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“A Pointless Exercise”: The Iowa Caucuses Are A Big Fat Joke, And Jeb Bush Is The Only One Laughing

Jeb Bush’s heartless betrayal has sent shockwaves through the presidential race. I’m not talking about his advocacy for Common Core educational standards, or his disturbing habit of talking about undocumented immigrants as though they were human beings. No, it’s the news that broke Monday: Bush will not be competing in the upcoming Iowa Straw Poll this August.

The chairman of the Iowa Republican Party was predictably contemptuous of Bush’s excuse that he’ll be going instead to a different gathering of Republicans in Georgia: “We don’t buy this excuse and neither will Iowans,” he said. Et tu, Jeb?

How on earth could Bush ignore the Straw Poll, an event whose winner four years ago was future non-president Michele Bachmann? It may be because Bush is lagging in the Iowa polls and he’s worried he’ll do poorly. Or it may be because the Iowa Straw Poll is a pointless exercise.

In fact, everything about Iowa’s role in the presidential election process is absurd, and I say that as not only someone who reads, thinks, and writes more about politics than any sane person ought to, but also as one who counts actual Iowans among my friends.

Iowans are, as a whole, fine people — as much as any other state’s residents. But do they really deserve the power we give them every four years? Granted, some state has to hold the first presidential contest, but the fact that it’s in a state with a comical election system and where the overwhelming majority of voters can’t be bothered to make it to their state’s contest is particularly maddening.

You’d expect that with a dozen or so presidential candidates practically moving to the state so they could meet each and every voter in all of Iowa’s 99 counties, turnout in the caucuses would be high. No such luck. In 2012, turnout was a measly 6.5 percent, meaning 14 out of 15 Iowans didn’t vote in the caucuses. While it’s true that only one party had competitive primaries that year, even in 2008 when there were tight contests in both parties, it topped out at 16 percent. Not exactly an inspiring show of their commitment to democracy.

Part of the explanation may lie in the fact that caucuses are time-consuming and involve standing around in a high-school gym while people give speeches, then moving about in little gaggles according to your favored candidate. Whatever old-timey nostalgic thrill that might give you, it’s undeniably a hassle compared to just pulling a lever or punching a chad. Nevertheless, don’t you think that if multiple candidates had literally shown up to your house to beg you in person to choose them, you’d manage to make it out on caucus night?

That’s not to mention that the event next February is actually merely the first step in a ridiculously baroque multi-stage process. What Iowans will be selecting on that evening is precinct caucus delegates, who will later go to the county convention (remember how there are 99 counties? Yeah, that means 99 conventions), and from there to the district convention, after which it’s on to the state convention (can you feel the excitement building?) where they’ll actually select the delegates who’ll go to the national convention next summer.

You’d be hard-pressed to offer a persuasive explanation for why they bother with all that, and more importantly, why the rest of us should care. But Iowa is first (and will stay that way, because there’s a state law mandating it has to be), so candidates will continue to troop through the state, testifying to their affection for the “heartland” and their love of ethanol, and heading to the Iowa State Fair to consume food on a stick.

(Permit me a brief digression: Sadly, deep-fried butter on a stick — in which, yes, an entire stick of butter is battered and deep-fried, then stuffed down your food hole — is for some reason no longer on offer at the Iowa State Fair as it was for a brief but glorious period. Last year’s fair did, though, feature no fewer than 69 food-on-a-stick options.)

You can understand why politically involved Iowans are so protective of this process. After all, if you’re a Republican precinct captain in Oklahoma or Rhode Island, you’d no doubt love to have Scott Walker and Marco Rubio sit at your kitchen table and tell you how important you are to their campaign. But the real fault lies with the news media, which looks at the results of this bizarre contest and decides that it’s actually freighted with meaning about the will of the electorate.

