It’s a slow motion implosion from this point on.
First, it rates mentioning that all this angst over the botched Iowa caucus is an unnecessary media creation from an industry that needs to keep feeding the beast that is a 24/7 news cycle. The Iowa caucus has always been a quaintly old fashioned little affair where they use paper ballots and count by hand, so the data on the ground is uniformly accurate. The problem was with the reporting app and if Iowa Democrats and the media had not ginned up such a ravenous appetite for immediate gratification in the form of instant results — if say they’d anticipated a twenty-four hour window for reporting final numbers — there would have been no drama.
Or if the relatively small Iowa caucus were not first and a stand alone event, were it one among many as on Super Tuesday, no one would have even noticed. This would all have been a minor glitch. But again, there would have been no drama, nothing to react to, no one to blame or accusatory stories to run. No system to accuse of the being ‘rigged,’ that progressive code for ‘I don’t need no stinkin’ rules, I want what I want and I want it right now!’
No drama sounds like bliss to me, but it is not my call.
There’s also been a predictable and wildly fantastical interpretation of the actual numbers emerging from Iowa by those deeply dug in around particular outcomes. Sanders’ zealots have posted headlines claiming victory completely disregarding the plain fact that, at this point, he really hasn’t won. At best, he and Pete Buttigieg share the lead with neither getting a commanding lead. But look deeper, the statistics for Bernie Sanders are much more grave. Therein lurks the land mines laid by a badly conceived campaign.
It also warrants noting that, while the ardent self identified ‘progressives’ try in loud, strident acclamation to separate themselves from the existing Democratic ‘establishment’, the reality is that Democrats are moving at an ever increasing pace towards progressive policies that will — with or without Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren — be reflected in the party platform this year. Being excessively loud and pounding your chest may lend to a young person’s personal sense of self importance, but these changes have been in motion for decades now and with the shifting demographics in the country, they are coming whether you shriek at the top of your lungs until you collapse — or not.
In the first round of the caucus Bernie Sanders’ — and Elizabeth Warren’s — support was viable from the start, while others like Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar were not. The serious issues for Sanders start to surface in the first ‘adjustment’. The only more ‘moderate’ Democrat who was consistently viable was Pete Buttigieg, so when Biden and Klobuchar — not to mention Yang, Steyer, Bennet, Patrick and Bloomberg — caucus goers had to realign, they mostly realigned to Buttigieg. Warren’s didn’t need to realign so they stayed put. So while Sanders had the numbers to stay in play, he gained only a handful of new voters from the Gabbard campaign, which was dead on arrival, while Pete Buttigieg picked up larger numbers that ultimately put him out in front of Sanders.
Landmine #1: Sanders has reached his margins on persuadable converts. His true believers are solidly dug in but, especially since this dubious character has finally been getting some real policy vetting recently that is really not going well for him, he is not attracting new recruits. And people who are not predisposed to ‘like’ this guy — for whatever reason anybody takes a shine to him — others just don’t like this guy or the company he keeps so he’s not likely to grow his base beyond disaffected Gabbard followers and some free floating independents.
After the first realignment Buttigieg benefited from the fact that Biden and Klobuchar and others didn’t have the voter turnout to be viable, providing a surge for Mayor Pete while Sanders barely moved. That has likely given Buttigieg a somewhat over inflated sense of promise, because looking closely at the numbers, combining all the other so-called moderates, their collective vote totals are over 10,000 more than Pete’s totals.
The bad news for Sanders, though, is that his final number is roughly half that of Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar, et. al. combined. And even if Sanders and Warren are taken together they are still over six thousand votes behind the less progressive group. And just because Joe Biden didn’t lead the field on a cold night in the middle of a work week in Iowa does not mean that he — and Klobuchar — did not make a showing: together they were on pace with both Buttigieg and Sanders. They are not gone.
Landmine #2: The misunderstanding that Iowa is representative of the electorate in the rest of the country. Joe Biden didn’t win, but he didn’t disappear either, and in places where people simply have to show up and vote without all this social communing business — in places where it is not so damned cold and they can stop in at all hours of the day to vote — many people still prefer Joe. This whole ‘let’s get together and shout Bernie’ thing is purely a product of his social media machine which is six times more present online than anyone else’s. That creates a false belief in reach and influence out here in the sentient world.
Broken out by counties in the eastern part of the state where Sanders dominated in 2016, he ended up sharing votes with Warren and losing entire counties to Buttigieg. Sanders lost substantial ground in that region since the last election. Warren did not carry a single county but she forced Sanders to share the progressive ground in ways that diminished him all over the Iowa.
