Larry Ceisler on Iowa Caucus Chaos
Note: One day after the Iowa Caucus, when the party was still unable to release results of the voting, Ceisler Media Principal Larry Ceisler sat down with Senior Consultant Glen Macnow to discuss the impact of the chaos that occurred in this year’s first actual political showdown.
Larry: So it's 1:30 in the afternoon on the day after the Iowa caucuses and there still are no results. Maybe eventually, we're going to know who won and who lost.
Glen: Okay, so what does the failure of the ability to count votes politically? Does it help or hurt any of the candidates to have this uncertainty?
Larry: I think it's great for Joe Biden because apparently he was not doing well there. So, he’s helped if there are no results, or the results become secondary after a long delay. Biden now gets to go on to New Hampshire without suffering a consequential loss in Iowa. I think for the other candidates they're all going to claim some type of partial victory. Iowa’s also been the place where you were able to springboard into New Hampshire and get your fundraising going and pick up speed politically – and now, it's almost as if Iowa didn't happen.
Glen: President Trump suggested in a tweet last night that the process was rigged and the Democratic vote counting is false. Does this chaos give Trump and the Republicans a narrative moving forward that the Democratic vote count cannot be trusted?
Larry: Yeah, I think they certainly can use it. And forget just the Democratic vote, I think it calls into question the counting of votes in general. Now remember, this not the state of Iowa's government running the election. It was just the party. So, it's like if you had a student council election. That’s basically what this was.
But down the road, if Trump were to lose for some reason, the Republicans will look back at Iowa and say, “See, the Democrats and the Ukrainians and Crowd Strike or whatever it is, they were able to rig this.” One thing really has nothing to do with the other, but it's definitely going to be fodder for questioning results of elections. And by the way, I think you're going to find Democrats doing the same thing. It’s what we're going through. People have lost faith in institutions.”
Glen: Heading into Iowa, the forecast was this caucus would give the winner real momentum. The projection was that it would be worth up to $100 million in earned media for the winner there. But now, as you implied, everybody’s moved on to New Hampshire. So is this essentially a wash out for everybody?
Larry: No, I don't think it's a washout for everybody. Mayor Pete is saying that he won – we'll see if he really did. Amy Klobuchar may gain because people were sort of counting her out. If she did finish in the top three, that will be very helpful to her. But I think for the most part it is a washout. That’s so unfortunate not just for candidates, but for the staff, the volunteers and all the people who go to these caucuses and get very excited about it. I just feel for all the time and effort everyone put into it. People devote weeks and months of work.
Glen: Does this confused result justify ending the use of caucuses in a presidential election?
Larry: We don't need these caucuses. We just don't. The interesting thing about Iowa is that there’s so much fighting over this state, and I don't even think Iowa is a battleground state. The Democrats are ceding the state to Trump in November. So, really, who cares who won it in the end?
Glen: What’s the best argument in favor of the caucus system?
Larry: What was interesting about the Iowa caucuses, just like New Hampshire, was that it gave candidates a chance to exercise retail politics. It gave real people the chance to get to know the people running. That was always the value of it and still is.
This year, the Democratic Party held debates first, which pushed some candidates out of the race. I think if Governor (Steve) Bullock (of Montana) and Governor (John) Hickenlooper (of Colorado) had a chance to be on that debate stage, and then be in the race, they would have probably done well in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.”
Glen: Let’s talk about demographics. From the issue of being or not being representative, is Iowa a good state to give that much importance in the race?
Larry: Well sure, critics are going to say Iowa’s a bad place to start because it’s not diverse. But when they say that I point out that Barack Obama won Iowa. So, I don't know. I don't think the problem is starting in Iowa -- the problem is a bad caucus system.
The other problem with the caucus system is it favors activists. If people just went and voted, Biden might win Iowa. But the typical Biden voter is not going to schlep to a caucus and sit there all night and be moved around from corner to corner. They’re older, they work during the day. The Sanders supporters in Iowa were college kids. It was amazing to watch how young everybody was and how many nose-rings there were.
Glen: What does it say, if anything, that the Democrats spend so much effort building up to this moment and came out of the gate falling on their face?
Larry: Oh, I think it's an ominous beginning. I mean it’s bad. You wonder if it’s like a voodoo thing – but it’s certainly ominous for the Democrats.
Glen: So will it have long-term implications? Will this be forgotten by New Hampshire or Super Tuesday?
Larry: I think it becomes forgotten for the most part because it really never happened for the most part. In other words, there were no results, or they’ll come out so late that the news cycle will have moved on to something else. That's the way it works.
Glen: Speaking of the next news cycle, what do you foresee in New Hampshire?
Larry: Bernie Sanders should win New Hampshire. So the question is, depending how Elizabeth Warren did in Iowa, can she take a defeat in Iowa, a defeat in her neighboring state of New Hampshire, and then move on? We’ll see,
And then, of course, the looming big question is Michael Bloomberg. Right now, chaos is Michael Bloomberg's best friend. So he’s definitely one of the winners out of Iowa, largely because he wasn’t even there.
Larry Ceisler is the founder and Principal of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy.