Having worked in every Republican presidential primary from 1976 to 2008 the Iowa Caucuses always bring back fond memories of the Hawkey State’s Republican activists, who are among the most pleasant and hospitable people in politics. However, as a semi-native
Floridian I can’t say I miss being in Iowa in January where the only windbreak between you and the Arctic Circle is a fence post as the wind howls across the prairie.
The willingness of the GOP and the Democrats to indulge the rivalry between Iowa and New Hampshire to host the first in the nation presidential contests always struck me as a little odd. Two small states whose demographics and media environments are unreflective of the nation at large being granted what amounts to a winter economic development program every four years is a weird way to select a president.
How weird is it?
Our friends at Americans for Limited Government are fortunate to have one of the smartest “numbers guys” on the Right in Robert Romano, who recently posted an article “After Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, fuhgeddaboudit!” in the organization’s must-read newsletter The Daily Torch.
As Mr. Romano documented, “Since the advent of the Iowa caucuses in 1972 and the South Carolina primary in 1980, the “first in the nation” political contests, including the New Hampshire primary which dates back to 1916, have been able to consistently end up selecting who the nominee for President will eventually be particularly for Republicans.”
According to Mr. Romano’s analysis, in years without an incumbent Republican president, Iowa correctly chose the party’s ultimate nominee in 1996 and 2000, Bob Dole and George W. Bush, respectively. New Hampshire took the other five: Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1988, John McCain in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.
South Carolina beats them both, having chosen the eventual nominee six out of seven times. But, noted Mr. Romano, it is worth noting that coming slightly later in succession, South Carolina voters have the benefit of seeing the other early contests play out.
I can recall going from Iowa, to New Hampshire, to South Carolina, to Michigan with one candidate and it was like being on a different planet in each state.
Today, not so much.
The Republican National Committee’s takeover of the primary debate scheduling has robbed the voters and the candidates of much of the color and insight provided by locally produced forums.
Who can forget the 1980 contretemps over who would participate in a debate in Nashua New Hampshire? In February 1980 the Nashua Telegraph was set to lead a debate between former Governor Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who had just won in Iowa and was aiming for a New Hampshire win to clear a path toward the Republican nomination.
That was the original plan, anyway. According to a report by NPR, the Federal Election Commission said if the newspaper wanted to sponsor the televised debate, it would have to invite all seven Republican candidates. In the end the Reagan team agreed to pay for the one-on-one event – while secretly inviting the other candidates to attend.
As the event got underway, Reagan brought four candidates to the stage, Senators Bob Dole of Kansas and Howard Baker of Tennessee, and Illinois Representatives John Anderson and Phil Crane. He then asked the moderator, Nashua Telegraph editor Jon Breen, that they be allowed to participate alongside Bush and himself.
In the course of the resulting uproar Bush opposed the move and came across as thin-skinned and petty (which was true) and Reagan got to utter in a commanding voice “I’m paying for this microphone” when the organizers tried to shut him up.
Reagan went on to win New Hampshire and South Carolina, the Republican nomination, and eventually the presidency.
That revealing moment would never happen today because the Republican National Committee has turned the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary into little more than snowy backdrops for produced in DC television shows.
The Iowa Caucuses have also provided some drama – but not the kind that is good for the two major political parties.
Three recent caucuses have been corrupted.
In 2016 and 2020 the Democratic Caucus vote totals were withheld while the Democratic Party went through a series of twists and turns and rules changes to give Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden narrow victories over Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders, but only after votes were “found” in cars and other places outside the normal chain of custody. That scandal has never been forgotten by Bernie Sanders supporters but was largely covered-up by the establishment media that was totally in the tank for Clinton and Biden.
However, Republicans were no better in 2012, when the fix was put in for Mitt Romney. After Romney was announced as the winner on caucus night to great media fanfare it was later revealed that Romney actually lost the Iowa Republican presidential preference caucus to Rick Santorum by at least 34 votes.
Rick Santorum’s come-from-behind win in Iowa should have propelled him to the front of the Republican pack. Instead, it was denied to him in a flawed and corrupt process that deflated his campaign.
The Iowa Caucus system really can’t be justified for any reason other than the control it gives the GOP establishment and the economic largesse the caucuses bestow upon Iowa’s media, political consultants, printers, hoteliers, and bus rental companies.
This is not about who won the Iowa Caucuses last night – It’s about whether we have a top-down or bottom-up political process in our country. It’s time for the other states, and the leadership of both political parties, to put an end to the three and done primary system and give the rest of the country a vote on who the Republican and Democratic Party nominees for president will be.
2024 Republican presidential race
New Hampshire primary
South Carolina primary