The election chaos in Iowa is a disaster for the Democrats. Strategists are now desperately searching for an outside culprit.
Supporters of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders in Des Moines, Iowa Photo: Mike Segar/reuters
Every four years, Iowa provides the backdrop for the kickoff of a US political folklore of a very special kind: the primaries. This involves the grassroots making a preliminary selection for the next presidential candidate in an extremely expensive, extremely long and extremely complicated process that varies by state.
To be sure, the small, predominantly white and very agrarian Midwestern state is not representative of the rest of the country. But Iowa’s preselection is nonetheless much more than an initial test. It has symbolic value for the rest of the campaign that can hardly be underestimated. That’s because the winners of Iowa have systematically become the party’s official nominees in presidential elections since the end of the last century in the Democratic Party – from Al Gore to Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton – months later.
What happened Monday night in Iowa is a disaster for the Democratic Party. Before the grassroots gathered in more than 1,700 different venues across the state that night to elect their delegates, a months-long campaign for their votes had come to an end. Supporters of the original more than two dozen Democratic candidates knocked on hundreds of thousands of front doors in the process.
Candidates showed up at thousands of debate events, shaking hands, hugging and taking selfies with potential voters. And campaign coffers poured tens of millions of dollars into the small state. The amount spent by outside groups campaigning for or against a candidate in the Iowa primary alone is $14 million. Politics in the USA is always a gigantic business.
Frustration and anger
But instead of producing images of beaming victors and optimism for the next stages of the primaries, Monday in Iowa brought nothing but anger and frustration on the part of the Democrats, perplexity in the television studios, which had mustered a host of celebrities for their special broadcasts, and scorn on the part of the man in the White House, who had himself held a campaign meeting in Iowa that evening.
It remained an election night without an election result. Hours after the special broadcasts intended to air the official results ended, and after the caucus parties were over and the candidates had flown on to their next primary in New Hampshire, there were still no numbers out of Iowa Tuesday night. The supposedly fully secure app that was supposed to transmit results from Iowa rally sites to headquarters was not working.
Since the party cannot point the finger at Russia this time as it did after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, Democratic strategists are now desperately looking for another external culprit for the self-inflicted debacle. On election night, they remembered above all Iowa’s now allegedly archaic election process, as well as a calendar that wrongly makes Iowa the symbolic prelude to the primaries. After saying the opposite until election night, this does not make the party more credible or electable.