1) It's surprising how deadlines creep up on you when you're busy editing your political rants into a book format, but here we are with February knocking at the door and the Iowa Caucus the starting pistol for the actual marathon race for the White House to begin.
Just as a note, this is how the Iowa Caucus actually works, which is to say nowhere near as formal and accurate as a primary vote. One reason why I don't buy into the importance of the Iowa Caucus that much.
2) The other reason I don't buy into the Iowa Caucus is that it's just ONE state putting in a vote for candidates to each of the major parties. Just one state alone does not represent the mood or mindset of the nation as a whole. And yet our primaries and caucuses are skewed to one or a handful of states deciding one right after the other, voting on regional or extreme issues that matter in one state but not the others.
The order in which the states go is itself degrading: our most populous state is California, and yet it goes last in most election cycles. That's dangerous in a horse race style campaign where candidates who could prosper in those later states can't keep up and drop out before they have a chance. It's been rare for a race to go the distance: the Obama-Clinton challenge was a legitimate back-and-forth over delegates up to early June 2008, but that's been about it in recent times. Even in races where a runner-up kept at it - such as Santorum in 2012 running behind Mitt Romney - the race itself was over by March because enough early delegates were garnered to cross the 50 percent+1 threshold.
The President of the United States is essentially the representative of the entire nation, not of Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina or Florida or Ohio or Texas or California. I still argue that all the voters in all the states (and territories) should have a say in who their candidates for the Presidency should be: I still argue we shouldn't start with Iowa alone, or New Hampshire alone, or even California alone. I still argue all fifty states should have a One Day Primary, in late May when all the candidates have had the chance to campaign all over and all the issues have been debated and everything vetted.
3) Considering points 1) and 2), this is why I'm underwhelmed about the importance of Iowa itself as a back-breaker among the early Primary/Caucus states. I mean, how many candidates who won Iowa went on to win the actual nomination in the last 40 years? (Note: the cutoff for this measure is usually 1972-76 due to changes in electoral reforms post-Watergate) As of 2012, the numbers seem bleak.
Personally, I've always found that it's been South Carolina that's been the firewall for Republican candidates. Winning Iowa and New Hampshire may be great for momentum, but if you're Republican and you can't win South Carolina, you're in trouble. Granted, the results in 2012 put lie to that theory of mine considering Newt won SC but still lost the nomination, but that's because Newt's a hypocritical jerkass who couldn't really win anywhere else (his other victory was his home state of Georgia)...
So, yeah, whoever wins Iowa, be it Trump or Cruz it doesn't matter much until the other states start chiming in, and the other candidates fight harder to win them...
4) And yet, despite being an underwhelming state, Iowa itself is remarkable THIS cycle because this will be the first state to actually put the Republican field to the test.
There's been few things that kept the Republican party leadership sleeping well at night since all those 2015 candidacy announcements. One thing has been the assumption that Likely Voters - the ones who answer the polling questions and show up for rallies - do not directly equal Actual Voters at the booth - because, you know, that takes time from work or family.
Serious poll trackers like Nate Silver have been saying for months that early Primary polling is skewed and untrustworthy:
Trump will also have to get that 25 or 30 percent to go to the polls. For now, most surveys cover Republican-leaning adults or registered voters, rather than likely voters. Combine that with the poor response rates to polls and the fact that an increasing number of polls use nontraditional sampling methods, and it’s not clear how much overlap there is between the people included in these surveys and the relatively small share of Republicans who will turn up to vote in primaries and caucuses.
But there’s another, more fundamental problem. That 25 or 30 percent of the vote isn’t really Donald Trump’s for the keeping. In fact, it doesn’t belong to any candidate. If past nomination races are any guide, the vast majority of eventual Republican voters haven’t made up their minds yet.
As Silver says, polling is one thing and actual results at the booth are another. It IS possible that 35 to 45 percent of Likely Voters in a state will say "Oh yeah Trump is MY GUY" and yet when push comes to shove only 20 percent actually do show up to vote. Or that the ones getting polled do not reflect the actual mood or viewpoint of everyone else in the state. Or that the poll respondents give the answers they THINK the poll-takers want to hear. A lot of that falls under what's called the Bradley Effect. It is possible people are just answering for Trump because A) he's the only name they remember, B) they're messing with the pollsters, C) he's a default answer because they honestly haven't decided on the field yet.
So what happens when the results might match? What happens if the answer is D) Trump DOES speak to their political outrage and they show up to vote that way?
Granted, turnout can be low and the projected numbers on that based on polling won't likely occur. But what if the percentages remain aligned between Likely and Actual? What happens if the 35 percent of poll respondents for Trump turn into 35 percent of the real-world vote count?
If that does happen, even in Iowa this Monday with its wonky caucus and its minor importance, expect to see rioting outside the RNC headquarters by Tuesday. Because it means the polls aren't lying, aren't skewed. That they are an accurate reflection of a voter base fearful of immigrants and foreigners, of a voter base willfully ignorant of the nuances of governance, of a movement within the foundation of the party itself driven by an anger that can no longer be contained.
It will mean that Trump is in charge of the entire circus that is a Year of Election, he's in the driver's seat of the GOP clown car.
5) And how will Trump end up in the driver's seat? It will be the Republicans' own damn fault.
The GOP started off looking at 2016 as a big year for them to win. They were looking at the trend of how control of the White House can shift from one party to the other every eight years - which isn't entirely true - and so figured with Democratic President Obama term-limited that a Republican would take his place.