Landmine #3: This is clearly a setback for Sanders’ momentum that will be felt in steady increments in all sorts of different manifestations in upcoming primaries and caucuses. His only opposition in ’16 was Hillary Clinton and for those who didn’t like her, he was the alternative. Apparently, given an alternative, many voters don’t prefer Sanders. Some even made the leap to Buttigieg, about as far away from Sanders as one can get and still be a Democrat.
Analyzing the map of how each county in Iowa voted, one thing is glaring: Bernie Sanders’ solid, unflinching support came from mostly urban concentrations including Cedar Rapids and Davenport, but Des Moines — where the Des Moines Register endorsed Elizabeth Warren — remained tied till near the end before it went to Sanders. Warren chipped away at his dominance. The vast majority of the rest of the state — the rural areas — went to Buttigieg. Biden carried seven counties in total. But Sanders’ counties were population centers where he’d organized extensively. That means that all those counties that realigned to Buttigieg started out with Biden and Klobuchar voters who moved over to Pete instead of Bernie.
Landmine #4: In areas outside the places where large concentrations of young Sanders supporters are together in mass to feed off one another’s ‘enthusiasm’ the candidate did well. Elsewhere, where Democratic voters were less impressed — or even disinterested — in Sanders’ perceived Socialism or his particular brand of ‘in-your-face’ campaigning, not so much. In fact, not at all. Sanders’ pockets of support did not move or expand from the beginning of the evening to the end, all the movement was in Buttigieg’s direction. In fact, Biden’s committed support did not waver, it was simply in less populated counties. There is no way to spin that as a win for Bernie Sanders.
Elizabeth Warren remained viable even though she lagged behind Sanders in the vote totals; in the end, Buttigieg and Sanders were allocated ten delegates, but Warren got four. So there was never really a need to assess Warren voters’ second choice, and there seems to be an assumption that her supporters would have and ultimately will gravitate to Sanders. Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve spent more time than I ever wanted to dealing with Sanders’ acolytes: there are good reasons to dislike these folks. But I’ve spent some time with Warren voters too — mostly enthusiastic young women — and, while I find them somewhat soft focus on policy and very naive about the realities of politics — or the world for that matter — they are not uniformly unpleasant people. They adore Senator Warren perhaps to a fault, but oh well.
Landmine #5: In the end, if all this culminates in a brokered convention, Elizabeth Warren is going to have some chips to play. If Bernie Sanders continues to treat her with the same dismissive condescension that he has on occasion thus far, never mind the brazen sexist brutality he and so many of his acolytes and surrogates have demonstrated towards Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris even now, I am not at all sure that Warren or her lady posse will default to Sanders. He may find that women never forget that sort of thing and that Elizabeth Warren wants to stay on the inside with the Democratic party. She may deal like the power broker she ought to be and release her delegates to Biden or whoever. Besides that, she is likely becoming more clear everyday that Sanders is not the policy strategist that she is and that he really is simply beneath her. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t much care for Elizabeth Warren.
There’s New Hampshire and it’s big four electoral votes that Bernie Sanders may have to share with Elizabeth Warren, but after that, there’s no good path forward for the Sanders’ candidacy. Left leaning publications and some bad writers keep twisting thin air into all manner of delusional scenarios but the fact is, Sanders lost Iowa. He is dead on arrival in Texas and the South. Kamala Harris has huge leverage in California when she decides who she’s attaching herself to so, notwithstanding his reported surge there, he might not want to get out over his skies prematurely about his prospects there.
Democrats’ primary directive is to beat Trump and if Joe Biden takes the South and Bernie Sanders base remains intransigent and his campaign’s ‘alienation tour’ continues unabated — as I don’t believe any of his mouthpieces could just shut their mouths if their lives depended on it — Tuesday night in Iowa may well turn out to be as good as it gets for Bernie Sanders.
Hard as we all know it is for petulant young people to believe, Gen X was radicalized well before any of them existed. We see the need and will act on our convictions, we just don’t need to talk about it all the time and we have lives beyond this election and are centered enough in ourselves not to seek the constant badgering, begging, pleading approval of equally angst ridden cohorts. Or to insult and belittle everyone who does not agree with us or operate in the world the way we do. Just sayin’, y’all would have extraordinarily effective natural allies if you will stop the incessant bellyaching.
It is possible that someone other than Bernie Sanders has your best interests at heart.
About the Author:
Gayle Leslie is a writer, political consultant, published author, actor, and policy wonk publishing extensively on Medium and other platforms. She is a native Texan, graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and Circle in the Square Theatre School in NYC. She wrote her serialized memoir, Dwelling in the Vast Divine Vol. 1 & Vol 2. You can follow on Twitter at @gayleleslie7