A Few Political Thoughts, or how I learned to stop worrying and love Iowa’s outsized influence on American politics.


Listening to NPR on my drive to work this morning, there was substantial discussion of today’s Iowa presidential caucuses. Short interviews were given to a few candidates, and I had a few thoughts and observations to make:

* I like Martin O’Malley. In almost any other election year, he’d be a serious contender. On paper, he’s an ideal Democratic candidate. He’s relatively young, but not too young. He’s generally liberal, a bit moreso than Hillary Clinton, but less than Bernie Sanders. He definitely has pragmatic inclinations. He has a long resume, and a proven track record of successfully implementing liberal reforms during eight years as the mayor of Baltimore, and eight more as governor of Maryland.

However, he’s dry, and not terribly charismatic. He’s got a good command of policy, but tends to expound at length – which is not great for attracting voters, sadly. And his record in Baltimore is a bit shaky. This was brought to light in a big way with the unrest after the Freddie Gray murder last year. Like a lot of Democrats in the 90’s, O’Malley embraced the “git tuff” criminal justice policies pushed hard by Republicans in the 70’s and 80’s, as it was an electoral winner, and a way to prevent the “soft on crime” attacks that tanked Michael Dukakis. Of course, the consequences of these policies is now becoming apparent (and in many communities, has been apparent for decades). And O’Malley has rightfully taken some criticism for this. But, from a political standpoint, if Freddie Gray hadn’t been murdered by police last year, the upheaval in Baltimore would have been delayed, and O’Malley would likely be doing a bit better.

Not much better, though. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders seem to be completely dominating all media attention for the Democratic primary. To be fair, some of this is also due to the glut of Republican candidates, many of whom have outsized personalities and speak in simpler and often more apocalyptic langauge. They tend to be better media hogs than a relatively subdued policy wonk who’s in last place in his own race.

Martin O’Malley is a great example of a victim of bad timing.

* Rand Paul was interviewed during my commute. In his brief talk, he demonstrated again how frustrating he can be. He was asked about his similarities to Bernie Sanders. He responded thoughfully, with nuanced comments about their mutual interest in reducing corporate influence on American politics, a “more measured” foreign policy, and the increasing power of the surveillance state. Then he went on a rant about Bernie Sanders supporting a command economy, and he drew parallels to human-rights abuses in the former Soviet Union.

Really, Rand? Have you listened to a single minute of a single speech by Sanders?

Part of the current GOP strategy is to paint any and all center-left reform suggestions, such as slightly higher taxes on the top marginal rates, increased environmental, consumer protection, and banking oversight – as not just a slippery slope, but literally the exact same thing as Josef Stalin. This kind of misinformation is simply an attempt to scare voters already susceptible to the type of simplistic mud-flinging championed by Fox News. And it works! Reading blogs and social media comments, I can see countless voters who listen to Bernie Sanders specifically discussing the importance of markets and private enterprise, and protecting small businesses from being overrun by the manipulations of large corporations – and the first thought is “communism!”

It’s tough to reason with that kind of belief.

* Ben Carson was also interviewed. He contrasted himself with the other candidates as being calmer and more thoughtful. He decried the crass bombast that permeates the electoral process. And then, on a foreign policy question, he outlined his proposal for implementing continuous war games in states neighboring Russia, sales of arms to Ukraine, and a military build up in Eastern Europe.

Ben is definitely calm and thoughtful. He wants to thoughtfully restart the Cold War.

* Ted Cruz.

Really, that’s all I can write without feeling slightly ill, but he does have a shot at winning Iowa, so I suppose I should mention him without my usual “punchable face” commentary.


Ted Cruz found some controversy (shocker!) in the last week for mailers sent out that essentially attempt to defraud voters. The official-looking letters inform the reader that they are guilty of a “voting violation” for failing to caucus in past elections. Tactics like this aren’t particularly uncommon, but he’s the first big name this election to get attention for it. Telling voters they’re in some sort of trouble is an old tactic, and rarely is treated as the crime it is.

Ted Cruz has been guilty of a litany of lies, errors, misstatements, mean-spirited remarks, stupidity, dubious policy proposals, dangerous policy proposals, and declarations that he wants to commit war crimes. So why not throw in a little voter fraud?

