Well, ready or not America, here we go. Almost a year ago on March 23rd, 2015, first-term Texas Senator and universally reviled human being Ted Cruz became the first major candidate from either party to launch a 2016 presidential bid. So much crazy has gone down since that time that no one knows what to expect next. But in any case, after this week, some of our heightened suspense will find release. The Iowa caucuses are finally here.
It’s far too early to make predictions, about the individual outcomes in The Hawkeye State, or about the 2016 long game. This is an election where anything actually seems possible – from the unconventional, carnival-like ascent of Donald Trump to the top of the Republican field, to the surprisingly strong challenge presented to presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton by a septuagenarian socialist who’s not even a registered Democrat. When asked I’ve said I’m a non-fiction writer because really, it’s difficult to concoct characters and happenstance wilder than reality. It’s hard to think of a subject where that conviction is stronger than this election cycle. The satirical 1998 film, Bulworth, the Warren Beatty vehicle about a suicidal politician who embarks on a tour of blunt voter honesty, seems pretty understated when viewed through a 2016 lens.
Will Trump emerge from Iowa, riding the wave of GOP momentum he’s pretty much owned since last summer? Or will Cruz consolidate the evangelical vote to hand The Donald an upset? Can Bernie Sanders pull off the badly needed win he needs from this first contest in order to put Hillary on the defensive? The recent historical record demonstrates that she generally makes poor decisions from that position.
What’s certainly clear is that the paradigm of presidential election pro forma is over. Donald Trump skipped the last debate before caucuses began, has spent very little money on his general campaign (the irony) and thumbs his nose at the establishment and its endorsements. And there’s also the small matter of his never having held a public office. Meanwhile over on the left, a guy who knows a thing or two about winning elections, Barack Obama, labeled Sanders’ campaign a “complete long shot” just a week ago. However, can a man that the National Journal recently dubbed “The Betty White of Politics,” really be considered a million-to-one? Poll numbers seem to disagree with the current President as well.
And since, for better or worse, the predictability of POTUS election cycles has gone the way the Edsel, maybe it’s long overdue that we revisit this entire caucus farce. In an Op-Ed entitled ‘How Stupid Is Iowa?’, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan evaluates the current logic in continuing a presidential selection process implemented in 1971 (while also taking a swipe at Trump’s rhetorical pugilism against Hawkeyes who once preferred Ben Carson over him). In particular, he takes issue with the all-in focus on Iowa. He writes, in part:
“The problem is not that the people of Iowa are stupid. They are not, by most measurements. It’s that Iowa looks nothing like the rest of America. As a result, the winners, more often than not, are nationally unelectable extremists…You’re supposed to be vetting, Iowa. You’re supposed to be culling out the crazies. You’re supposed to recognize the fraud of Ted Cruz and how Donald Trump is playing you. For all your touted small-town verities, you’re not doing your job. Your bull manure detector is broken. It’s time to let other states have a go at it.”
When I read Egan’s piece last weekend, I was jealous. Because yes to all of it. When the infrastructure of any important edifice becomes corroded and outdated, it stands to reason that it’s byproducts bear the same stains. Iowa is one of the whitest, oldest, most evangelical states in the Union. Putting its delegate contest at the front of the line leads to distortions that, like many of this year’s candidates, are not reflective of larger America.
Egan’s got suggestions for changing things up in ways that could have a domino effect on the atrocious, gnarled primary pandering from which we can’t hide. He writes, “Imagine Trump making his racially incendiary remarks in the most populous state, California, where Latinos outnumber whites. Or think of the ideas that could emerge from a focus on how the least populous state, Wyoming, could build a more sustainable economy beyond oil and gas. Missouri could bring its raw racial troubles to the table for a larger national debate.”
It’s too late for 2016. We strapped ourselves in for this ride last March and all that’s left is to find out which two candidates are standing for the general election. A delicious end to the idiocy of a year is within sight. But if there’s a 2016 silver lining, it’s that We the People (on both ends of the political spectrum) told the parties and their rituals and “nexts in line”, loudly and clearly, to shove it. 2020 will be here before we know it. #We’reNotIowa