A few takeaways after two weeks of stomping where the candidates were stumping and stalking Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“It’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes.” Or in the case of the Democrats’ caucuses in Iowa, who doesn’t count the votes.
The Iowa app-ageddon exposed the Washington political class for the self-serving failure it is. These people keep getting hired even though they keep losing elections or screwing them up as they did in Iowa.
And this interlocking self-dealing world is a microcosm of the rigged system Americans rebelled against by electing Donald J. Trump president.
Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders is a mortal threat to the intermarried, incestuous, inbred cabal of campaign fundraisers, operatives, TV talking heads and corporate consultants in the Washington Democratic establishment. That’s why they will do anything to stop him.
The Sanders people understand that. They hate the Democratic National Committee even more than they hate Trump.
A young couple from Ohio who came to canvass for Bernie in Iowa unabashedly compared their man to Trump: The system is rigged and we need to blow it up, and our man will do it. Go ahead, call him “Crazy Bernie”—that’s a badge of honor we won’t run away from it. (Paging all deplorables.)
If the DNC manages to steal the nomination from Bernie (again), a hefty percentage of his voters will stay home—or vote for Trump.
D.C. Dems Are Out of Touch With the Rank and File
App-ageddon has created a crisis of legitimacy in the national Democratic Party, akin to what the coronavirus is doing to the Chinese Communist Party.
But besides being self-serving, D.C. Democrats are clueless about how regular Americans think.
Loyal Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire told me things none of the candidates on the debate stage would dare say.
A 60-something-year-old nuclear engineer from Cedar Rapids who supports Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told me he doesn’t like President Trump’s personality but thinks he’s done some good things.
Asked for specifics, he pointed to trade. China has been a big problem with intellectual property theft, spying, dumping, and so forth, and the United States needed to do something about all of that a long time ago. Colleagues from M.I.T., the man’s alma mater, tell him there’s a big problem with China’s spies, as we’ve seen with the Harvard chemistry professor on Beijing’s payroll.
And it was time to update the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump was clever to exploit the divisions inside Canada between Quebec (where the protected dairy industry is centered) and the rest of the country (which pays dearly for milk and butter). He likened Trump’s penchant for keeping everyone off balance to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who did the same. It makes some people uncomfortable but it’s very smart and probably necessary, he said.
The engineer said he considers himself an internationalist but he agreed that President Trump was correct in pushing NATO countries to pay more for their own defense. ”They’ve been getting a free ride since the end of World War II. And the tariffs Germany puts on American cars is why you don’t see any Fords on the road over there.”
You can’t imagine any Democratic candidate crediting President Trump for doing anything right. Or admitting his confrontational style has produced positive results. But Democratic voters do.
And identity politics isn’t selling on the hustings. The Iowa engineer heard it over and over from both Hillary and Bernie in 2016: men treat women unfairly, whites persecute blacks, straight men discriminate against gays.
“So here I am. I’m a man. I’m white. I’m the father of four kids. I’m tired of being told I’m the villain,” he said. “How do Democrats think regular guys out here across the country like being told they’re bad?”
Class Warfare Rhetoric Isn’t Working
This year, the candidates make an obligatory nod to the race-and-gender identities, and then pivot to the new enemy—“the rich.”
Diane, an undecided voter in New Hampshire—she’s maybe for Mayor Pete or maybe for Amy—is turned off by Warren’s blanket condemnation of the rich. “I don’t think everyone who works on Wall Street is bad. That’s like saying everyone who works for minimum wage is not educated. There’s just something there that doesn’t ring true to me.”
And while Diane wants someone who can “end the division,” she would consider voting for Trump. “He’s done some good things,” she admitted.
Her message to the Democrats: “They have to understand why Trump won the last time. Calling people deplorable, calling people names or negating the fact that people are angry or suffering in this country—they’re not gonna win based on not learning what happened in 2016.”
“Clearly,” she added, “people need health insurance. But I don’t think you should take it away from someone who may be happy with what they have, even if it’s expensive, I’m still happy with my insurance.”
Diane went on: “I think if you’re talking about letting people who are not citizens, or in jail vote, I think that’s alienating to many people who just want the voice of Americans to be heard.”
“We have to think what has Donald Trump done well and what are things moving forward we have to look at,” she said. “This country is still the strongest, best country in the world and how do we keep it that way.”
Joe Biden Is the Walking Dead
If the Biden campaign could have created a perfect voter in a lab this is what he would look like: older, moderate, and concerned only about defeating Trump.
I met several of them, however, and none of them even considered voting for Joe.
“He doesn’t have his head in the game . . . he’s erratic. he doesn’t have the sharpness. He looks tired and vulnerable.”
“A little old . . . I think Trump would whip him. I don’t think he could stand to have Trump walk behind him and make sly remarks.”
It’s Not the Win, It’s the Spin
Bill Clinton came in third in New Hampshire in 1992 and declared himself the “Comeback Kid.” He marched on to win the nomination.
Pete Buttigieg worked to make that story his surge rather than focus on the mathematical fact Bernie Sanders won the most votes in New Hampshire, and the media helped him.
Mayor Pete’s entire campaign is pure spin. No one can tell you what he believes in. It’s about a new generation, inclusivity, unity, ending the division. Hope and change 2.0.
The nominating process has been turned into a made-for-TV-spectacle, the sort of corruption Neil Postman chronicled and predicted 35 years ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death.
Modern electronic mass media’s malign influence on politics was bad enough in the era of Big Three network television with daily 30-minute newscasts, “Nightline” and “60 Minutes.”
It’s even worse with the endless tweets, twerks, and twits of social media and the hungry maw of unlimited 24-hour cable “news” beast that must be fed constantly.
Jimmy Carter jumped in front of New Hampshire and put Iowa on the map in 1976.
In a triumph of the spin, he declared himself the winner with 29 percent of the caucus vote.
“Uncommitted” had 39 percent. As it should be, a year out from the election with a crowded field of candidates.
But the media wouldn’t have it. It needs a winner, a squeaker, an almost-ran. It needs a race, not deliberation.
No one is allowed to be uncommitted. In the instant satellite-delivered, live feed, chyron-bannered, always-on, eyeball-grabbing information age, thinking is a luxury no one can afford—least of all the people filling the space between commercials on television.