An unusually subdued Donald Trump conceded defeat to rival Ted Cruz and very hurriedly made his way out of Iowa.
Having been smiling the smile of a happy Cheshire cat since a poll on Saturday night placed him a clear five points ahead, Mr Trump appeared before supporters in Des Moines to thank them for their work, and to claim he would win in New Hampshire, which votes next week.
“I was told by everybody, 'Do not go to Iowa. You could never finish even in the top 10’'," Mr Trump said at the Sheraton hotel, where what had been planned as a victory party became something very different.
"They said, 'Don’t do it'. I said, 'I have to do it'. And we finished second. And I want to tell you something, I’m just honoured."
He added: "I'm really honoured. And I want to congratulate Ted, and I want to congratulate all of the incredible candidates, including Mike Huckabee, who has become a really good friend of mine."
Mr Trump’s words of congratulation for Mr Cruz, who secured 28 points compared to his 24, were in stark contrast to the attacks and insults he has been leveling at the Texas senator in recent weeks.
Mr Trump had accused Mr Cruz of being a liar and questioned whether he was even permitted to be president, given that he was born in Canada.
Recent polls had given Mr Trump a clear lead over Mr Cruz in New Hampshire, but things could easily change, now that Mr Trump has been shown not to be invincible. Another very obvious threat to Mr Trump will be Marco Rubio, who was third and secured 23 points.
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
1/14 On Isis:
"Some of the candidates, they went in and didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work and sweated like dogs, and they didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?"
2/14 On immigration:
"I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
3/14 On Free Trade:
"Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people."
PAUL J. RICHARDS | AFP | Getty Images
4/14 On Mexicans:
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
5/14 On China:
"I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower."
6/14 On work:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."
7/14 On success:
"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."
8/14 On life:
"Everything in life is luck."
9/14 On ambition:
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
10/14 On his opponents:
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
11/14 On Obamacare:
"You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high. It's virtually useless. And remember the $5 billion web site?... I have so many web sites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me $3."
12/14 On Barack Obama:
"Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him. I have the best courses in the world. I have one right next to the White House."
13/14 On himself:
"Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money."
14/14 On America:
"The American Dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before and we will make America great again."
His performance was better than many had expected and Mr Rubio will now expect to secure support and donations from establishment Republicans who dislike both Mr Cruz and Mr Trump.
Mr Trump finished his speech by saying he would still go on to win.
"We will go on to get the Republican nomination, and we will go on to easily beat Hillary or Bernie or whoever the hell they throw up there," he said.
Having spoken, Mr Trump and his family were seen leaving the hotel in a small convoy of vehicles, led by a police escort.