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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

And so it begins - the Iowa Caucus results and what they mean

While the presidential election race has been in full swing for over 6 months now, it didn't really officially start until last night in Iowa.  Everything before was based on polls and debate performance to determine front runners, but there was nothing truly substantial to get a sense of which candidates were doing well and which are floundering or should just drop out.  Until last night.  Iowa is the first state in the nation to hold its form of the presidential primaries.  It's the first event where people actually vote for a candidate.  It's the first time where the results actually have some substance to them.

Both parties had their Iowa caucus last night and I'll discuss both of them.  But first, in case you're not aware of how the primary/caucus process works, I'll give you a very brief overview.  In order for a candidate to secure their party's nomination they must acquire a majority of the available delegates.  Each state has a primary or caucus which allows citizens to vote for their candidates.  And based on the results of those votes, candidates will be awarded a certain amount of delegates.  How a candidate earns delegates can vary between both states and parties.  Some states, like Iowa, award delegates in proportion to the percentage of the vote they earned.  Other states, like Florida, give all their delegates to the winner.  There are also a bunch of variations in each type of delegate awarding scheme and even when the delegates are awarded the same way in the state, the process for determining who wins can be different between parties.  It can be rather confusing,  but for the sake of this post, it's just important to understand what the caucuses and primaries ultimately do:  award delegates to candidates that in turn decide the party's nominee for the general (November) election.

Now, let's get down to each party.  I'll start with the Democrats because why not?  Anyone reading this blog already knows my biases, so don't be surprised if I'm not too flattering of either candidate.  Anyway...

Democrats

Hillary (Clinton) edged Bernie Sanders by the smallest of margins - 49.9% to 49.6%.  And while a win is a win, it's not really much of a loss for the Bern.  Clinton ends up with 22 delegates while Sanders gets 21.  O'Malley, the "other candidate", promptly dropped out even before 50% of the votes were tallied due to bringing in less than 1%.  

My Take

While the devotion to Hillary still makes me shy and shake my head, I'm actually more surprised at how many people are buying into Bernie's schtick.  I'll give the guy one thing, he's unabashed and authentic.  He not only doesn't try to hide his socialist stripes, he wears them proudly and isn't afraid to go fully Monty, even when his absurd tweets points to a man who has a frighteningly terrible grasp on economics.  I'm not just surprised really, but truly dumbfounded by the amount of support he's received.  Back in 2008, Obama ran on "hope and change", which was just thinly disguised socialist rhetoric with no substance.   Yet, here we are again 8 years later and people are rallying around a candidate doing the same exact thing, except dialing up the rhetoric (and therefore exposing their ignorance that much more) even past what Obama did.  

But it makes sense.  Even though socialism has failed every. single. time., the complaint by the socialists is that they didn't have everything they wanted or needed for it to be successful - they lament of those that try to stop them or those that haven't fully drunk the kool aid keeping them from their free stuff, lounge about comfortably utopia.  In other words, they'll blame its failures on not getting everything they wanted - which will never happen in the real world, ever.
But what's even more terrifying are those people who vote for him knowing full well someone, even themselves later on in their lives, are paying for their "free stuff" and things will ultimately get worse - but they just don't care.  It's free to them right now and they don't have to pay for it for another 20 years if at all.  So why should they care?  A generation full of people with that attitude is truly terrifying.  

Republicans

The Republican race was a little more interesting.  Here's how it shook out:
Ted Cruz - 28%
Donald Trump - 24%
Marco Rubio - 23%
Ben Carson - 9%
Rand Paul - 5%
and a bunch of other candidates under 5%.

My Take

While Cruz is the winner, and the guy I voted for, the fact there's only a 5 point difference between him, Trump and Rubio really means there is no clear cut leader in the race.  Cruz is my guy, but his win is not nearly as convincing as I hoped it would be.  Perhaps his numbers would be higher if some of the other candidates had dropped out, but you could say that about just any candidate.  What's even more worrisome is that in the past two Iowa Caucuses, this was their high point in the primaries (Huckabee in 2008, Santorum in 2012) .  Afterward, they just became less and less a contender.  Perhaps the shorter, more intense primary season may address this, but the only thing about Cruz's victory that's substantial is his viability in the race.  He is viable and a top tier candidate.  His win last night makes that clear. 

Trump, I'd have to say, is the biggest loser.  While I've no illusions about Trump's conservative chops (he doesn't really have any), I definitely see his appeal.  He's a highly visible, popular, and successful persona.  When one thinks of rich and successful, Donald Trump is usually at the top of the list of names people would come up with.   He's not the most likeable guy.  He brags and seems very self centered at times.  But you cannot deny the appeal he brings.  Given that he sells himself as an expert negotiator with a proven and successful track record that can't be bought by donors is a very strong appeal to a nation tired of the same old politician bait and switch (Republicans especially after giving their party the majority in both houses, yet still they capitulate to the Obama administration).  And it's caught on, as Trump has pointed out endlessly by showing poll numbers where he's been in the lead.  Yet despite his poll numbers and some people predicting a big night for him, he under performed enough to be taken out of the top spot.  This has to be the biggest concern since he's been relying on those polls to prove that the American people are behind him.  Thus, if the polls aren't really reflective of the voter base, then his front runner status, since we now have some real results to go by, is in question.  He's leading heavily in New Hampshire polls, but will he under perform there as well?  It was mentioned that Trump didn't spend very much nor had a lot of organization in Iowa.  It's anyone's guess though if increased spending or a better ground game would have boosted his numbers given the uniqueness of his candidacy (Are traditional boots on the ground campaign strategies effective for such an already popular person?)

