It would be totally ridiculous to describe the Iowa caucuses as anything other than a debacle for the Democratic party. And that’s coming from me, a liberal, and a political scientist.
Most Americans don’t know what the word “caucus” means in the first place, and the dictionary isn’t much help.
In the simplest possible terms, this is always something of a “wonks only” affair, and to the extent average Americans were inclined to try and figure out, Monday night’s abject buffoonery suggests they needn’t bother.
Some 20 hours after it became apparent that something had gone horribly awry, Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price explained to the few remaining people who cared that the unfortunate situation was “deeply personal” to him.
Shadow Inc., the company behind the app that caused the problems, tried to apologize on Twitter, with predictable results. The Twitterati was not kind. “It’s cool, I don’t think anyone noticed”, one user quipped.
Finally, the results were released – or, actually, partial results, reflecting 62% of precincts.
As it turns out, Mayor Pete was correct to suggest he had performed well. Here is the rundown:
- Pete Buttigieg: 26.9%
- Bernie Sanders: 25.1%
- Elizabeth Warren: 18.3%
- Joe Biden: 15.6%
- Amy Klobuchar: 12.6%
- Andrew Yang: 1.1%
- Tom Steyer: 0.3%
That’s the percent of delegate equivalents. Not surprisingly, Sanders had the most actual voters.
Buttigieg is pleased. “Just in case you haven’t been glued to your phone the last few minutes, I want you to hear something from me”, he told supporters at a middle school in Laconia, New Hampshire. “Better late than never, official verified caucus results are coming in from the state of Iowa; they’re not complete, but results are in from a majority of precincts and they show our campaign in first place”, he said.
“President Pete!”, the crowd chanted.
He spoke to CNN around the same time. “It’s extraordinary”, the mayor beamed.
To be clear, this is good news for Buttigieg, and nobody should attempt to take that away from him. But “extraordinary” probably isn’t the best choice of words. What happened on Monday night was an unmitigated disaster from an optics perspective for Democrats, and it gives Donald Trump more ammunition to attack the party as incompetent.
More broadly, we would reiterate what we’ve said for months. Namely that Mayor Pete, for all his objectively good qualities, is going to have trouble in a general election against Trump, if it comes to that.
For markets, Buttigieg’s momentum is fine. Sure, investors would rather Biden win (as that would ensure that even if Trump is defeated, the worst case is “status quo” inside the Beltway), but Wall Street will take Mayor Pete. He’s a relative centrist.
But America should take a moment to consider what a Buttigieg versus Trump general election would look (and sound) like.
This is something we spent a great deal of time discussing back in November, when it became clear that the mayor was polling well in Iowa. For some readers, what follows will be familiar, but for anyone who missed the discussion a few months back, we wanted to reprint it here in light of the partial results out of Iowa.
Excerpted from “America Is Getting Serious About Pete Buttigieg,“, November 02, 2019
Buttigieg is a risky proposition when it comes to betting the house in a general election with someone who fashions himself a kind of third-world strongman.
Trump has no qualms about deriding veterans (he did it just this week, lambasting Purple Heart recipient Alexander Vindman, who delivered damaging testimony in the impeachment inquiry) and the president will doubtlessly make Buttigieg’s sexual orientation a campaign issue. Trump will, in short, ask voters if they really want Pete and his husband, (and he’ll put the emphasis on “husband”) Chasten to be America’s first family.
That won’t just be “fair game” to the Trump campaign in a hypothetical general election that pits the president against Buttigieg. It will be part of the strategy. Trump is a man who was more than happy to suggest that congresswoman Ilhan Omar is a terrorist who “hates Jews and loves al-Qaeda“. Earlier this year, he appeared to suggest that John McCain went to hell after he died. He once alluded to sexual favors from Kirsten Gillibrand. And on and on. The point: Trump won’t hesitate for a second to traffic in homophobic slurs, and Fox will surely play along under the guise of defending “American values”.
These are uncomfortable realities, but what Democratic voters should acknowledge right now, before deciding to elevate Buttigieg even further, is that Trump is totally comfortable with it, even if he’s said publicly (on Fox, no less) that he supports Buttigieg and his husband.
“I think it’s absolutely fine”, Trump responded, asked about public displays of affection between Pete and Chasten. “That’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it’s good”.
That’s probably true. Trump likely doesn’t care one way or another who marries who in Indiana, and the idea that a man as consumed with himself as Trump is cares whether a couple of guys share a hug in public is laughable.
The problem, though, is that Trump’s base cares. And if Democrats think for a second that Trump won’t turn into a homophobe overnight if he thinks it will play well at rallies, then Democrats haven’t learned much over the past three years. There is nothing Trump won’t say or do to undermine a rival.
To be clear, Buttigieg’s sexuality shouldn’t be an issue, but is. And it will be.
Indeed, he’s already suggested that he probably wouldn’t be where he is in the race were it not for being gay. “It’s safe to say that it led to there being more interest and attention early on”, he told the Times’s Frank Bruni in June.
“But there’s a big difference between winning over enough Americans to land in his current position and having an appeal broad enough to nab the party’s nomination, let alone the White House”, Bruni wrote this week, on the way to asking if “being gay [is] an insurmountable obstacle on the path to those prizes”.
“Anyone who answers with an unequivocal yes or no is just guessing”, Bruni added.
Trump has, of course, variously pitched himself as a champion of LGBTQ rights. In fact, as NBC reminds you, at the 2016 Republican National Convention, he “became the first GOP presidential nominee to directly address the LGBTQ community from a convention podium”. “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology”, he said at the time. (Video and audio here.)
For a man who likes to say “promises made, promises kept”, that has definitely been a promise broken.