Game On!

But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.

Stephen Sondheim — “Send in the Clowns”

It is unclear what to make of Monday’s Iowa caucus results.  Analysts and pundits are busy parsing it in many directions.  So far I have heard that Hillary Clinton’s win was really a loss, Marco Rubio’s third place finish was a win, Bernie Sanders pulled out the biggest upset, Ted Cruz really knew how to do “retail politics” and Donald Trump is not unstoppable.  I suppose all of that means we can make of the results whatever we wish.

There are a few things that are apparent.  Projections, pundits and potential are all mostly in the past now that real people are voting.  The game is on.  On to New Hampshire.  There is no clear front-runner in either party even though various candidates would like to think that they are the inevitable nominee for their respective parties.

Perhaps we also know (or hope) that the reality show atmosphere of the Republican debates will be a thing of the past. Perhaps the clown show is finally over.  (Time out:  You may remember that Donald Trump boycotted last week’s debate on Fox News.  We will never know if that hurt him or helped him — many argue the latter because he would be asked some difficult questions.  Ever the entrepeneur Mr. Trump opined that they should pay him for his appearance as he was such a boon to ratings for the network, and felt that the questions asked him were “unfair” — even as Fox News claims it is the only network that is “fair and balanced.”  If I were a cynical conspiracy theorist, I would opine that it was actually a back room deal between Fox and Mr. Trump to boost ratings for each of them by creating a mock feud.  But I must stop myself from slipping into the slime that is unworthy of the citizens of our great country.)  Perhaps the next debates will be more substantive, but in truth, without Mr. Trump there, the last Republican debate was the most policy driven one they have held thus far.

There are a few things to keep in mind about the “winning and losing” that often get lost.  In no particular order these include:

  • Caucus goers in Iowa are not representative of the voters nationally.  For both Democrats and Republicans they tend to skew farther to the edges of their respective parties.  The last two winners of the Republican caucuses were former Governor Mike Huckabee and former Senator Rick Santorum.  Neither were much of a factor in later primaries.
  • The “winner” in the Republican caucus was Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who got 8 delegates. In second place Mr. Donald Trump (R-Manhattan) got 7 and in third place Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) got 7 delegates.  Out of 1,237 needed to gain the nomination.  (For the record, Dr. Ben Carson (R-Johns Hopkins) got 3 and Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich each got one.  Chris Christie got zero, along with Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, “other” and Jim Gilmore — “other” actually got more votes than Jim Gilmore.)  The “winner” got about six tenths of one percent — less than one percent — of the total needed for the nomination.
  • The “winner” for the Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got 23 delegates and the runner-up, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got 21.  Former governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD) got no delegates but he did finish ahead of “other” and “uncommitted” in the voting.  Out of 2,382 delegates needed to get the nomination, the “winner” got about one percent of the total needed.

(Time out number two:  Out of the roughly 314 million citizens of the United States, these fifteen people are the best our nation has to offer?  No offense to any one of the candidates that have put themselves out there to run (well, maybe offense to two or three of them), but whoever ends up being the two nominees do not to me look like the best that we can do.)

One thing is clear, the economy of Iowa benefits from hosting the first test of the candidates among the voters.  I am not so sure the rest of us get much benefit from it.

The real impact of the caucus is the psychological aspects of winning or losing.  Especially this year. Given the number and variety of candidates running, many voters are undecided and more importantly to the candidates, many major donors have been sitting out this cycle waiting to see who is a viable candidate with a shot at winning, you know, the real election.  Additionally, some candidates found out that they have no realistic shot.  (Farewell Governor Huckabee, Governor O’Malley, and Senator Paul. All “suspended” their campaigns after Iowa.)

The rules of the Iowa caucus, for both Democrats and Republicans are a bit arcane.  I won’t go into them here, but even as one may argue that Iowa does not represent the country as a whole with respect to race, ethnicity, socio-economic factors, etc. it is also difficult to participate in the caucus. None-the-less, it is what it is and it does provide a chance to start narrowing the field.

Up next, New Hampshire.  While that state also may not reflect the make up of the rest of the population of this great nation, at least the good citizens of the Granite State cast a real ballot at a polling booth. What makes New Hampshire interesting is that independents can vote in either the Republican or the Democrat primary (but not both).  Expect more Republican candidates to suspend their campaigns after New Hampshire, especially those that only paid lip service to the Iowa caucus and put most of their effort into New Hampshire and still make a poor showing.

That said, I am not in the prognosticating business so I will not venture a guess as to who decides to retire from the field. I also am sure that we will still have a large field for a few more weeks.  At a minimum, however, it should start to reveal who has a realistic shot at being their party’s nominee.

Perhaps by early March, we can send out the clowns.


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