I am one of those who was saying for years, “Why Iowa?… Why do those white-bread hicks get to decide who runs for president before everybody else? And on top of that, half the time they don’t even pick the winner anyway.”
Now that I have “been there and done that,” I have to admit I couldn’t have been more wrong. (Well, maybe not about the winner thing. We’ll have to wait on that.)
The Iowa caucuses are a thrilling exercise in direct democracy. They make you proud to be an American. Not only that, they are open to everyone. You can walk right in and watch. I recommend the experience to everyone, at least once in a lifetime.
The actual winners and losers of the caucuses were a bit surprising, but you could sense it coming on the ground. There’s kind of weird zeitgeist when you’re there I don’t know how to explain.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the big losers; Cruz, Rubio and Sanders the big winners.
Trump lost because his almost complete absence of a ground game showed him to be a surprisingly disorganized candidate, curiously devoid of, of all things, executive skills — not a good sign for someone who wants to be president.
Trump may have been the victim, in part, of his own rhetoric. All his “I’m a winner” talk may have gone to his head.
On Monday night, people were fleeing his “victory” party at the West Des Moines Sheraton, where I was staying, like lemmings. Coming, as we did, from the Rubio “victory” party, which really sounded and felt like one, the atmospheric comparisons couldn’t have been more stark.
Hillary lost because she only beat Bernie, if she did, by winning an extraordinary streak of six coin tosses at even-steven caucuses. Oddly, that’s what it can come down to for the Democrats, who seem to have a complex system of counting votes that is not always exactly, er, democratic. (Maybe they should play a tie-breaker, like tennis.) Hillary should have been at the Vegas craps tables, considering her two to the sixth power run.
Bernie is demanding the actual count be published and he should. It’s a safe best, he actually won. But no matter, he’s got the Big Mo — sclerotic socialist “mo” that it may be. If I had to bet now, I’d say the Democratic nomination is between Sanders and Biden. Hillary’s exit for whatever reasons — legal masquerading as health or the other way around or a combination of the two — is only weeks or, at best, a couple of months away. You read it here first — or is it last?
Of course, the other loser — the biggest and most disgraceful — is Jeb Bush. He should have pulled out long ago. Better yet, he should never have run, instead acknowledging what we all know — dynasties are for ancient Egypt, not the USA.
He’d get out now, if he had any honor. So should everyone else who scored low single digits. All they are demonstrating by staying in is their own egomania — and that includes Christie, Rand and Kasich, even if one or two score a few more percentage points in New Hampshire. They have about as much a chance of being president as you do, dear reader. (Kudos to Huckabee for having the grace to duck out. Carson seems to be reconsidering.)
So the three-man race begins — Cruz, Trump, Rubio — Rubio having pushed his way decisively into the front tier on Monday by nearly edging out Trump in the surprise of the night.
I remain sympathetic to Trump, although I think the whole “outsider” meme is one great made-for-media load of you-know-what, only useful as some kind of crutch for talking heads on Megyn Kelly’s show. Of all the people running in either party, only Carson could be remotely construed to be a real “outsider.” (Fiorina advertises herself as having been a consultant for the CIA.)
If you’re not a big-time politician, to be an “outsider” these days means you have, at minimum, a net worth of 60 million. If you think that’s not true, you are what is known in Elizabethan theater as “The Gulled Gentleman.” (Bloomberg — another billionaire — is considering jumping in. Is he an “outsider”? If he is, how do I get to be one?)
So what we are really looking at is a battle of three insiders of different sorts. Cruz plays the game of the ideological purist, Trump the game of the tycoon who can make us all rich (too bad he doesn’t own Apple or Google, just some flashy hotels and golf courses — but who’s counting?) and Rubio plays the game of the guy who can bring us all together.
The voters of Iowa played the game of “thoughtful citizen,” at least when I encountered them in the caucuses. There was little of the anger, righteous and otherwise, you see in the comments sections of Internet sites, left and right, and that is bandied about by pundits as the overwhelming mood and governing principle of today’s America.
They may have their moments like the rest of us, but the Iowans I saw seemed to have checked their anger at the door and talked about — guess what? — the issues. And civilly. We could all learn from that.