Iowa round-up

I’m sure there’s some really good takes out there I’ve missed, but these are the tabs I’ve found worth leaving open so far.

Everybody is acting like Trump is all of a sudden doomed.  Way premature.  I honestly think it is a bit of wishful thinking that he’ll just fade away now (stay, Donald, stay!).  Thus, I especially enjoyed Reihan Salam’s take:

But Monday night’s outcome means less than you might think for Trump’s prospects going forward. Cruz often speaks of his fight against “the Washington cartel.” Yet it is Trump who has violated almost every tenet of movement conservative orthodoxy and who has maligned professional politicians, Republican or Democratic, as the pathetic cat’s paws of billionaires like himself. He has demonstrated that there is a large constituency of Republicans who are indifferent to the fight against Obamacare and the battle to cut capital gains taxes, and who are instead passionate about restricting immigration and protecting America’s industries against Chinese competition. Trump is threatening to transform the ideological configuration of the GOP, and all his Republican rivals can do is react to his erratic moves. This dynamic won’t suddenly come to an end because of Iowa, and it has allowed him to shape the Republican race to fit his strengths.

There is a widespread belief that because Trump so often emphasizes his talent for winning, any setback will prove devastating to his all-important aura of invincibility. Keep in mind, however, that Trump lost his lead on more than one occasion in the months leading up to Iowa, yet he kept pressing ahead. Trump’s reality distortion field proved even more powerful than the polls, and it may yet prove more powerful than the Iowa caucuses.

The truth is that Iowa was never the most favorable terrain for Trump’s brand of populism.

Also in Slate, Jim Newell’s take on Rubio’s strong third:

What did Rubio do for himself, though? Plenty. He exceeded expectations through a modest surge over the past week, largely among moderate Republicans in suburban Iowa, coming a few thousand votes from pulling off an upset second-place finish. That’s a strong enough signal to the center-right and the “establishment”—aka that nefarious group of Republican cigar-chomping devils who would like a Republican to have a fighting shot in the general election—that he’s their vehicle, and all pretenders had better step aside.

Barring some coordinated trolling effort from New Hampshire voters who like to mess with narratives—and they are capable of it—Rubio’s better-than-expected placement opens the exit door for Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie, and Gov. John Kasich immediately after New Hampshire, and it pulls what should be a frightening amount of funds and official party support in Rubio’s direction.

And Chait on Rubio:

And Rubio has implanted himself as the leading, and probably sole, selection of the party regulars. As Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant, said Monday night on MSNBC, “If you don’t want Ted Cruz or Donald Trump as the nominee, you better get onboard with Marco Rubio.”

The Republican field looks at the moment like a three-candidate race. The ideological contours are not exactly clear. Rubio is the candidate acceptable to the party elite — the candidate who is providing a more attractive delivery mechanism for George W. Bush’s policies, which is what Republicans have craved since the Bush administration. Cruz and Trump are unacceptable to the Establishment, for roughly opposite reasons. Trump has no record of sincere commitment to conservative policy doctrine. Cruz has positioned himself as the high priest of conservative orthodoxy, flaying his fellow Republicans for their inability to impose their policies over President Obama’s veto. On foreign policy, Rubio is the most orthodox neoconservative hawk, and Trump and Cruz are more neo-isolationist. All three would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something undefined but wonderful, and pass gargantuan, regressive tax cuts. (Cruz’s plan is the least fiscally irresponsible of the three, recompensing some of the tax cut for the rich with a tax hike on the middle class and poor.)

As for the Democratic side, I’ll go with Jamelle Bouie’s pre-results take:

Win or lose, that counts. It’s the Democratic analogue to Reagan’s 1976 primary against Gerald Ford—a sign of the times and of the future. If Sanders wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and the nomination, then he’ll bring (or drag) the Democratic Party to the left. If he loses, then he’ll represent the largest faction in the party, with the power to hold a President Hillary Clinton accountable and even shape her administration, from appointments and nominations to regulatory policy.

