The Iowa Democratic Party has achieved the most astonishing transmission failure since the Dallas police endeavoured to transport Lee Harvey Oswald out of their basement garage.
A fiasco has eclipsed what was an elementary exercise in participatory democracy at 1700 polling stations. This is not the first time in which politics in Iowa has been subject to delay bordering on debacle. But last time it was on the other side of the aisle.
In 2012, Republican Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania won the party caucus but was not confirmed as victor for another 17 days. The loss of momentum denies a successful candidate the ability to be recognised as serious and therefore worthy of support in the next contest (New Hampshire) along with a greater capacity to raise money.
It was Jimmy Carter as an unknown peanut-farming governor of Georgia who first put the Iowa caucuses on the political map in 1976. New faces, including Barack Obama, often do well in Iowa. This has served former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg particularly well.
Given that Iowa occupies first place in candidate selection for the presidency, Des Moines becomes the centre of the known political universe for a time every four years.
This is not a unique circumstance. In September 1941, Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh, the darling of US isolationism, arrived in the capital of Iowa to address a rally of America Firsters. Lindbergh, who was a recipient from Hermann Goering of the Nazi German Eagle, proceeded to claim that three categories of people wanted to see the US enter World War II: the administration of president Franklin D. Roosevelt, the British government, led by Winston Churchill, and international Jewry.
Fortunately, the uproar that ensued did colossal damage to Lindbergh’s reputation, built originally on his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Three months later, Pearl Harbor did the rest.
Donald Trump came to Des Moines on Thursday last week to talk to a rally at Drake University. It was his usual mixture of bombast and bluster, delivered with a bravado not seen since Andrew Johnson occupied the White House. Trump’s stock speech is to maintain that a Democratic victory in November means the end of civilisation as we know it. What is surprising is how many Americans accept and applaud this.
The Trump campaign remains stark in its nativist rhetoric. The Des Moines Register carried a photograph of a banner outside the Trump rally that suggested words to this effect: “Vote Trump. USA. Beat the Democrats and Hollywood Lefties.” This election is a matter of culture.
However, the reaction to Trump is never in doubt. His base idolises him. His critics will never accept him as legitimate. During a week in Iowa, this became clear beyond doubt. One Democratic caucus-goer observed: “I would rather vote for a potato than Donald Trump.” This was met by cheers.
Overwhelmingly, the issue that mattered to voters in what is known as the Hawkeye State was healthcare, which is why Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were tied in such knots over the expansion of Medicare.
The middle ground was represented by former vice-president Joe Biden and Buttigieg, who are for an expansion of health insurance, with Biden emphasising defence of Obamacare. Biden argues that across a decade Warren’s healthcare proposals would cost $US35 trillion ($51.8 trillion).
Buttigieg brings a freshness to American politics that is also heartening.
At a rally at the University of Iowa, he bounced energetically into the room, following an introduction by a charming local pastor who admitted she could not pronounce his name.
Buttigieg has broken new ground and his preparedness to tackle issues such as poverty reflects well on his candidacy and has been rewarded by the voters.
Buttigieg is both personable and thoughtful, and he stands his ground.
One attendee at the University of Iowa meeting challenged him on the Middle East. Buttigieg stood by his position in support of Israel, while being critical of certain policies of the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government.
Biden is measured in his approach. He understands that to win in November, by “beating Trump like a drum”, the Democrats must recover the middle ground, particularly among working-class constituents in the midwest and the upper midwest. He understands instinctively that the core of the Democratic Party simply wants to beat Trump. This is his focus.
At a meeting in a school gymnasium in Waukee, Iowa, he said simply that the President was more like George Wallace (the segregationist governor of Alabama in the 1960s) than first president George Washington, immortalised for every American schoolchild.
However, the Biden campaign failed to impress Iowans. He is now on the edge of viability.
A caucus system favours activists and a primary in Iowa may well have delivered a different result. But for now Sanders is front and centre among candidates.
Let’s be frank. Sanders is a longshot to win the presidency. It’s difficult to disagree with senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina), who cheekily observed that Sanders had gone off to holiday in the Soviet Union and had never come back.
The main problem with Sanders’s campaign, apart from the fact Larry David on Saturday Night Live is a more appealing figure, is that at the margins his supporters are trolls who trash other Democratic candidates. In 2016, he stayed in the race far longer than reasonable, thus denying Hillary Clinton valuable time and money. Now the Bernie Bros snipe at every other Democrat in the field. This is an exercise in self-destruction.
The American economy motors on, which favours the incumbent President heavily, as reflected in the State of the Union address. If the Democratic Party cannot unify around a single nominee, then Trump is certain to win a second term and the Trump era continues, dominant in the Republican Party and the country at large.