The primary season is up and running with Iowa now in the rear view mirror. On the Republican side, we get to find out who the arch-conservative, eventual primary loser will be. On the Democratic side, traditionally we do not learn much (for both of these claims, see Iowa as being a poor predictor in general). But are these truisms correct this cycle. Here are the facts:
Hillary Clinton edged out Bernie Sanders to win the Iowa Democratic Caucus. Good for her, right? Not so much. Hillary had a very large lead in Iowa for months, and Bernie Sanders was able to mobilize progressives, young voters, and neighboring state activists to saturate Iowa the last three weeks of the campaign. Winning by 0.3% in a non-winner-take-all-state is not much of a victory. The two candidates will leave with nearly the same amount of delegates, and come next week when Bernie wins New Hampshire, he will actually take the lead.
A few other takeaways:
-Shockingly, I will lead off with Martin O’Malley and this incredible feat: some people actually do like him! Instead of railing on his shockingly low support in Iowa, I will instead suggest he exceeded expectations by proving some people would choose him over the ethically questionable Hillary or commi bastard Bernie. So although O’Malley is sure to drop out any day now–unless he really likes to lose by epic levels in a small field–he and his family can leave Iowa knowing they are not without support from some people. Fittingly, he has no geographic base of support, but instead, sporadic support in some rural counties.
-Bernie effectively peeled off the sizable left in Iowa and got out the youth and co-op farm vote to match Hillary’s party regulars and moderate base. Although Hillary technically won (or did she?), it matters very little in the scheme of things. What matters is Bernie took on Hillary’s onslaught of name-rec and resources and walked away tied after round 1. That is incredible someone not descriptively suited to beat Hillary (i.e. he is a Jewish socialist from Brooklyn… not a sizable bloc like Obama and African-Americans). Bernie’s strength in the most progressive part of the state–the southeast–is a clear indicator of where he gets his support.
For now, Bernie is effectively the front-runner for the next couple of weeks. Certainly Hillary’s ground game, and more importantly, advantage among party elites (superdelegates) will lead to her collecting a series of victories on super Tuesday. But if Bernie can continue to win the states with the most active left or legacy of populist socialism (Minnesota, New Mexico, Wisconsin, North Dakota, West Virginia, Michigan, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii), the last primary states may take him seriously enough to spurn their devotion to the Clintons. As it stands, Bernie has a very low chance of winning California, Texas, New York, Illinois, or Florida. If he can win one of these states, that would signal a very large sea change in in either the calculus of ethnic minorities, or an incredible turnout among youth voters. In is nearly unforeseeable for Bernie to start winning moderate or home-owning types, even if they have reservations about Hillary’s character. Texas will be the first of these states, and a key race to watch (Bernie will win NH and Hillary is very likely to win Nevada and South Carolina).
-Regarding Hillary, if I were in her camp I would still be optimistic. That is because this is a long race, and Hillary’s structural advantage across many multi-ethnic and non-leftist states makes her a clear favorite, even still. That said, Bernie has all the momentum, and she really needs to find a more convincing talking point that I am the best suited to win the general, and I have a lot of bipartisan experience. As much I actually believe that stuff, as a progressive, neither are likely to make me support her over Bernie. Going negative will not beat him either. The only way to beat Bernie, other that holding constant until the convention and winding an underwhelming plurality of the delegates, is to prove to progressives Hillary’s policies will continue and expand Obama’s legacy. Not only will she be mindful to steward the country through necessary, but unpopular decisions, but she will actually achieve success on progressive policies. That requires her to tell anecdotes about specific GOP senators that favor climate change, carceral reform, and raising the minimum wage. Because if those senators do not exist, then we are just as well off electing an authentic progressive icon than a competent statesman that might lead to non-progressive policies as much she gets the progressive ones. A history of bipartisanship is not enough; that these senators still exist, and on issues progressives care about, is key to Hillary proving her pedigree.