With that said, the impact of Sanders goes beyond presidential politics. I am skepticalthat any “political revolution” can change American politics in the short term. But if Sanders inspires supporters to delve deeper into Democratic Party politics, then it could change the long term. His supporters—his workers and volunteers and activists—are (potentially) the next generation of Democratic operatives, who will bring the lessons of this effort to future campaigns. And in the same way that Jesse Jackson opened the door to politicians like Barack Obama, Sanders may do the same for “democratic socialists.” Like the veterans of George McGovern or Howard Dean, the veterans of Bernie Sanders will change and shape the Democratic Party.

As for the results and their meaning in the larger context, I like Nate Cohn’s take:

But in the end, a virtual tie in Iowa is an acceptable, if not ideal, result for Mrs. Clinton and an ominous one for Mr. Sanders. He failed to win a state tailor made to his strengths.

He fares best among white voters. The electorate was 91 percent white, per the entrance polls. He does well with less affluent voters. The caucus electorate was far less affluent than the national primary electorate in 2008. He’s heavily dependent on turnout from young voters, and he had months to build a robust field operation. As the primaries quickly unfold, he won’t have that luxury.

Iowa is not just a white state, but also a relatively liberal one — one of only a few of states where Barack Obama won white voters in the 2008 primary and in both general elections. It is also a caucus state, which tends to attract committed activists…

As a general rule, though, momentum is overrated in primary politics. In 2008, for instance, momentum never really changed the contours of the race. Mr. Obama’s victory in Iowa allowed him to make huge gains among black voters, but not much more — the sort of exception that would seem to prove the rule. Mr. Obama couldn’t even put Mrs. Clinton away after winning a string of states in early February.

There’s an even longer list of candidates with fairly limited appeal, particularly Republicans like Rick Santorum, Pat Buchanan or Mike Huckabee, who failed to turn early-state victories into broader coalitions…

The polls this year offer additional reasons to doubt it. Mrs. Clinton holds more than 50 percent of the vote in national surveys; her share of the vote never declined in 2008. The polls say that her supporters are more likely to be firmly decided than Mr. Sanders’s voters.

Back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire by Mr. Sanders might have been enough to overcome that history. The no-decision in Iowa ensures we won’t find out.

Primary performance is all relative to expectations.  The favorable coverage for Bernie results from how he performed relative to the expectations of months ago.  But, in truth, he under-performed expectations of a week ago– and in the electoral calculus of the on-going primary slog, that’s what counts.  If you think otherwise, just ask Howard Dean (note, the scream did not “doom” Dean, underperforming his recent expectations did).

And, finally, I’m not going to post the cool charts (I’ve already written enough and I don’t feel like bothering with the screen capture NYT makes me resort to), but these entrance poll results on both sides are pretty interesting.  I’ll just mention that Rubio and Clinton both won going away with voters that put the most importance on general election electability.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to Iowa round-up

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    I was disturbed by the reports that at Sanders’ HQ, Hilllary Clinton was strongly booed when the live TV feed showed her speech to her supporters around 11 pm. Leave it to Republicans to do the booing of Democratic candidates.
    Sanders should squash this kind of behavior if only because he will need Clinton’s supporters to back him if he goes on to win the nomination….and she will need his supporters if she wins it.
    All Democrats should unite if they want to prevent the hard right stacking of the Supreme Court if a Republican is elected President.

  2. John F. says:

    The narrative about Iowa being perfect demographics for Sanders (like there is such a thing) is utter nonsense. Look at the Times entrance polls, if anything they show a set of demographics that are ideal for Hillary, with 64% of Democratic voters being over the age of 45.

    Hillary had an ideal set of circumstances; she has campaigned in Iowa before, has the money & endorsement advantages and the age of the population skews heavily in her favor… and yet she couldn’t pull off a decisive victory yet again. Sanders has picked up 3 African American electeds in South Carolina and after a win in New Hampshire, Nevada is going to be in play for Sanders.

    One momentum shifting phenomenal showing in Iowa for Sanders may be a fluke… New Hampshire may be because of the demographics or his home state’s proximity but 3: wins in a row would be a trend that doesn’t bode well for Hillary. This is as true for the democrats as it is for the republicans: national polls mean absolutely nothing.

    And BTW, Trump is done. He is bolstered by the idea that he’s run companies but he couldn’t even manage a campaign win in Iowa despite every advantage. Republicans are different than democrats and any hint of weakness is their death knell. Best be on hand to hum the dirge.

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