This is why so many candidates - a record 17 names! - put their hats in the ring. Just ride that realignment cycle of voter dissatisfaction of Democratic rule into an easy win and reap the benefits.
And yet... right now they and the national punditry are looking at that field getting dominated by the likes of Trump and thinking "What the hell went wrong?" Even Tucker Carlson, self-appointed defender of uber-Conservative thought, is speaking this in public. Although Carlson is only fully correct on one point: the Conservative Establishment - hiding itself in its own echo chamber of think-tanks and talk-shows - doesn't understand its own voters anymore (his other points about immigration as an issue overlook the real issues of income inequality, personal debt among millions of families, and the fact that illegal immigration is actually dropping the last 3-4 years).
What's really happening here is something I alluded to earlier about the Republicans' self-defeating paradox in what they want from their political standard bearer: "...The Republicans have an Active-Negative agenda, yet they need a Passive-Positive - another Reagan with the charm and skill to avoid the issues and project a congenial persona - to sell it..." I noted in slightly greater detail:
Here's the problem I'm finding about the Republican Party: the party base - the Tea Partiers, the Second Amendment Fetishers, the small-government-drown-it-in-Grover's-bathtub crowds - seems so eager to want an Active-Negative type serving as their President. They want someone who will restrict and slash government services, cut taxes on the rich (while raising taxes on the lazy poor), deregulate businesses to run amok in a Free Market free-range, shut down the borders against illegals, and wage war against The Dreaded Other despite the costs. A lot of behavior that history shows falls to Active-Negatives under what Barber called the "I Must" mindset that drives A-Ns to Compulsive, unshakable agendas.
But at the same time, the party leadership recognizes that such A-N types are difficult to elect to office anymore... So the party leadership is trying to manufacture, promote, or encourage the illusion that their "establishment" candidates - the likes of Jeb, or even what they tried with Romney last time - will run "positive" campaigns pursuing "reforms" on topics like education and immigration and job creation...
And that's not happening with Jeb, is it? Or any other Establishment candidate, even the likes of Rubio is having trouble polling in double-digits.
The ones that have polled well - even temporary faves like Carson and Fiorina - have been the anti-Establishment candidates of Trump and Cruz. The ones openly campaigning on the issues as Active-Negative types, shilling to the attitudes of No Compromise, with bullying as their method and destruction of the status quo (even what works) their intent.
They're polling well - and likely to win the GOP Primaries - because Trump and Cruz are going up against terrible Establishment candidates. I mean, on paper some of them are respectable - various Governors, a few Senators with long careers, varied experiences in the public and private sectors that normally would impress Republican voters - but on the debate stage and on the campaign trail turn into flat, boring, degrading personas that few people would want to meet at a high school reunion much less listen to at a rally. That's because in many respects, these Establishment candidates are by habit Active-Negatives and can't provide an honest contrast between fellow A-Ns.
With a Republican Party united behind essentially one message and platform - lacking diversity or disagreement among themselves over the issues that would provide honest contrast and choices between candidates - the choices are now over Personality, which candidate can project as a Reagan-esque Leader of Charm and Skill. None of them do (not even Trump or Cruz despite their numbers), none of them can present himself (herself) as another Reagan. They're all little Nixons in varying degrees of personalities and talking points, and nobody wants another Nixon.
Trump may have a stage presence similar to Reagan's, but Trump has none of the congeniality or warmth or wit that Reagan used. Trump is all bluster, all noise and braggadocio, quick with the insult but not the bon mot, which may rally the Far Right who enjoys such displays but will wear out its welcome among the average voters who seek better leadership qualities than that. On a stage littered with A-Ns, Trump's unique trait has been an unshakable confidence that few A-Ns actually possess.
This has been the result of the RINO Party Purge: driving out all progressive or moderate or centrist thought from the Republicans until only those who openly wholeheartedly accepted a Far Right agenda were in the ranks to rise up to this level of power. When your Party accepts and promotes only candidates who love an Active-Negative (restrictive and anti-government) agenda, Active-Negative candidates (like Nixon) are all you get.
They honestly do not have a contrasting personality that can go up against the Nativist Populist mood of the GOP Far Right base. They do not have someone respectable enough - with his own power base among more moderate voters within the party ranks that cannot be shredded by the Far Right Noise Machine that really controls the party now - to stand against Trump's wave of support and argue effectively for saner solutions.
6) Trump's refusal to show up for a Primary debate - hosted by the Far Right Noise Machine's foundation AKA Fox Not-News no less - can have serious repercussions if Trump does well (Second or better) in Iowa and especially if he wins in New Hampshire.
It will means A) Trump does not have to play by the Party's rules, and B) Trump does not have to suck up to the Far Right Noise Machine to win the Far Right voters, which will be a major break in the power that Noise Machine - Fox, Newsmax, National Review, all the other wingnut media in orbit around them - has wielded since the 1990s. It will mean NOTHING within the usual chains of command among the Conservative Republicans - the deep pocket backers, the party's internal bureaucracy, decades of protocol and etiquette - can contain or even stop Trump. Outside of straight-up cheating, that is. In this scenario, only Trump can destroy Trump before the nomination is locked up. And he may be too media-savvy for self-immolation.
And what happens if Trump wins and becomes the standard bearer for the GOP heading into November? Well, that's been considered and will need reconsideration when that dread day comes. We'll see.
So, to summarize: I'm not worried about Iowa all that much and not really concerned about Iowa. But like a fantastic car-wreck on the interstate, I cannot look away...