones in New Hampshire that show him 28 points ahead of his loser rivals. He acted like the nominee: "Clinton, Bernie, whoever the hell else they throw up there, I'll beat them." In declaring his undying love for Iowa, he threatened to buy a farm there, missing the metaphorical implications. With that, he was off to a state he's winning, a victor in his own mind.
Trump lost altitude in the last few days, putting a lie to the almost universal opinion that skipping the last debate was a brilliant move that saved him from incoming fire and exposed his challengers to withering questions from the mighty Megyn Kelly. Instead, it exposed his thin skin and the emotional instability of a crybaby who takes his ball and goes home because he didn't get his way.
Then a funny thing happened. When the alpha male didn't show up in the cafeteria, the others no longer feared their lunch money would be stolen, or that they'd be called some name that would stick with them for the rest of the campaign, if not the rest of their lives. (Will Bush ever be thought of as "high- energy"?) As a result, everyone got the chance to express their inner policy wonk with the added benefit of professing their love for Jesus, a declaration not lost on the evangelicals who'd seen Trump carry a Bible to the podium but unable to quote from it. Two Corinthians, anyone?
Of course, give Trump time to start in on Rubio. Before next week's primary, Rubio will be lower-energy than Bush and of suspect citizenship.
There wasn't the revolution on the Democratic side that Sen. Bernie Sanders had hoped for. Still, he rightly declared himself in a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton, a comeback kid of sorts given that he started at zero. For her part, Clinton couldn't resist acting like the presumptive nominee by declaring victory early in the night, before anyone could possibly know.
With the country being disrupted in so many ways – how it hails a cab, goes to school, reads a newspaper, drives a car, makes a phone call, watches television – it's high time our broken politics be disrupted. Here's a 74-year-old socialist nearly defeating the Clinton juggernaut. Over there, the Man Least Respected in the Senate, with algorithms, organization and religion on his sleeve, comes from behind to upset Trump.
China was broken in Iowa. On to New Hampshire.
Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.