Voters in Iowa lined up in high-school gymnasiums across the state last night to prepare for a long few hours of caucusing. But nobody predicted the process would stretch late into the night without a single vote having been certified by the Iowa Democratic party. By midnight, the rival campaigns were flummoxed, unable to officially declare victory but nonetheless determined to spin the night in glowing terms.
Caucuses can be chaotic. But the events last night were nothing short of bedlam. Rumour has it that national frontrunner Joe Biden had a terrible showing, but that didn’t stop the former vice president from rallying the troops and pretending everything was OK. Mayor Pete Buttigieg declared himself the winner, a pronouncement that came as news to every other candidate. The campaign of senator Bernie Sanders, who surged in this Midwestern state over the last few weeks, released unofficial vote tallies that showed the 2016 Democratic presidential runner-up as the leader. Senator Amy Klobuchar’s campaign did its best to write a positive story of success, declaring the Minnesota senator as the fighting underdog.
The entire night was reminiscent of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary so far, where disorder, messiness, and messaging rule. While the winners weren’t declared. the biggest losers stood out like a sore thumb. Loser number-one was the Iowa Democratic party, which showed itself to be an incompetent organisation and languished in embarrassment for the whole world to see. The second casualty was people’s patience, which ran out after each hour that ticked by. For a country like the United States that lectures other governments about the absolute necessity of holding free, fair, and transparent elections, Iowa was one gigantic, public catastrophe.
Democrats in the state will eventually find out who actually won the first contest of the 2020 primary. The campaigns, however, will have already moved on to New Hampshire, which will vote next week. The election schedule is so jam-packed that candidates and their aides barely have the time to relax, digest the numbers, and fine-tune their strategies.
Joe Biden left Iowa immediately after caucusing was over, a decision that had as much to do with making a decent showing in New Hampshire as it did in fleeing a state that hasn’t been very kind to him during all three of his presidential bids.
If Iowa was an important jumping-off point for Sanders and Buttigieg, next week’s vote in New England is border-line do-or-die for the likes of Biden and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. If neither one hits second-place next week, they may have to gather their staff for some difficult conversations ahead.
As for Donald Trump, the Iowa disaster is a hilarious start to an eventful week. Trump will deliver his annual State of the Union address tonight, where he will talk about how great the American economy is and how he’s the greatest president in the history of the American Republic.
On Wednesday, the Senate will acquit him on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress to the visible consternation of Democrats who prosecuted the impeachment case against him. But all of it will come with the Iowa caucus as a back-drop.
You can almost hear Trump’s latest election talking-point: if the Democratic party can’t even run a state-wide election, can you really trust it can run the country?