As of 8:45 or so PM:
Cruz 28.9 Trump 25.6 Rubio 20.8
I’m privileged to live in Minnesota, which is Iowa’s neighbor and thus not so different from Iowa, except our college football teams are better.
And it isn’t just the corn, but also, the caucus. We do that here too. Our caucus system is similar enough to Iowa that one can have a sense of what goes on over the border just with some local experience.
So let me tell you a story. I volunteered one day to help out a friend with a local campaign. The idea was to show up at the local VFW post and engage in a caucus to determine a DFL (that’s what we call Democrats in Minnesota) candidate for a local election. I met the candidate and the other volunteers in the parking lot, and coffee was passed around. As we stood around sipping our coffee, the other candidate’s team showed up, parked their van with that candidates name on it near the door, and attacked the VFW hall in the prescribed way. They plastered signs up everywhere, and positioned themselves around to meet and greet everybody who walked into the hall, giving them literature and buttons.
I asked the person who seemed to be in charge of our team where our signs were, suggesting that we needed to get in there and take some wall space before it was all used up. The response, “Well, people shouldn’t really be picking a candidate on the basis of signs, but rather, on where they stand on the issues.”
A little while later, I suggested that we get in position around the entrance ways and by the food table and bathrooms and such in order to hand out buttons and literature. “We didn’t make any literature, but here’s some buttons, if you want to hand them out. It shouldn’t really matter, though, our candidate is so much better that we don’t need to do that.”
A little while later each candidate got to make a speech outlining their respective positions. My candidate was indeed way better. Articulate, intelligent, made sense. The other candidate mainly talked about her inexperience, and how she didn’t really want this job but her neighbors talked her into it.
Then the process started. We were creamed. We got something like single digit support.
No signs. No buttons. No literature.
Here’s the thing. A caucus is a commitment of time. It takes a few hours. The majority of caucus goers are party activists or people otherwise motivated to spend a few hours in a confusing and sometimes frustrating environment. There are elements to the caucus process, at least in Minnesota, that seem to be designed to weed out the less committed or interested individuals, such as votes on who should be in this or that job that nobody ever even heard of, or resolutions that everyone already supports, etc.
So when you get a room full of activists and they are trying to decide who to put up for election, what do they base that decision on? Well, first, they eliminate the candidates that are simply untenable. At another caucus a few years ago, a candidate who would be running against Michele Bachmann got up and explained that she was the best DFL candidate because she was anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage and such, and so she was the only Democrat that could get those votes away from Bachmann. The room remained silent as she exited the stage, and not another word was said about her. (That is the modern day Minnesotan method of drawing and quartering someone.)
Once the untenable candidates are suitably ignored, we then get to the number one actual question we must ask of this candidate: Can this candidate win?
In a general election, it has been suggested that lawn signs and such matter little. Everybody knows that most of the literature ends up in the recycling. In fact, too much lit can annoy people. Campaign buttons don’t do much either, because once you’ve handed them out most people will not wear them again. None of that really means much in a general election.
But in a caucus it means everything. These are signals a candidate sends out the the activists indicating that they have a clue as to how the process works. I know this does not make much sense at first, but then again, the giant schnoz on the front end of a male elephant seal does not make much sense either. Nor does the giant tail on a male peacock, which mainly serves to make it hard to get away from predators. But these are signals sent out to indicate not too indirectly some aspect of quality.
Sexual selection in animals often causes the evolution of traits that make no sense in most contexts, but end up serving as honest advertisements of some innate quality that females will prefer. Union printed wall and lawns signs, literature and buttons, and having a lot of volunteers standing around clearly identified as working for a given candidate are honest indicators of seriousness, ability, knowledge of the process, support, and so on.
At the local caucus for my friend, the activists saw a candidate that knew the ropes, and a candidate that did not. They picked the one who sent out the proper signals, even though the choice based on positions, speaking ability, etc. should have gone the other way.
Why will Donald Trump lose the Iowa Caucus?
The word on the street in Iowa is that the Cruz campaign is running a tight and effective ground game. They have all the parts. People have arrived from hundreds of miles away to phone bank and door knock … having someone at your door telling you they just drove in from Montana to visit their grandmother in the ancestral Iowa home, oh and caucus for this candidate please, is effective.
Meanwhile Trump is not letting the press near or in the local headquarters. They are playing the ground game totally differently, more like the run up to the latest greatest reality TV show. Trump is inviting random children to tour his private plane. His daughter made a video on how to caucus, as though anyone in Iowa needs to know how to caucus. In short, Trump is sending almost none of the proper signals, and if anything, is sending bad signals. Iowans don’t care about someone’s private plane and they don’t need to be told how to do their jobs.
Iowans, today, will see on the news Cruz’s machine pulling out all the stops and doing all the things. They will see some dude in the parking lot outside of the blacked out windows of what appears to be Trump’s headquarters saying that they have no comment about anything, asking the press to go away. Caucus delegates who might have been leaning towards Trump will caucus instead for someone else, most likely Cruz. And Cruz will trounce trump.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. For now. I’ll delete this post in shame if I’m wrong. Which is a distinct possibility. Becauase you never know with a caucus…