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Ruben Navarrette: Iowa exposes Trump’s brand problem

SAN DIEGO – How do you say “poetic justice” in Spanish?

You got me. The nativists who nest in both parties are wrong that Latinos aren’t learning English. More often, by the third generation, we’ve lost Spanish.

This part needs no translation: Donald Trump, who launched his presidential bid nearly eight months ago with a Mexican-bashing screed that united Latinos and generated anger throughout Latin America, limped out of Iowa this week after being roughed up by a couple of Cuban-Americans.

Political analysts say it’s likely that Marco Rubio, who came in third with 23 percent of the vote, siphoned off support from Trump, who wound up with 24 percent. And both Rubio and Trump wound up losing to Ted Cruz, who garnered 28 percent.

Just think of it. Trump started his campaign last summer by tapping into the anxiety that many Americans feel about immigration and the fact that the United States is becoming more Hispanic. But, in the Hawkeye State, he was crowded out by the sons of Cuban immigrants.

If Hollywood liberals still made movies about people of color, this story would make a great film – even if it didn’t get any Oscar nominations.

The color of the optics was not lost on Ann Coulter. The Trump supporter, and relentless nativist, marked the final returns by tweeting: “Trump is the leading GOP vote-getter tonight, among natural-born-American candidates.”

This again? It must be especially bothersome for Coulter that Trump lost to Cruz. After all, she must see the senator as something of a double foreigner since he was born in Canada.

Even so, entrance polls showed that – when asked which candidate shared their values – only 5 percent of Iowans named Trump but 38 percent picked Cruz. The Texas senator’s attack on Trump’s “New York values” might have angered the Manhattan press corps, but Iowans seem to have understood what he meant.

Democrats are always quick to note political firsts, and this year many hope to elect the first woman president.

Well, Cruz made history this week in Iowa, becoming the first Hispanic candidate to win a presidential caucus or primary. This was all very confusing for many Latino liberals, who refuse to acknowledge Cruz’s victory as a legitimate breakthrough because they don’t consider Cruz to be a legitimate Hispanic. It’s not just white Democrats who try to marginalize Hispanic Republicans as inauthentic. We Latinos can play that game as well.

Rubio also has reason to be proud. He nearly tied Trump for second place. My favorite line from Monday night was a spontaneous outburst from one of his backers. The senator said to a group of supporters: “They told me I needed to wait my turn.” A woman in the audience shouted: “It is your turn!” We shall see if voters in the next three states – New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – agree.

And what about Trump? The mesmerizing political outsider, who promised voters in Iowa that, if he is elected president, America will never stop winning, exited the state as a loser.

That raises questions. Trump knows how to win, but does he know how to lose with dignity? His concession speech in Iowa was gracious enough. Before the pundits could gloat over the fact that the one-time GOP front-runner had come in second, Trump was out in front of the story gushing his affection for Iowans.

But how long will this kinder, gentler Trump be with us? If he loses New Hampshire, will he still be as magnanimous as he saunters into South Carolina?

The Palmetto State is Trump’s to lose, judging from the polls. His “Make America Great Again” populism is a good fit in the South.

But the businessman could still snatch defeat from the clutches of victory if he loses the first two contests and appears angry and bitter about it. No one wants to see a billionaire play the victim.

Perhaps some personal rebranding is in order. Trump likes to brag about having rescued dozens of distressed companies over the years and breathing new life into them by changing things up.

Coming off his defeat in Iowa, it might be Trump who needs rescuing. If his old brand is now associated with losing, he’ll need a new marketing plan when he gets to New Hampshire.

Because if he loses there, Americans might conclude that the candidate who perfected the art of the deal can’t close one with voters.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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