Unfortunately, I have to agree with Jon Chait here. The one thing everyone needed from Iowa was a demonstration that our political process was solid and working at least on the Democratic party side and most of that was to stop the Bernie folks from seeding chaos. We absolutely did not get that last night in Iowa.
One of the oddities of the 2016 presidential race is that, while the Republican Party was taken over by an outsider initially viewed as dangerous and unacceptable by its party elite, it was the Democratic Party that concluded its nominating process had failed. Supporters of Bernie Sanders repeatedly applied his trademark phrase — “rigged” — to explain a primary they clearly lost. Complaints about “rigging” began with an agonizingly narrow Sanders defeat to Clinton in the Iowa caucus four years before. They continued throughout the contest, with every routine snafu — in Nevada, New York, and the possibility that party superdelegates would provide Hillary Clinton the winning margin — held up as more evidence of the conspiracy.
Sanders himself has toggled between cooperating with the party and stoking the paranoia of his supporters. He never fully abandoned the claim that — despite losing by a double-digit margin — the party robbed him. “Some people say that maybe if the system wasn’t rigged against me, I would’ve won the nomination,” he insisted last year.
The party instituted a number of changes intended to inoculate itself against accusations of rigging. In Iowa, the Democratic caucus instituted new rules, “mandated by the DNC as part of a package of changes sought by Bernie Sanders” and “designed to make the caucus system more transparent.” The new rules required reporting several different sets of numbers from every precinct. This reflected a long-standing proclivity in left-of-center politics to meet every demand for fairness with new layers of complexity. Anybody who has witnessed or participated in a grassroots progressive organization has seen this intricate, rules-based method democracy in action. Monty Python lampooned the tendency in Holy Grail. (“We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune,” a peasant explains to the impatient King Arthur. “We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week, but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more major …”)
Still, the caucus failure ultimately boiled down to a banal organizational failure. The party attempted to introduce a new app to report precinct results, which its older precinct captains largely failed to master, and its phone-reporting system buckled under the weight of the elevated confusion. There is no evidence voting results themselves have been compromised (at least not beyond the normal levels of confusion produced by the chaotic process).
What may turn a routine bureaucratic failure into a larger Democratic crisis, though, is the Bernie movement’s preexisting suspicion. Sanders is not alone in this — the Biden campaign shamefully issued a statement calling the results into doubt, in a transparent effort to discredit a vote it clearly lost. But the bulk of the suspicions came from Sanders supporters, who quickly reprised their 2016 rigging claims.
Trump has seized upon the Sanders supporters’ propensity toward grievance. Republicans began spreading the message in mid-January that impeachment was a plot by the party leadership to take Sanders off the campaign trail, a theory also echoed by some of Sanders’s nuttier fans, like Aaron Mate and Krystal Ball. In advance of the Iowa caucus, Republicans switched over to spreading the message that the voting process itself had been rigged. Republicans began circulating baseless claims of vote fraud in Iowa. When the first problems appeared in Iowa Monday night, Republicans like Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, Senator Lindsey Graham, and independent operators of the Trump-family blind trust, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump, gleefully charged that it was all rigged to stop Bernie.
Yeah, Biden's camp messed up, but Sanders's camp has had it in for the DNC for four years. There's no way the primary goes smoothly now. It's going to be six months of chaos. If Sanders doesn't win the nomination, he and his supporters will hand the country back to Trump and we'll all lose.
Here's what we should be doing:
Let's take some of the Iowa outrage and channel it into outrage about:— Chris Lu (@ChrisLu44) February 4, 2020
-Lack of automatic voter registration
-Fewer polling places in minority communities
-"Voter fraud" disinformation
Every vote matters, not just when an app fails to work
Sadly that won't happen. All five major candidates declared victory last night without results. Six months of guaranteed outrage, Bernie folks screaming at every vote not counted for them as "rigged" and a convention that will devolve into street fighting.
Despite the Sanders folks going from "The DNC is evil and is rigging everything!" to "The DNC is too incompetent to hold a caucus!" and the absolutely laughability of their position, the sound bites will still hurt and Trump will egg on the resentment.
Here's the real tea though: there were reasons enough to abandon the entire idea of caucuses before Monday, and if there is anything remotely good that comes from this, it's the fact that Iowa will be under tremendous pressure to drop the caucus and hold a primary that doesn't disenfranchise thousands of Iowa voters, or lose their first-in-the-nation status.
I think we can all agree on that.