Skip to main content

Enterprise Journal

Disaster: 2020

Feb 04, 2020 06:13PM ● By Travis Charlson

As Iowans, we’re proud of our first in the nation status. But is this really the best way to choose our candidates?

Let’s face it. This isn’t how the Iowa Caucus was supposed to go.

All the talk, all the poll data and all the ramping up of the 2020 election is just speculation until us Iowans hold our dearly-beloved “First-In-the-Nation” acid test.

This was supposed to give some candidates much-needed momentum. It was supposed to start weeding out a dense and hotly-contested Democratic field. It was supposed to set the stage for the rest of the 2020 election cycle.

But after Monday’s snafu - which included a reporting app that wasn’t working correctly, forcing precincts all over the state to call in their results to a Democratic establishment with no apparent back up plan in place - it's safe to wonder if Monday’s results will even mean anything when and if they are released.

“This is a black eye for Iowa,” said Kurt Meyer, Democratic chair of Mitchell County.

Meyer, who led a local precinct caucus at the Carpenter Community Center, said his group was able to submit their results over the phone after 35 minutes on hold - but many precincts across the state were not as lucky.

“The reporting errors should not take away from the good caucusing we had [Monday].” Meyer said. “We saw new people register and feel the need to participate, and had a terrific caucus in Mitchell County and all across Iowa.”

And while good participation may be the silver lining for Mitchell County and the rest of Iowa, some outside the state think Iowa’s first in the nation status needs to go and will point to Monday’s debacle as another reason why.

Sure, Iowa’s not indicative of the rest of the nation. We’re mostly white, mostly rural, and a large percentage of us are evangelical. We don’t represent America as a whole. And since Iowa is the first major hurdle any eventual president will have to clear, many people ask why we have to be first.
But Monday’s caucus begs an important question: if we don’t like the people who end up getting elected, is Iowa to blame for kicking off the process?

To answer that question, you have to go all the way back to 1960, to the very first televised presidential debate between candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

Vietnam and Watergate have a way of clouding Nixon’s reputation, as they should, but there’s no denying that Nixon was a deft and cunning politician — traits he undoubtedly cultivated by clawing his way out of a childhood full of poverty and tragedy. He’d been elected to the House, the Senate, and had just spent two terms as vice president to Dwight Eisenhower — a man so popular at the time, both Democrats and Republicans asked him to run on their ticket.

Compared to Nixon, Kennedy was a political novice. But he had charm. He had the looks. He had more money. He was comfortable with the media, and didn’t sweat like the austere Nixon did when the cameras started rolling. Nixon was cold, ruthless. Kennedy was likable, and he ended up winning the election.

In 1960, the world felt like it was on pins and needles — it felt like at any moment, the Soviet Union and the United States might launch a nuclear war against each other and send civilization back a couple thousand years (ironically, this almost happened later on with the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis during Kennedy’s administration).

Forget their policies and subsequent histories for a second and look at it this way — with literal Armageddon on the line, who would you want running the country? The candidate with more experience, who clawed their way to the top, and will do whatever it takes? Or the rich playboy, with much less experience and political savvy?

Now, some of you probably read that question and wondered: “Gee, is he talking about the 1960 election or 2016?”.

I understand drawing that parallel ignores several key nuances, a big one being that voters in 2016 were ostensibly more fed-up with the status-quo than they were in 1960. But as Mark Twain supposedly said — history doesn’t repeat itself, though sometimes it rhymes.

We turned a corner in 1960, and we're stumbling down that same path in 2020. It was inevitable, but the first televised debate finally turned the process of selecting the most powerful person in the world into a pageant. A fundraising contest. A competition to see who can say the right things and look the best while doing it.

The irony, is that none of the traits someone needs to win a popularity contest are the same as the ones they will need to do the job when they get into office. No wonder so many people are frustrated with who ends up winning these elections.

Every four years, us Iowans are responsible for kicking off this process. But can we be blamed for the results?

When I walked into the Carpenter Community Center Monday to cover my local caucus, I was greeted by many smiling, familiar faces. These were my friends, my neighbors and colleagues. And when the caucus began, they were passionate. They were respectful. They told others why they felt their candidate was better equipped for the job. If their candidate didn’t make the cut, they calmly talked with others to decide who their second preference might be.

There was no hate amongst the caucus-goers, there was no anger like the media tells us there ought to be. Somehow that all gets lost in translation, much like the final tally from that night.

And while the results from Monday aren’t exactly clear, one thing is — if Iowa being first in the nation leads us to electing bad presidents, and to ramping up the anger so common in today's political climate,  you won’t find evidence of it in Mitchell County.