Every four years, the Iowa Caucus allows Iowa to be just a little bit more than that Field of Dreams state. The 2016 Iowa Caucus was an interesting affair, to say the least.
First off, there was the not entirely unsurprising second-place finish of marmot-domed billionaire braggart Donald Trump. The Donald got thwomped fairly decisively by immigrant Ted Cruz, proving that the universe does indeed have a sense of humor. Trump’s defeat was predictable: his entire campaign has been long on foamy-mawed resentment but short on real-deal, right-wing meat and potatoes. The policies he’s mouthed – building a Mexican border wall; banning Muslim immigration, and shoring up Social Security for cranky old honkies – have ranged from the absurd to the frankly liberal, hence the disdain he’s engendered among GOP establishment Grand Poobas.
Meanwhile, despite his “outsider” claims, Ted Cruz is every bit the rank-and-file movement conservative: obsessively free-market, vehemently anti-labor, shamelessly Jesus-freaky, and unabashedly xenophobic. The Evangelical Kingmakers who drive Hawkeye GOP politics melted early on to Cruz’s bible-humping, Texas gun nut-cum-televangelist shtick, and when it comes to getting the votes necessary to rack up party delegates, religious pandering and free-market fellating beats empty populism every time. Whether Cruz will score the Republican nomination remains to be seen (remember how Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum conquered America for the Inquisition in 2012? Yeah, neither do I), but he’s definitely on the right path, even as he puts America on the wrong one.
Then there’s the Democrats. Will Rogers once said that, “Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they’d be Republicans,” and the Iowa Caucus always make that point abundantly clear.
The real shocker of the night was that Vermont Senator-turned fly-in-Hillary’s-ointment, Bernie Sanders, managed to pull a Rocky Balboa and go the distance against the Clinton political machine. Hillary Clinton is the closest thing to Democratic royalty in 2016, and, in echoes of 2008, her seemingly inevitable march to the party nomination has once again been disrupted by a tenacious sorta-outsider with a passionate grassroots following.
His claims notwithstanding, Sanders is more of an old-line FDR-style New Dealer than he is European-style Democratic Socialist, but when stacked against the pro-finance industry, Wall Street-friendly Hillary, he’s downright radical. Bernie basically tied the Iowa Caucus with Clinton, a feat that few in the Washington punditocracy predicted.
It remains highly unlikely that Sanders will score his party’s nomination: in a party that’s gone full-blown neoliberal in recent decades, his New Deal populism has been outdated since at least LBJ’s Great Society days. Moreover, as is the case with the GOP, the winner of the Democratic Iowa Caucus doesn’t always sail to presidential nominee glory (remember how Iowa Caucus winner Howard “Yarrrrrghhhhh!!!” Dean took on George W. Bush in the 2004 general election? Yeah, neither do I). But Sanders’ momentum does give voice to the millions of Democratic voters who have this itching notion that Democrats should believe in something other than acting Republican-lite — maybe even be actual LIBERALS.
Next up is the New Hampshire Primary, where Sanders is currently leading in the polls. But as Donald Trump found out, polls don’t necessarily equal votes. If nothing else, the 2016 election is already shaping up to be one that we’ll all call “the most important election in our lifetimes” – at least until the next election. As for Bernie Sanders’ Iowa supporters: they can walk away from the 2016 Caucus confident in the certainty that, no, this isn’t heaven, it’s Iowa.