Oh, and overall, I think it is fair to say Iowans just do not like Hillary Clinton.
And now the GOP, the party of America! With a vast misinformation campaign, aided by a dumb leading opponent, arch-conservative (or so he makes everyone think) Ted Cruz took first place. Several people have suggested Trump’s refusal to participate in the last debate really hurt him among those that were still undecided. However, Ted Cruz looked especially bad in that debate, which to me suggests these undecided voters likely did not move toward Cruz, but some other candidate, which ostensibly could have been Trump. At any rate, Marco Rubio had an incredible night, and is the real big winner on the GOP side.
-Cruz winning is not surprising, given that Rick “Santorum” Santorum won in 2012. Iowa loves batshit unelectable conservative types. And given the large size of the field, the real advantage of “winning” Iowa is people making a big deal about you “winning” Iowa. If the media depicted event in Iowa as being a fairly bad predictor of subsequent events, the bandwagon effect would be much smaller (and it is already very small). They key question about Cruz are: when Trump inevitably quits the campaign, will those voters go to him? Same with Carson? And even if they pule into his camp, a combined 61.2% of the vote in Iowa is still probably not enough to predict the strength of that candidate in normal states. A conservative standard bearer, yes, but the eventual nominee, probably not.
-What I consider the biggest story of the nigh: Bush fails hard. Really hard. I don’t care how conservative Iowa Republicans are, 2.8% of the vote for a fucking Bush is ludicrous. If Jeb does not win New Hampshire, which he likely won’t, then I do not see how he can continue his campaign. The one ray of light is Marco Rubio is also not positioned to win New Hampshire, which means some moderate has to step into the fray. Kasich and Christie are well-suited to win New Hampshire, and they are not nearly as moderate as Huntsman in 2012, which should help them a little.
-Marco Rubio is the big winner of the night. He has seemingly pulled in enough regular conservatives to push him ahead of the moderate-only club of Republicans (Bush, Christie, Kasich). Now, Rubio will be able to get the moderates and eventually coalesce a strong election constituency around him, which one might even call “the establishment.” Most interestingly, Rubio surged atop college town enthusiasm. If he and Sanders make it to the general election, it might be the first time in American history in which the key deciding election group was young people. High turnout among college students and 20-somethings has propelled both of these candidates forward. But belying the “all college students are indoctrinate liberal” tag, Rubio (and Rand Paul) genuinely appeal to younger voters. One can argue endlessly about whether that is false consciousness by these youths or principled conservatism, but the feat of simply getting these kids excited is a high order. Rubio can authentically claim to be the leading non-batshit candidate at this point, which is especially stunning given his own history of being pathological liar.
-Surprisingly, there is not much to say about Trump. The accusations of electoral fraud by the comb-over against Cruz are really entertaining though. Seeing that he has continuously said he won every debate-business-election-farting contest in human history, the fact that he is 0/1 in election season (a zero percent success rate over his electoral career in the GOP) is interesting. The maverick in him could upset the conventional wisdom and he can take New Hampshire, but all the momentum is against him. Whoever his supporters are, at some point they will get burned out. That time might be sooner than later (and then he wins New Hampshire and I have reassess the world).
-Ben Carson achieved his high water mark for a primary this year. He will not fare any better moving forward. He might stay in to continue his public presence before his book releases, but his candidacy is essentially over now that the conservative side of the field is becoming more settled.
-Rand Paul has suspended his campaign. I do not know what he was expecting in Iowa, other than potentially winning the Iowa City area. But Rubio took those votes. So Paul will move on to concentrate on his jeopardized senate seat, but we will see him again in 2020 and 2024. I do believe at some point he will be a top 3 candidate in the party, although I honestly thought that could have been this election. Paul must eternally hate Rubio for stealing his campus cred.
Overall, the key story in Iowa is really the roll of college students in providing insurgent candidates with their support. Both Sanders and Rubio received large turnout in the college towns.