I recently penned an article entitled “The Unimportance of Iowa.” This year, it went from unimportant to unreliable.
The Iowa caucus-style primary has been overrated and an irrelevant tradition in American politics for generations. Like the circus, it comes to our political town every couple of years with great pomp, publicity and anticipation. And like the circus, it puts on a great show of middle Americanism. However, it is just entertainment that quickly fades in the dust and dulcet tones of the departing calliope.
This year was more notable than most. Not because of the political outcomes and the Whirling Dervish spins of the performing candidates – but because disaster struck the Big Top. The tent collapsed before any of the performers could take their bows.
It would have been time to send in the clowns, but as the song revealed, “They’re already here.” In fact, they appear to have been the organizers of this year’s first-of-the-season performances.
The “why” and “how” that the calibrating system so badly malfunctioned will require a longer analysis. What we do know is that the final results, which were to be released in the late hours of Monday evening, were not revealed until the next day – running smack into the State of the Union Speech and the vote to acquit President Trump of all charges in the Articles of Impeachment.
In the meantime, the clowns dressed up as presidential candidates did their job. They came before the American audience with campaign-style speeches – and even victory speeches – to divert attention away from the lack of information.
The long wait taxed the skills of those news networks renowned for their ability to drone on endlessly without any new news to report. Senator Amy Klobuchar was the first to see and seize that opportunity to appear before the cameras. She gave a long victory-like campaign speech – and her gambit worked. She got full coverage of her entire speech on all three of the major cable news stations that were desperate for something … anything … to report.
It appeared that former Vice President Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg were late to the party – failing to recognize the opportunity that all that dead airtime offered. They belatedly returned to center ring, but only for divided attention from the networks.
In fact, Biden and Warren tripped over each other by taking to the stage at the same time – forcing FOX NEWS to put them on split-screen with the audio randomly jumping back and forth – turning their remark into disconnected gibberish. The only things missing were the over-sized shoes and the red bulbous noses.
The technology breakdown that ground the process to a halt only masked the more important issue. Had all the glitches not occurred, the Iowa caucuses would still have been an exercise in absurdity. Whether intentional or not – and a case can be made on both sides – the Iowa caucuses were designed to obfuscate political reality.
Remember the rules. You gather in a corner with your fellow Iowans based on your candidate preference. You need to have more than 15 percent of the total number of caucusers to make it to the second round. BUT, if you are just short of the 15 percent threshold, you can go to others in that category and invite, beg or bribe them to join your caucus to get you over the 15 percent,
When the vote is finally taken, those whose candidates passed the 15 percent can go home. They are locked in. However, those who failed to achieve 15 percent can be solicited by the successful caucuses – unless they have already gone home and there is no one to do the soliciting.
After that bit of horse trading, another vote is taken to see who of the remaining candidates has the most support. That number is then calculated into the distribution of delegates.
Under the Iowa system, you can win the first round, lose the second to a declared official winner, but wind up with your share of delegates. Generally, it results in a few candidates dividing up the already small number (41 out of 4765) delegates to the National Convention.
A big difference this year is that the smart folks at the Democratic National Committee insisted that the results of the first round be made public. That was not done in the past. That did nothing except to expose the underlying stupidity of the entire Iowa caucus system to the general public.
In 2016, it has been widely believed that Sanders had actually beat Hillary Clinton in the first round, but she collected all the stop-Sanders-at-any-cost dropouts to be declared the overall winner.
If you think screwing up the first in the nation primary was new this year, you need to recall when Governor George Romney was declared the winner in the 2012 Iowa primary only to have the trophy transferred to Senator Rick Santorum much later – after early primaries in other states were already over.
On a related subject, we should not forget that the Des Moines Register had to shut down its highly vaunted last-minute statewide poll because they forgot to include Buttigieg among the candidates. They were already in the midst of calling caucusers when a Buttigieg supporter called the error to the newspaper’s attention.
In short, there was no credible advance information and no timely subsequent information. It is time for Iowa to be shuffled to the middle of the deck of primaries and to convert to an election system. Outside of providing great theater, the Iowa system is not a great service to the process.
So, there ‘tis.