Perhaps it’s because after months and months of covering a campaign without any concrete results, they can’t help but go a little nuts over the first actual votes anybody casts. But they play an inane game of expectations — setting them, interpreting them, and spinning them — to try to enhance the uncertainty and drama. At the end of it, some candidates will be said to have failed to meet expectations and thus be consigned to permanent loserdom, their campaigns no longer worthy of attention, while others will be elevated on high (only to be pulled down soon after). Imagine if we reported sports that way: “Analysts are calling the Red Sox the clear winner in last night’s contest after they came within two runs of beating the Yankees, whom most had expected to coast to an easy victory. Hard questions are now being raised within the Yankees organization about what the failure represented by this narrow win means for their chances in the fall.”

The only redeeming factor in this whole exercise is that for all the importance the political press puts on Iowa, winning seems to have little relationship to whether a candidate wins his or her party’s nomination, let alone the presidency (as Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, winners of the last two GOP caucuses, can attest). Just don’t get me started on New Hampshire.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Week, May 13, 2013

May 14, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Iowa Caucuses, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iowa Straw Poll: Let The Fight For The Right Begin

Technically, the margin of victory for Michele Bachmann at Saturday’s Iowa straw poll was slight, with second-place finisher Ron Paul falling just 152 votes (or 0.9 percentage points) short of her tally.

But everyone knows that Paul is a niche candidate. The 27.65 percent that he earned on Saturday is impressive, in that it speaks to the sizable and devoted following he has built, but it’s also probably the same share he would have received if there’d only been two candidates on the ballot, instead of nine.

Bachmann’s real competition was Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who had poured massive time and energy into the straw poll, hoping to post a breakthrough victory — and to stave off an early elimination from the GOP race. As the stakes had crystallized for Pawlenty in the days leading up to the straw poll, he’d even gone on the attack against Bachmann in a desperate effort to peel support from her. Saturday’s results demonstrated forcefully just how futile Pawlenty’s strategy was: He finished a very distant third, with just 13.57 percent, winning fewer than half as many votes as Bachmann.

In other words, this was a very big win for Bachmann. She crushed her biggest mainstream competitor and she avoided the indignity of finishing behind Paul. In the run-up to the straw poll, there was talk that she might be a victim of her own early success — that by making so much noise this spring and summer and moving up so quickly in polling she had set the bar too high for herself. Finishing behind Pawlenty (and Paul, for that matter) would have encouraged this view, raising questions about whether Bachmann really had the staying power and organization to win the Iowa caucuses this winter. But now she’ll leave Ames with the political world taking her more seriously, not less.

And her victory was doubly significant in light of the day’s other major political development: Rick Perry’s formal entry into the GOP race. The Texas governor made his long-expected announcement early in the afternoon at a conservative blogger conference in South Carolina. Perry is a heavyweight candidate, to be sure, and enters with considerable momentum. But he would have even more momentum right now if his announcement had been followed hours later by news of an unexpectedly weak straw poll showing for Bachmann — a development that would have created the immediate possibility of defections of Bachmann supporters to Perry’s side. Perry, after all, is supposedly Bachmann’s worst nightmare — someone who appeals to the same rigidly conservative base she does, but who is far more acceptable to the party’s establishment. Perry may yet end up taking the wind out of Bachmann’s sails, but the straw poll outcome suggests that she’ll put up a whale of a fight.

Thus, the stage is a set for a fascinating battle for the loyalties of the “purist” wing of the party between Perry and Bachmann. Which is very good news for the other major candidate in the race, Mitt Romney, who has also stood to lose by Perry’s emergence. The threat to Romney is that Perry might marginalize Bachmann and gobble up most of her support and that the GOP establishment will then rally around him, judging him to be a safe enough choice and more acceptable to the base than Romney. So the longer Perry is tied down in a fight with Bachmann for the true believer vote, the better Romney has to feel.

And no doubt Perry himself would much rather focus his attention on Romney, whose ideological credentials have long been in doubt and who would be relatively easy to run against from the right. But trying to convince Bachmann supporters to abandon her is far trickier — especially now that the straw poll results have lifted their spirits to the stratosphere.

