Iowa and the Rejection of the Establishment


Man, would I hate to be Jeb (!) Bush today. His Super PAC spent nearly $15 million in Iowa and he only received 2.8 percent of the vote. This means that, according to the Weekly Standard, he spent $2,884 per vote in the Iowa Caucus. This does not bode well for the establishment wing of the Republican Party, who is desperately trying to find someone who could potentially beat back both the ultra-conservative base and the presumptive Democratic nominee.

What does this say about Iowa all together?

Last night the politics of consensus were shattered, on both sides. The first place victory of Ted Cruz cements the possibility that the Republican Party could nominate its most divisive candidate since 1964. But then there’s Donald Trump, who is arguably more divisive that Cruz, and he placed second! Poor old Jeb placed sixth in Iowa, with the other establishment standard-bearers John Kasich and Chris Christie placing eighth and tenth, respectively. The only establishment pick that came close to Cruz and Trump, Marco Rubio, placed third. If the establishment wing of the party desires to win, they should encourage Bush, Kasich, and Christie to get out of the race and shift their energies to Rubio. But all bets are off on this one.

And then there’s the Democratic caucus, which is one of the closest races in Iowa history. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in a virtual tie, separated by only four delegate votes. Some precincts were so close that a literal coin toss relegated its votes to Clinton. It was an amazing showing for Senator Sanders, who a year ago polled in the single digits in Iowa. Sanders may not have had a clear electoral victory last night, but he sure had a political one. The momentum his campaign gained going into New Hampshire might lead to one of the most unexpected upsets in recent memory.

Such is presidential politics at the nadir of the Obama era. The establishment bearers (Bush, Rubio, and Clinton) either placed far behind the pack or came away with a squeaker of a win. Conversely, the victors of the night were the firebrands, the radicals, and the disestablishmentarians (Cruz, Trump, Sanders). While Iowa isn’t always the best gauge on who will be the nominee (remember, Huckabee won in 2008 and Santorum won in 2012), it did provide a young, charismatic Senator from Illinois the momentum to pull off one of the most influential political candidacies in American history. In other words, Iowa matters.

Yet, what came of the young Senator’s idea of a new era of bipartisanship, pragmatism, and consensus building? It never really happened. Obama’s candidacy and subsequent presidency, successful in many areas of policy and politics, resulted in the country being more divided, ideologically rigid, and gridlocked.

But to blame all of this on Obama would be absurd, since George W. Bush ran on the same type of platform and dealt with the same frustrations. Rather, it speaks to the fact that Americans want an ideologically motivated president. They are tired of the politics of conciliation and want a candidate who is steadfast about their ideals. If they didn’t, the candidacies of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders never would have gotten off the ground.

From my reading of this race and the Iowa caucus, Obama’s notion of a post-ideology America has bitten the dust, at least for now.


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