Then there's Rubio, probably the biggest winner of the night.  No one, except perhaps his campaign staff and supporters, expected him to do so well.  He was polling at 15% for Iowa, but then came away with 23%.  That's an 8 point over performance, which is huge in the electoral world.  He was within striking distance of Trump's second place spot and only 5 points behind Cruz.  This may point to Rubio's more Reaganesque appeal over the other two.  While Cruz is definitely more conservative, he's also more combative and in your face.  He's still an effective communicator and while I like that aspect to him, other people will be turned off to it.  Rubio, on the other hand, is very effective at uniting people while still standing on his principles.   It gives him a high claim to electability.  But ironically, I see that as part of the problem.  And it has to do with his involvement in the "gang of eight" immigration reform bill that floated around a few years ago.  As part of a "bipartisan effort" (which is just Democrat speak for getting Republicans to cave in to their demands), a huge immigration bill was sent to the Senate.  It passed the Senate via exceptions written in for certain Republican's states to get their vote.  It was not a good piece of legislation and Rubio is forever tied to it.  He lost a  lot of trust from the conservative base that day.  Because either a.) he's not as conservative as he claims to be as is evidenced in him supporting that bill or b.) he was duped by the Democrats into going along with it.  Neither option is very promising.  I can almost chalk it up to a "lesson learned: don't trust Schumer again" idea, and I want to, but the worry that he will betray his voters just like the Senate and House leadership has will always be there.  I don't have that same concern with Cruz.  I'd be happy with a Rubio presidency as long as he sticks to his guns.  

Carson, whom I still think is a great man, came out where I expected.  His campaign has been floundering lately, though they did accuse the Cruz campaign of "tricking" voters into thinking that Carson was suspending his campaign.  I'm not sure how much I believe that.  The Carson campaign manager himself had let slip a week or two earlier that they'e had endorsement talks (as in who should they endorse if they halt their campaign), so it's not like it wasn't already on some voter's minds.  I definitely think the campaign should keep going to New Hampshire and maybe South Carolina.  But he'll need a breakthrough soon or else it'd be best for him to get behind one of the top 3.   

Rand Paul, another senator I like, is kind of a mystery to me.  I'll admit I haven't paid much attention to him lately, but I'm not sure why he's so low in the polls.  His ideas are largely sound and he's a Constitutionalist at heart with a libertarian streak.  One would think that to be a potent combination.  But I guess it's not.  Much like the Carson campaign, he should see how he does in the next primaries, but call it quits if his situation doesn't drastically improve.

As for the rest...Bush, Kasich, and Fiorina in particular, should hang it up.  While yes, Iowa isn't an indication of how the entire primary race can go, that only accounts for so much leeway.  In 40 years of Iowa Republican caucuses, the lowest percentage the eventual nominee won was 13% by John McCain in 2008.  The lowest percentage a general election winner has won in Iowa is 19% by George H.W. Bush in 1988.  Jeb Bush, the highest out of the others group had 2.8%.  Even if you gave him all of the votes from all the candidates performing below him ( totalling 8.4%), you'd still only come up to 11.3%, still short of McCain's low mark in 2008 and well short of the lowest percentage of a winning general election candidate.  Historically speaking, it would take an unprecedented electoral miracle for Bush, let alone Kasich or Fiorina, to not only grab the nomination, but win. Stop wasting resources on lost causes and put them behind more viable candidates so that the party as a whole can come together sooner and be more prepared for the general election.


Conclusions...


So after looking at both races and the results, I think it's quite clear what many people, even Democrats, are looking for in this election: Authenticity.  As misguided as Bernie Sanders is in his socialism, he's authentic.  His performance last night showed that authenticity resonating.  People have seen enough of Hillary over the last 20+  years to get a sense of her being a phony.  She's an old guard politician that has lot touch with her electorate.  And people are tired of the entitled "political class", especially one believing in the inevitability of her presidency.  On the Republican side, the top two are also authentic.  Cruz has always done what he said he was going to do and what the people of Texas elected him to do.  He's done the right thing even if earned him enemies in Washington.  (I mean can you remember any Senator in living history calling his own party's leader in the Senate a liar to his face on the Senate floor?  That takes courage and boldness).  And Trump, whether you like him or not, is authentic in his own way.  He also does what he says he's going to do.  He can't be bought.  He'll say what he wants to say and to heck with anyone who says otherwise.  Some people don't trust him, but I just don't see it.  As a businessman, it makes no sense for him to lie so completely as to betray his supporters.   He may not hold to the same conservative values that I do, but I cannot deny his authenticity in wanting to make America great again and how he'd go about doing it.  

Our country has a deep mistrust of politicians and rightfully so.  Congressional approval ratings have been below 20% for the last 5-6 years, bottoming out at 9%.  They don't do what they say they're going to do.  In some cases, they do the opposite.  And people are tired of it.  They want someone who's going to actually DO what they say they're going to do.  They don't want another polished politician that's good at telling them what they want to hear.  They're willing to excuse a person's eccentricities as long that person is authentic in what they say and do.  They're even willing to overlook a plan that not's perfect.  That authenticity is what ignites passion.  And, just like anything, the emotional and moral appeal of someone authentic will always win out over someone who sounds smooth and practiced and has to spend energy spinning their inconsistencies.

I'm looking forward to seeing how New Hampshire plays out.  But if there's one thing that's refreshing so far, is that at least the Republican side is not in the grip of establishment cronies, though I'm sure they'll try to find a way to weasel their way into the picture.  I just hope this streak of authenticity keeps up.