So if you’re keeping score at home, Saturday was a very good day for Bachmann, and a decent one for Romney. And it wasn’t bad for Perry, either, although he would have preferred to see Bachmann lose the straw poll. It was, however, a dreadful day for Pawlenty, who’s now pretty much run out of time to demonstrate that a candidacy that makes sense on paper is remotely interesting to Republican activists.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon War Room, August 13, 2011

August 14, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Poisonous Radicalization Of The Republican Party

The death this past weekend of former Oregon Gov. and U.S.  Sen. Mark Hatfield, was not just the passing of a good and decent man with a  strong sense of Western independence, but a realization that “this ain’t your  mother’s Republican Party anymore!”

Of course, it hasn’t been for some time. The era of Senators Hatfield  and Mathias and  Percy and Baker and Javits and Case and Brooke and  Scott and Dirksen and so  many others is long gone. The moderates  and  progressives were drummed out or retired long ago and were replaced with Republican conservatives beginning in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Even many of the hard liners who were replaced were still  pragmatic conservatives who often worked across the aisle. The Bennetts,  Hatches, Bonds, Grahams and  others are practical, serious conservatives.

But if you look at the collection of candidates for  president, if you look at what just happened with the debt  limit insanity on  the Hill, if you examine the inner workings of the  Republican caucus in the  House, you begin to wonder whether Washington  is governable and whether the  radicalization of the Republican Party is  responsible for this meltdown. Has the Republican Party become an  extreme  Nihilist party?

Let’s look at the current state of politics within the Republican Party.

The upcoming Iowa straw poll and the debate tomorrow night  will  further push the already extreme candidates more to the extremes . There are so many potential  nominees who have not only gone  hard right on the social issues but have decided  that they must call  for abolishing the Departments of Education, Commerce,  Energy,  and even the IRS. They still  oppose the TARP program, which kept the  world from a depression, and they are  proud to reject any form of  additional revenue stream by signing inane pledges  that handcuff  America.

The extreme agenda of cut, cut, cut without regard for the   consequences is backed up by statements that even Pell education grants  for  needy college students are “welfare.”   All the sound and fury  about the debt did not create a single job or  advance economic stability or growth. In  fact, the failure of Speaker John Boehner  and the Tea Party to agree to efforts by  President Obama to reach a $4  trillion grand bargain to right the economic ship  was an example of  radicals’ my-way-or-the-highway approach.

The American people, overwhelmingly, reject this  extremism. They are  fed up with the lack  of progress and the extremism that has become the  modern Republican Party. Their anger is across the board but it is   more heavily directed towards what has become of the Republican  Party—Tea  Party ideologues who lack  common sense and have no desire to  actually solve problems. In the campaign of 2010 the Tea Party was   more or less a Rorschach test, many people saw in it what they wanted.  In April 2010, the strong unfavorable was 18  percent; it has risen to  around 50 percent.

The scary market volatility, the lack of public confidence  in the  economy, and most important, the many Americans who are suffering the   disasters of unemployment and foreclosure should be front and center for   Republicans. Instead, we have a “get  Obama” frenzy and a pull to the  extreme right that precludes progress.

Speaker Boehner, who seemed close to negotiating the grand  bargain  with the president, was pulled back into the extremist fold. He even  said that he got “98 percent of what  I wanted” on the debt deal and  declared himself happy with it!  If he is happy, there aren’t many  Americans  who are there with him.

There are few Republican leaders who recognize that what  they did  with this budget deal led to Americans’ savings and retirements taking  a  severe hit, a downgrade from Standard & Poor’s that will ripple for   years, and a decline in confidence for businesses and consumers.

The old Republican Party wouldn’t have done it; Ronald  Reagan  wouldn’t have done it; even recent conservatives committed to debt   reduction and cutting spending wouldn’t have done it, if they had the  courage  to stand up to the radicals within the Party.

The time for the Republicans to rediscover their pragmatic,   governing side is now. The time to  reject the pledges, the ideological  straitjackets, the wave of Tea Party hysteria  is now. The public is  demanding it and  the country needs it. (And just a bit of  advice from  this Democrat: the overreaching and the extremism won’t win you many  elections either!)

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, August 10, 2011

August 11, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Education, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Jobs, Lawmakers, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Standard and Poor's, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Unemployment, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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