Increasingly, I feel the need to declare my position on the candidates before commenting on the process, because, increasingly, the conversation has become one of comparative litmus tests. So, here’s the deal on that: I like Clinton and Sanders both, and I like each of them for both overlapping and different reasons. As a life long Democrat I’m glad to see such good candidates running. I will decide whom to support in the Minnesota Caucus some time after I walk into the building, most likely. Then, later, I will decide which candidate, if any, I might work for during the time between our caucus and the convention, though most likely it will be neither. I don’t have a lot of money to donate to anything, but so far I have split my financial support evenly. After the convention (or a bit before if there is a clear winner a priori) I will do everything I can to move the chosen candidate into the White House, while at the same time working on my Congressional District and state wide races or issues.
The first thing we learned from the Iowa Caucus is that Bernie Sanders is a viable candidate who can win. I didn’t doubt that before, but his showing in Iowa, a statistical tie, demonstrates this. This is not really too important in the big picture, partly because it simply reifies what was already known, and partly because Iowa (and New Hampshire) provide only a part of information needed to think strategically about the process. The way things are set up, we really won’t know until Super Tuesday, I think, how the two candidates stand. South Carolina may tell us something about the alleged demographic disconnect that favors Clinton over Sanders, and Nevada may show us if Unions matter in this election, and who they matter to. But from that perspective (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) it will be very difficult to predict Super Tuesday’s outcome.
But, here’s the thing: Bernie supporters who have shown a great deal of angst and jitteriness, to the point of sometimes acting inappropriately for a Primary, can relax a bit now. Your candidate is for real, we all know this. And best of luck to you and to us all.
At the same time, Clinton supporters who may have viewed Bernie as an anomalous inviable insurgent now know that isn’t true. This should have been obvious all along, but for the doubters, stop doubting.
The second lesson is a bit more complex. On one hand, Clinton should have done better in Iowa, given the demographic match up. This puts Clinton on notice. Every campaign is like a herd of bison moving across the plains, with each bison being unique and likely to go in any of several directions. The efficient campaign tends to ignore the bison that are going in the “right” direction (for that campaign) and focus on those that seem likely to stray. I think Iowa demonstrates that some of Clinton’s bison need to have a good talking to.
On the other hand, the Sanders campaign makes the point that the #FeelTheBern surge will not only carry Sanders past the demographic disconnects he faces, but that it will sprout a long and stable coat tail to bring Congress with him. Did going from an obscure(ish) Senator from an obscure(ish) state to nearly besting The Anointed One (for good reason) in Iowa constitute a Bern-Surge? Or was it not enough? The turnout in Iowa was pretty good, but it was not Obama-esque. To the extent that Obama’s 2008 campaign is a model for a 2016 Sanders campaign, something is lacking here. This may or may not be important.
One test of the surgosity of the Sanders campaign may be South Carolina and Nevada. He is unlikely to win in South Carolina and Nevada is obscure. But if he does way better than expectations, that might mean that the surge if getting fueled (by itself, as surges do). I suppose New Hampshire could also be an indicator. Sanders will likely win that state. Not because New Hampshire and Vermont are clones — they are very different. But because among Democrats, Sanders will be seen as something of a favorite son. (New Hampshire and Vermont share a long border, but most cross-state interconnections, I think, are: Vermont-Update NY, and Vermont-Berkshires/Pioneer Valley, MA; and New Hampshire-Greater Boston Areas.) In any event, if Sanders does better than X percent over Clinton in New Hampshire, that could be a post-Iowa surge-fueling effect. X is probably around 12% .
On the Republican side, there are more lessons than I want or need to discuss, but I’ll mention two. First, as per this item, no matter how out of the box some of this year’s campaigns seem to be (i.e., Trump’s celebrity approach), the political process is a real, living entity that can’t be ignored. Trump risks loss for doing so.
See: Dark Money by Jane Mayer
The other major lesson, I think, is that the field is now much smaller than it used to be. I’m not sure if any of the bottom tier candidates can recover, however, New Hampshire might bring one or two back into the race. But right now, it is looking like Trump-Cruz-Rubio. I’ve seen some convincing commentary that Cruz is actually not viable long term. I don’t know if I believe that, even if I can hope it to be so. So, the Trump Will Burn Out theory says that Rubio is the GOP nominee, and based on overall patterns, likely the next President unless the Democrats pull their heads out of each other’s butts and start focusing on the end game. I suppose it could be worse.