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The Iowa Caucus Has Choked Itself to Death at Last

Thanks for nothing, Iowa.

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders wait for results to come in at his caucus night watch party on February 3, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.

A Systemwide Disaster.” “Meltdown.” “Debacle.” These are the headlines coming out of Iowa after the caucus on Monday night. Maybe it had to end this way for Iowa, a state that re-elects men like Chuck Grassley and Steve King with dreary consistency, and which has now seen disaster during its caucus for the third straight time.

A Vesuvian eruption of failure and disgrace to finally and forever end the unanswerable conundrum: Why does a diverse, technologically advanced nation of 327 million people allow a rural, farm-bound state with three million people, nearly all of them white, serve as the thresher for national presidential candidates every four years? And why does that decision have to happen via a chaotic, inaccessible-for-many system that remains confusing to even the most dedicated political wonks?

Answer: Because, well, see, tradition and the agrarian fantasy we cling to and, um, retail politics, right, that, plus Iowa is lovely in February, right? Right?

There is no good reason, and now there is no reason at all. An already cumbersome caucus system got slathered with confusing new votingtiers,” whose introduction apparently vapor-locked the higher functions of state and local election officials. Half the state of Iowa did the new-version caucus wrong, bollixing the second “tier” so thoroughly that the results are not simply late, again. The results are skewed, confused and screwed.

If you were watching cable news for results last night, you knew things were going bad when Steve Kornacki, MSNBC’s normally frenetic stats guy, began gesticulating so wildly that he looked like some flightless, bespectacled waterfowl attempting to slip the surly bonds of Earth. I finally turned it off and went to bed before Kornacki’s arms flew off, expecting greater clarity would arrive with the dawn. The sun is up, and none has been forthcoming.

The Iowa Caucus collapsed last night like a child’s cardboard fort left out in the rain. There is, at this point, every reason to believe that no sure winner will emerge from this debacle, and whoever does claim victory will be standing on very shaky ground. Pete Buttigieg declared victory before midnight based on absolutely, positively nothing. “The whole system largely broke, stated an Iowa Democrat, as quoted by Politico reporter Elena Schneider.

There is quite a lot of bullshit to endure during even a pristinely managed Iowa caucus — the weeks-long media frenzy before the vote, the tired explanations about tradition, the overhyped conclusion which comes after an inevitable delay — all for a crummy sack of 41 delegates. A candidate can take a deep breath in California and get 41 delegates. This is farce, and the stinging humiliation of this failure should finally and forever sound the death knell for Iowa’s undeserved electoral poll position.

The ancient media cliché “Dems in disarray” does not even begin to encompass the totality of this debacle.

For a while, it appeared the whole mess could be laid at the feet of Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager. Reports indicated Mook was the mastermind behind a phone app that election officials were supposed to use to report results. When the app failed spectacularly, virtually the entire political internet pounced on him. Mook vociferously denied having anything to do with the thing, and told everyone to go bother the Iowa Democratic Party.

Right or wrong (and it looks like wrong), here we have a notorious Hillary Clinton operative who stands accused of being at the center of a failed election that virtually every poll had Bernie Sanders winning handily. Given the old and recent history of animosity between the Clinton and Sanders camps, the conspiracy theories pretty much write themselves.

But wait, there’s more! It now appears that none of the Iowa election officials running the election on the ground were actually trained to use the app. When they couldn’t figure it out, they tried to call the proffered hotline to deliver caucus results, only to find themselves on permanent hold. Some officials attempted to hand-deliver caucus results directly to Iowa Democratic officials, only to be turned away with no explanation.

This all-encompassing failure of the new “tiered” voting system, app included, was folded into the caucus by the Iowa Democratic Party with the blessing of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Once again, there is old, bad blood between Sanders and the DNC, and this mess will only reinforce the justified sense that establishment Democrats, embodied by the DNC and its cohort of Clinton holdovers, are actively trying to run the Sanders campaign off the road.

For the DNC, this black eye is the very last thing they need. A change in the debate rules to allow newly arrived billionaire candidates to participate, after every candidate of color besides Andrew Yang was chased out of the race by the old rules, has sparked broad outrage.

Compounding this is a scandal at the top of the convention host committee that has cashiered its top two officials only six short months before the convention in Milwaukee. What promised to be a chaotic and possibly brokered convention now faces the same total calamity that subsumed the Iowa caucus on Monday night.

The Buttigieg campaign released Iowa numbers to underscore how well they performed, claiming they’d won, and the Sanders campaign did likewise, sharing numbers that showed Sanders at the top. In contrast, the Biden campaign is keeping its head down, likely thrilled that what may well have been a poor showing has been obscured by this mess. None of it matters, because any results have been tainted. “Train wreck” is too kind a euphemism.

The candidates have already headed to New Hampshire, whose standard-practice primary next week will hopefully come off with a measurable level of competence. Iowa officials are promising results at some point on Tuesday, but those results will likely be so muddled and corrupted as to be utterly meaningless.

Donald Trump won the Iowa Democratic caucus on Monday night. You don’t have to wait for evidence of this. The State of the Union address is tonight, and if you think Trump won’t be gloating even as he weaponizes this catastrophe — “These are the people you want running your health care?” — you have not been paying attention. Between this and his inevitable impeachment acquittal in the Senate tomorrow, the man will be positively bursting at the seams.

At this rate, Trump won’t have to leave the White House to secure victory in November. “Dems in disarray” will do all the heavy lifting for him, and they will have no one but themselves to blame. The Iowa Caucus needed to be a showcase of Democratic competence, if only to justify its presence at the head of the line.

Instead, it was the most humiliating and dispiriting political event in modern election memory. The convention riot in 1968 was the fault of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s skull-cracking cops, and 2000 belongs to the Supreme Court. This one is all Democrats, and the sting of it will not be subsiding anytime soon.

Thanks for nothing, Iowa.

UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party (IDC) released 62 percent of the final caucus total late on Tuesday afternoon. Buttigieg and Sanders stand at a virtual tie, Warren sits in third place, and Biden is in fourth. At present, the IDC has presented no timetable for the release of the final 38 percent of the results, nor are there any immediate plans to declare a winner. The New Hampshire primary is on Tuesday, February 11, 2020.

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