Staff Columnist

The week the caucuses took their lumps

Chris Piker of Iowa City counts presidential preference cards after Andrew Yang is declared nonviable in precinct 1 afte
Chris Piker of Iowa City counts presidential preference cards after Andrew Yang is declared nonviable in precinct 1 after the first vote at the caucus sites at City High School in Iowa City on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. Precincts 1 and 17 caucused at the school. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Endings in politics rarely are happy endings.

Long-serving politicians overstay their welcome and voters kick them to the curb. Majorities are swept away by waves. Even a president who wins a couple of terms can only to watch as the electorate sends in a new occupant determined to undo all of his accomplishments. Scandals bring down officeholders, or at least they used to. Lawmakers get caught kissing lobbyists in bars.

So it is with the end of Iowa’s caucuses, or at least their predicted demise. Anger, finger-pointing and pangs of disgrace. Blame confusing rules. Blame the app that couldn’t report straight. Blame the hotline’s busy signal. Shame on Iowa.

If there’s anything to mourn, it’s not lost status. It’s that the tens of thousands of Iowans who take this president-picking seriously, perhaps more seriously this time than in any other cycle, were failed by incompetent party leaders who ignored all the red, flashing warning lights.

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It’s hard to imagine how Iowa’s takedown could’ve been uglier. Watching cable news, CNN in particular, has been excruciating. When results were delayed, I half expected commentators to not only call for the end of our caucuses but for Iowa’s removal from the union.

So the fast-emerging national consensus is Iowa is toast. No more first-in-the nation. No more looking candidates in the eye at the local cafe or following future leaders through a State Fair gauntlet of stick food and large livestock. No more gathering on a cold February night to sustain a process that now can’t yield results at 5G speed.

The last Iowa caucuses. I should have taken more pictures.

What will we do? Losing politicians of the male variety often grow beards as defeat casts them into the wilderness. But can a whole state grow a beard? Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price already has one. He may shave it off as he slips into witness protection.

But maybe Iowa’s obituary is premature. Until someone comes up with a better primary calendar acceptable to all, or at least most, nothing really changes. And if Republicans stick with Iowa, can Democrats bolt? Top state Republicans publicly offered strong support to floundering Iowa Democrats. Heartwarming.

But our system has real problems. Some are built in. Some were added to please crabby outsiders. Our caucuses are confusing, inaccessible to too many and are shunned by most Iowa voters. A primary would solve those problems, but could mean giving Iowa’s place of presidential prominence.

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So what’s it going to be? A furious fight to prop up a flailing franchise or a sober-minded acknowledgment that big changes are needed. I choose sobriety, which has been a hard pick this week.

If there’s anything to mourn, it’s not lost status. It’s that the tens of thousands of Iowans who take this president-picking seriously, perhaps more seriously this time than in any other cycle, were failed by incompetent party leaders who ignored all the red, flashing warning lights. Iowans, the candidates, staff and volunteers who toiled for months, years even, were set up to fail. It’s heartbreaking.

That said, if you look around the terrifying hellscape that is our politics, are Iowa’s caucuses really a disgrace? It’s richly ironic for anyone on cable news to claim Iowa should be embarrassed. Cable news is an embarrassment daily, and has done far more damage to American politics than any school gymnasium full of Iowans could ever inflict.

Also, let’s stay focused on a real happy ending. Donald Trump with a beard.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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