A lot of American institutions came out worse for the ware from the volatile 2016 presidential election. Except for one: the Iowa Caucus.
The always-at-risk lead-off contest will come out of this year in a much stronger situation than previously thought. A Donald Trump presidency and a Democratic Party in turmoil makes it considerably more likely that Iowa’s place in the primary process remains.
Now, let me first make perfectly clear: Yes, there’s way bigger consequences that came out of this election, and no Democrat is going to be happy that the caucus is saved due to Donald Trump’s election. But I did start this website in order to cover the Iowa Caucus, so I feel some analysis of the situation is warranted.
First, on the Republican side, the Iowa Caucus’ place in the nominating calendar is virtually assured thanks to Terry Branstad’s close relationship with Donald Trump. Branstad has repeatedly used his influential role to defend the Iowa Caucus. His son ran his Iowa campaign, and Branstad made sure Trump got all the help he needed in Iowa for the general election. The family maintains close ties to the president-elect, and Branstad would have Trump’s ear if any major Republican tried to come after Iowa’s role.
The Republican Party of Iowa’s steadfast early solidarity around Trump will likely be rewarded as well. Jeff Kaufmann very specifically insisted on a united front around the controversial nominee, back in a time where other state parties and high-profile Republicans were wavering. He outright stated that it was in part to protect the Iowa Caucus. Why would future Republican presidential candidates spend their time campaigning in Iowa if they worried the state party they would have to work closely with might abandon them when the going got tough?
On the Democratic side, Iowa no longer has to worry about whether a President Clinton would harbor hard feelings over her struggles in Iowa, and allow a new DNC chair to redirect the early nominating process. I have my own personal opinion on what really would have happened, but it’s a moot point now, so no need to dwell on it.
As of right now, there is basically no leader of the Democratic Party. The party is going through a deep process of introspection, and has a ton on their plate to fix moving forward. Rearranging the primary schedule would be picking a massive fight, something they simply don’t have time for.
And several of the potential DNC chair candidates would likely favor maintaining Iowa’s role. Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison wouldn’t screw over a neighbor state [Update: Or maybe not. I hear the Minnesota folks would rather change it]. Martin O’Malley loves Iowa, and gets why the caucus is important even if he came up far short here. Raymond Buckley of New Hampshire wouldn’t risk his home state’s place in the process by fiddling with Iowa.
There is plenty of activists around the country who might want to take aim at Iowa’s place in the process, as we somehow get blamed for everything no matter what. They should reconsider that. If you’re upset about the two eventual nominees for each party, you’d have a hard time blaming Iowa for it. Republicans chose Ted Cruz in what was seen as a surprise upset, considering Trump led in the polls here. And Bernie Sanders almost knocked off Hillary Clinton in Iowa, and got a lot of momentum out of his near-tie.
Many Democrats nationwide are also mad that Iowa and other Midwestern states went with Trump this year. Well, guess what? Democrats can’t simply cede the Midwest to Republicans if they hope to win the presidency in the future. States like Georgia and Arizona won’t make up for losing Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania again.
And to those who think that Iowa is now an all-racist state because it voted for Trump, and therefore should be ignored – you all remember when Iowa launched Barack Obama’s presidency, right? Writing off entire sections of the country isn’t a great idea to winning future elections.
The best way for the party to learn how to reconnect with working class voters who used to vote Democrat is to actually, you know, go campaign for their vote. The next presidential contenders could do some good for the party by visiting Dubuque and Davenport and Muscatine and Burlington and listening to voters’ concerns – both those who flipped to Republicans and those who didn’t show up to vote.
As for Iowa Democrats, if the caucus remains, this is one more reason to remain optimistic for the party’s future here. Yes, many felt that the Iowa Caucus ended up causing more division than it was worth, and that the confusing process turned off new voters. However, it doesn’t have to be that way again. A better-run caucus and a better reconciliation process in the months afterward would make a serious net-benefit for the party’s organization.
Plus, the Republicans won’t have a primary next time. So all the excitement in Iowa will be on the Democratic side, boosting involvement in the party overall.
And I have long argued that the results of the 2016 Iowa Caucus should make it attractive to both progressive outsiders and more established leaders alike. Hillary Clinton won this time by investing in a much stronger, smarter operation than in 2008. Bernie Sanders very nearly won the upset. Both types of candidates can win here, which makes a victory that much more significant and worth fighting for.
We’ve got a lot of time before we need to start thinking about the next Iowa Caucus, or even who will be running in it. But after the 2016 results, it’s very likely that Iowa keeps its place in the process. That’s a good thing.
by Pat Rynard