Oh yeah, and he really needs to stop doing impressions. Neither the Simpsons nor the Princess Bride work for him to quote, anyway. Perhaps something by Michael Bay, or the Left Behind movie would be more up Ted’s alley.

* Bernie v. Hillary

This is shaping up to be a very close contest. Bernie is still significantly behind Hillary nationally, despite recurring surges, and a loss in Iowa will not help his chances. Winning the first two states (he will most likely take New Hampshire) aren’t a guarantee for his eventual victory, but it will make his path to the nomination much more likely than before. Perceived momentum is everything in presidential primaries, especially in the first half dozen or so states. That’s why surprise second and third place finishes sometimes leads to big gains in the polls. “Senator so-and-so was expected to finish 7th, but came in third! They beat expectations!” In this case, Sanders can only really gain momentum by winning, especially in a three person race.

* Everyone else

Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich are all jockeying to be perceived as the GOP’s best “mainstream” candidate. All that really means is that they have held elected office, and sometimes they indicate a willingness to compromise – although that is pretty uncommon for even mainstream Republicans.

Kasich is probably the least corrupt, and definitely the most reasonable of the four, so naturally he’s polling significantly behind them.

Carly Fiorina had a nice little surge a couple months ago, highlighted by debate performances in which she sounded competent – although highly dishonest. Since then, her numbers have tanked, which might be a sign of oversaturation. Even with this year’s anti-establishment theme, there seems to be room for only so many “outsiders.”

Huckabee and Santorum are campaigning on nostalgia. They each won the Iowa caucus in 2008 and 2012 respectively, and both are likely hoping they can recapture at least a little of the magic that gave them their early surges way back then.

They can’t. Sorry, gentlemen. Looks like the theocracy candidate will have to be Cruz.

* Miscellany

This election has been interesting so far. In the first six or so months from when most campaigns really got going (and sometimes crashed and burned) to this first chance for actual voting, there has been drama, humor, and pathos.

But mostly just humor.

In a Monty Python, “Upper Class Twit of the Year” sense.

Upwards of 17 Republicans and 5 (kinda 6) Democrats have told the nation that they want to be President. With a few exceptions, what we’ve seen has been 22 wealthy (by most American’s standards) people arguing with as little depth as possible. The soundbite era of politics is actually pretty old. Candidates have sounded ill-informed and childish since the beginning of this country. But the advent of television, and now the internet, has made it easier to get information, but harder to get it from the candidates themselves.

Every Republican gets a few minutes to tell America why Barack Obama has been the lovechild of Inspector Clouseau and Pol Pot – alternatively a bumbling idiot, or a scheming tyrant – or both!

Most Democrats have been a little more willing to get into details regarding issues – but are still running uneasily in the shadow of the president – who remains highly polarizing, though reasonably popular. The official outsider candidate for the Democrats – Bernie Sanders – has energized crowds, garnered huge support online (especially among voters under 30), and has surprised many with solid debate performances and a reasonably competitive campaign. He also has been the least forthcoming with policy specifics, though generally more than those on the GOP side.

I’m terrible with predictions. I can easily see several different scenarios occurring here – and I’m pretty sure that any guess will be a wrong one.

So here are my predictions anyway!

Donald Trump narrowly edges Ted Cruz, maybe by just a single percentage point, though Marco Rubio finishes a surprisingly close third, allowing him to declare a kind of victory. Carson, Paul, and Bush all finish somewhere in the 4-5 percent range, and each claim “momentum.”

Meanwhile, in Democratic land, Hillary Clinton edges Bernie Sanders by a margin similar to Trump’s (predicted) triumph over Cruz. And O’Malley shocks the world by getting 5 or 6 percent of the vote, instead of only 3 or 4. Such a comeback!


About hbreck

Writer, debater, contrarian, storyteller, occasional troublemaker. I'm mostly just making things up as I go.
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1 Response to A Few Political Thoughts, or how I learned to stop worrying and love Iowa’s outsized influence on American politics.

  1. Christy says:

    So, what does Hillary barely squeaking a win past Bernie mean for us? I’m feeling optimistic!

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