Ten Lessons From Iowa

Ten Lessons From Iowa February 2, 2016
Reagan mastered the rules of his time.
Reagan mastered the rules of his time.

We have votes! When it comes to politics, I have one general rule:

Rule I: The GOP Primary always seems like it is going to be an awesome contest and rarely is. The person you step back, squint, and say: “I bet he will win” does. Mostly. Keep your head GOP voters: most primary candidates lose. That is the way of all primaries. It isn’t personal.

I. Polling is Deceptive in Our Time (Even When Technically “Accurate”)

Let’s all pause, learn from recent races and realize that polling gives us a very general sense of a race. The polls told us (generally) that Cruz, Trump and Rubio were likely to do well on the Republican side and that the race with Sanders and Clinton was very close. Everyone else running (especially Jim “Happy” Gilmore and the Other White Democrat) was doing poorly.


My Twitter feed was alive with discussions of 4-5 point shifts in polls that had margins of error of 4-5 points.  Stop.

II. Social Media Noise May Make Things Appear Larger than They Are

Atheists are very loud on my social media feed. That does not mean there are many atheists, there are not, but don’t bother telling them that. They love to yell and bully. Some Christian groups do the same. They are part of fringe groups, but they gin up attention by noise. They have few followers, but follow many. Check.

Lately I have been getting trolled by vile white nationalists. Thank God, they are few in number, but you might think they are mighty by the amount of social media they generate. Occasionally, I will attack their badly reasoned views, but mostly I do not, because they are not really a movement.

I fear Donald Trump’s campaign fell into this trap. Trump people (like Paul people before him) are very vocal on social media. This leads them to overestimate their numbers.

III. Social Media is Powerful and Mastering It Matters

Trump is king of social media and this has enabled him to run a campaign on the cheap. He can get our attention by a few clicks on his keyboard and bypass every filter. He says what he thinks and is not massaged. Nobody sits in a meeting all day and tells Trump what to tweet.

I don’t know another candidate that does this as well as Trump, though the worst is Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC).

Three Lessons from the Master:

A. We have to hear your voice. Trump writes Trump’s tweets.

B. Errors are o.k. People get the length of a Tweet or that not everyone says everything perfectly on social media.

C. This is all wrong when it is wrong: suddenly something will matter. For weird reasons, something will catch everyone’s attention, condemnation, and then the storm will begin. Nothing can predict it. The most controlled candidate, HRC, has stepped in it the most.

A candidate has to stop worrying about it.

IV. No Republican will be President without Evangelical votes, but no Republican needs to be the Evangelical favorite.

Evangelicals are the largest group of Republicans and nobody who offends them is going forward. Rubio, Trump, and Cruz passed the test. Everybody else failed.

V. If you cannot appeal to more than Evangelicals, you will fail.

Pat Robertson could come in second in Iowa, but he could not run in New England. Can Ted Cruz get the “live free or die” vote there? Huckabee could not, but maybe Ted Cruz can. If he cannot, then Cruz will be a “player,” but he will not be President.

Trump, in second, might be better off since he appeals to secular and religious voters.

VI. Money and organization matter.

Rubio spent it and almost caught Trump. There is a reason rich people stay rich: they are cheap. Trump did amazingly well for a campaign running on free media and big events. Rubio strikes me, however, as a lazy candidate. Will he organize enough to win?

Do not underestimate Cruz. Unlike Santorum or Huckabee, he has a post-Iowa plan: see South Carolina and a decent finish in New Hampshire. How do I know? He has money on hand.

Never bet against the guy with money unless. . .

VII. Boring in an entertainment age is fatal.

I may not like it, but we amuse ourselves with everything, even Lucifer and the Apocalypse, are entertainment. Is there anything South Park will not use for a laugh?

Perhaps if someone won World War II, we would still like Ike, but I wonder. Americans want our candidates to be interesting.

Cruz is fascinating, even if (fairly or unfairly) for many Americans this is the same way Kylo Ren is fascinating. As a result, he hasn’t been cancelled.

Trump is either a lovable rouge (Han Solo) or a dangerous businessman with a plot to conquer the world. . . and he is always interesting.

Rubio? He is central casting for leading man or not. We don’t know yet.

The problem for HRC is that she married the loveable rogue, but has the charisma of Bob Taft combined with the charm of Mike Dukakis. Her best hope, oddly, is the soap opera around her, though the age of soap operas as entertainment may have passed. Most Americans have started seeing her as a crook and a grifter.

VIII. Buy low and sell high/Don’t reinforce your brand with an endorsement.

Evangelical “leader” Jerry Falwell Jr. (he of 14,000 Twitter followers) jumped on the Trump train right as it hit a snag. He came, he spoke, he did not deliver. This is the worst of political errors. Falwell did not help Trump any more than Palin, because both have weak brands in the very area Trump needed help. Falwell is little known, apart from his Dad’s name, and his online program is widely derided. Palin, a much abused governor and Vice Presidential candidate, can add energy (Trump did not need that!), but no gravitas.

If Lindsey Graham endorsed Trump, that helps both. When Lindsey Graham endorses Bush, it reminds us what a cautious loser both appear to be.

IX. There are three tickets out of Iowa.

The winner is less important than the field. Iowa eliminates and Kasich, Christie, and Bush should heed this lesson and leave. If they do not, further humiliation awaits.

Sadly, if you get less than one percent of the vote like the Other White Guy Who is a Democrat, you do not get a ticket out of Iowa. You cannot get the third ticket when there are only three people running.

X. Winning is good.

Sure HRC cheated. Sure she should have won by fifty percentage points against ugly Robert Deniro in Iowa, but she won. Ask Mitt Romney who was thought to have won, even when he did not. He won what there was to win by appearing to win.

This is bad news for Sanders. Bad news for Democrats: HRC gave a victory speech that consisted of irritation mingled with condescension. She is running because she has to do to rule. The foolish peasants in the Democratic Party have gotten uppity and she is not amused.





Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!