For as long as I can remember, which for me, like for most history-hating Americans, is a week ago Tuesday, the political world has focused on what the upcoming caucuses in 99 counties in Iowa will mean for all the candidates who want to be president.
Jeb Bush doesn’t figure in the narrative because he is the only candidate who clearly doesn’t want to be president. His campaign has spent $40 million on television ads that have done absolutely nothing to persuade any gullible Republican voters to support a third Bush presidency. Americans don’t like to see such wasteful spending, unless they are defense contractors or the owners of TV stations running those boffo Bush ads.
A couple areas of inquiry immediately arise when one considers the Iowa caucuses.
First, why are they called caucuses anyway? Shouldn’t they be the cauci, like cactus and cacti? Don’t Iowans realize the word sounds too much like cockamamie, cockeyed, cockup or some bacteria carried on improperly prepared corn on the cob?
Second, why are there only 99 counties in Iowa? It seems that a somewhat rectangular state bearing the shortest name of any state in the union could squeeze out another county, for symmetry’s sake, from a few corn fields, hog farms and corn-dog factories.
The caucus process is far more complicated than the California primary voting system, which normally involves a silent prayer, a flip of the coin and a nervous shudder.
Iowa caucus participants attend two-hour meetings during which they may have to suffer through more speeches about the candidates before indicating their preferred candidates. How they withstand such an affront after months of ads, barnstorming campaigns and candidate swarms is a testament to the sturdy constitution of caucusites. Or to the February nightlife in 99 Iowa county seats.
The Republicans and Democrats, of course, have different methods for reporting their caucus results. The Democrats report only the percentage support received by each candidate. The Republicans report both percentages and total votes, though the vote count can by delayed for some time as it journeys through drifts of snow, icy sorghum ponds and frozen corn stubble.
In 2012, it was 17 days before former Sen. Rick Santorum could rightfully claim a 37-vote margin of victory in the final Iowa vote count. And all Americans know how that rocketed Santorum to where he is today.
Of course, winning in Iowa often means nothing in the long run. Among Republicans, Santorum won in 2012 and former Gov. Mike Huckabee won in 2008. But President Barack Obama beat former Sen. Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucus, giving his underdog campaign an immediate boost. Sen. Bernie Sanders hopes history will repeat itself next week.
The only practical impact of the Iowa results will be felt by the candidates, their donors and the political chatterboxes who will chatter about them nonstop until the next scene in the national nightmare unfolds Feb. 9 in the New Hampshire primary. Then, as the comics say, Iowa will be carefully forgotten until early 2020.
If Donald Trump wins in Iowa, he will not be content to simply chatter about it. He will shout about it, in huge monosyllables, as if it were the greatest moment in all American history. If Trump trails Canadian immigrant and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, he may just modify his stylish red campaign ball cap. “Make America Great Again — except Iowa, very third-rate.”
A second-place Trump would have to be dissuaded from a hasty announcement he will not participate in any further Iowa-related events, thereby depriving the hayseeds of any more of his mighty greatness.
“But, O, unparalleled Dealmaker, no one is going to Iowa anymore. The caucuses are over,” his minions would whisper.
“In that case, let’s buy the state and kick it out of the country. Tell ’em were taking the place condo.”