Maybe it’s the fact that it’s in Iowa that the first presidential caucuses are charming. Iowa doesn’t feel like a place where big money and fancy suits win electoral contests (and it’s not; one of the most endearing characteristics about former Republican Rep. Jim Leach was that he wore sweaters under his suitcoats). But without the down-home nature of Midwestern Iowa setting the mood, the caucuses by very definition feel disturbingly un-American.
Caucuses aren’t really free elections. They’re meetings at which group dynamics and peer (or nonpeer) pressure is present and can have an impact on who wins the day. There is no privacy, no secret vote. Friends or married couples who might have deceived each other about whom they were voting for won’t be able to keep the lie alive in a caucus. That might be laudable on some Dr. Phil meter of honesty, but it’s not good for the electoral system. Free and fair elections demand secret ballots.
Watching a caucus can be fascinating to the outsider, and can provide insights to observers and campaign workers alike about who has what constituency group. At the Nevada caucuses in 2008–one of them held, appropriate, at a casino hotel ballroom in Las Vegas–the division was stark. The housekeepers, many of them Latina, huddled on one side of the room, cheering for Hillary Clinton. The showgirls and other younger casino workers gathered in smaller clusters for Barack Obama. It provided an interesting visual, and one that backed the polls: Clinton had a loyal following among Hispanics, and had earned support from those female wage-earners, despite official support for Obama from the casino workers’ union. But there was something very creepy about the public display of individual support, especially since it wasn’t voluntary. There is no opportunity, in a presidential caucus, to give a private endorsement of any candidate.
Iowans have been doing this a long time, and are no doubt used to giving up the opportunity to cast a secret ballot. Will it make some voters feel pressured to support one candidate or another? Will some feel isolated, casting a ballot for a Jon Huntsman or even a falling Michele Bachmann, fearful of looking silly for backing a candidate now seen as having little chance of winning the GOP nomination? Public protest and free speech are honorable, and are American rights. But so is choosing to be quiet about one’s political views.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, January 2, 2012
Even Republicans have to be laughing at the circus sideshow the GOP presidential candidates are putting on. The Mitt-Rick-Herman act was so comical this week it looks concerted, almost like they collaborated with the Democratic National Committee. Team Obama is grinning so hard its ears are hurting, because 10 weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, the Republican Party is divided, the candidates are undisciplined and the voters don’t love any of them. Just in time for the real ugliness to begin a few weeks from now.
The marquee moment belongs to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, of course, indulging in birtherism on Monday night so that he could step on Tuesday’s rollout of his flat-tax plan. Sure, Perry tried to discount the birth-certificate controversy — sort of — while throwing some greasy scraps to the Trumpsters who still believe a U.S. president has actually released a fake certificate.
“I’m not really worried about the president’s birth certificate,” Perry said in an interview with CNBC. “It’s fun to poke at him a little bit and say, ‘Hey, how about, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.’ ” Perry made sure to mention that Donald Trump recently said he didn’t think the birth certificate was real. And he said it’s “a good issue to keep alive.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney could have jumped all over that — if he hadn’t been busy shooting himself in the foot in the battleground state of Ohio. Yes, Romney decided a fresh flip-flop was in order, despite the fact that his critics are happy to savor his many others. While at a Republican call center in Ohio, he refused to comment on an Ohio law limiting collective bargaining that he had expressed support for months ago. After being pummeled by conservatives, Romney reiterated his, um, previous support.
Herman Cain, who tops the GOP field in a new CBS/New York Times poll, spent the last few days telling reporters who asked tough policy questions that he needed a little more time to think of an answer. He learned the hard way by saying on CNN that abortion is a family’s choice. Whoops — better to leave details out of this whole thing. Cain still can’t really be found on the campaign trail. No, the motivational speaker was in Texas selling books and giving a speech. And despite Perry’s attempt to beat Cain at his 9-9-9 game with a flat-tax plan, Cain-world still scored much buzz with a weirdo Web ad featuring his campaign manager Mark Block smoking into the camera. It already has more than 387,000 hits on YouTube.
With that kind of juice, who needs to endure the icy winds of the door-to-door campaigning Iowans demand of their caucus winners? If Cain continues to surge without leaving the book tour, then we will know that talking to voters in town-hall meetings and asking for their support is no longer necessary. In fact, perhaps televised debates aren’t, either. Perry told Bill O’Reilly in an interview on Fox News on Tuesday that while his debate performances have been disappointing, the debates themselves are a mistake. “If there was a mistake, it was probably ever doing one of the campaign [debates] when all they’re interested in is stirring up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people.” His campaign said Perry will attend one more in Michigan, but beyond that he might be a no-show.
That’s understandable. Questions at debates about serious policy matters — like what his response would be to the Taliban gaining control of Pakistani’s nuclear weapons — just aren’t Rick Perry’s idea of “fun.”
By: A. B. Stoddard, Associate Editor, The Hill, October 26, 2011