Staff Columnist

There are no winners in the Iowa caucuses, just one big loser, the state of Iowa

In this Jan. 9, 2020, file photo, precinct team member buttons are seen during a caucus training meeting at the local he
In this Jan. 9, 2020, file photo, precinct team member buttons are seen during a caucus training meeting at the local headquarters for Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in Ottumwa, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In the end, we did this to ourselves. We played ourselves. The chaos and pandemonium out of the caucuses are a result of an imperfect system bent and molded until what happened was an actual procedural nightmare.

There were so many candidates. And in a party gripped with the fear of another loss to that bloviating dictator who couldn’t pick out the state of Kansas on a map, that meant indecision. This fear paired with new rules in an already Rube Golbergian process, and it was like serving Turducken on a hamburger bun. Really confusing and silly.

This year, there were a lot of changes to the caucuses. Instead of one count, we were promised three. Three counts! First, the first alignment count. Then, the second alignment. Then, the delegate totals.

On Feb. 3, our caucuses became the game of Mousetrap, a game that looks fun, but never works, never catches the mice, and eventually your mom refuses to play, and then you just lose the pieces.

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There was a brand new presidential preference card, which was a cross between a ranked choice ballot and a boring postcard from a level of political purgatory.

There was going to be a phone app, about which we knew nothing, and nothing was told to us. And precinct captains whispered about it, but were told not to talk about it. But it never worked. Error messages and login problems.

There was also new math to determine delegates.

We were promised these caucuses would be transparent. We were promised it would be accessible. Or more than it was before. But what we got was something so convoluted it made the perfect argument against itself. When anyone questioned the process or the nature of the caucuses, the party chairs shouted “retail politics!” until they didn’t have to listen any more.

On Feb. 3, our caucuses became the game of Mousetrap, a game that looks fun, but never works, never catches the mice, and eventually your mom refuses to play, and then you just lose the pieces.

Our moms are refusing to play. We already are losing the pieces.

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The state of Iowa, in trying to put out the fire surrounding the caucuses, just burned the whole thing down. There are many questions and concerns that will overshadow the results. People walking out of the caucuses with these preference cards. Groups that shouldn’t have been viable, now viable? To be clear, caucuses were always this confusing and messy, it’s just now with the preference cards there is hard proof.

And on Feb. 3, the longer the Iowa Democratic Party delayed the results, the more panicked the CNN and MSNBC pundits sounded. “What’s going on in Iowa?” They said over and over. “Where are the results? Where are the results?,” like a group of 2-year-olds denied cake at a birthday party. Fox News declared this was Iowa’s last caucus.

Pundits wanted answers. They wanted clarity. Everyone wanted to get the hell out of Fort Dodge and get to New Hampshire. They were tired of the bales of straw, hog farms and the talk of ethanol. They wanted to get out. But the caucus has never been that easy. Not in 2016 when inconsistencies in reporting lead to campaign frustrations that spilled into 2020. Not in 2012, when Rick Santorum was scrambling for caucus votes, tying with Mitt Romney.

And the party itself was nervous. Refusing to answer questions. Refusing to tell anyone why the results were delayed, so the chorus of pundits openly wrung their hands on live TV. By the time any statement was made it was too late. We were burning.

Iowa had one chance to get it right, and we didn’t. Ever since our first-in-the-nation status happened, more by accident of paperwork than any sort of God-given right, people have been asking why these guys? Why them? And now by accident of paperwork, making a confusing cumbersome process that over 80 percent of most registered voters in Iowa don’t even participate in even more clunky.

The question everyone has been asking was “Why Iowa?” and we couldn’t give them the answer.

On Feb. 4, the only thing we know is that there are no clear winners. Only one big loser. And that’s the state of Iowa.

lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; 319-368-8513

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