Iowa Caucuses: Primus Inter Pares

In which our man Durst dissects the bizarre midwestern herding ritual and beats lesser pundits to the most ridiculous analysis of the outcome.

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


The caucuses returned the Hawkeye State to center stage of America’s electoral circus, and all but one of the clowns were in attendance. John McCain didn’t show. You know: POW-MIA. IOWA. Just a mite too close.

The only problem is, nobody knows exactly what happens at these things. The one guy who did know died in ’77. It’s rumored to have begun with early Iowans throwing small runish stones which were then interpreted in a hollowed-out stump full of pig entrails by men wearing overalls. Kind of like musical chairs without the music. Or the chairs.

The biggest difference between what goes on here and a primary is that “caucuses” is much more fun to say. Go ahead, try it in a sentence: “I fell down and broke my caucuses.” And people don’t just pull a lever in a caucus. They attend. They discuss. Then they move off into designated candidate corners, but if not enough people hang with you (at least 15 percent of the assembled), everybody has to wander around looking for a second or third corner they feel comfortable herding into.

Speaking of cornering, the campaign staff which corners the breath-mint and deodorant markets could hold a huge advantage here. And when you think about it, there are worse ways in choosing a candidate than by picking the one with the best-smelling staff. After all, something like that might have precluded Watergate.

I don’t care what you call it, caucus, primary, or pork-lips-and-linoleum-eating competition: In the end, like it or not, someone’s going to end up a winner and someone is going to end up a loser. Happy face/sad face. Some will be drinking champagne toasts surrounded by network cameras and others will stop off at the local Kum and Go for a quart of Old Milwaukee Light and drink it in their rental. And this peculiar midwestern voting ritual is no exception. Except of course if you listen to the spin. My favorite part is when a staffer awkwardly attempts to explain how his candidate coming in last was a key part of a carefully orchestrated long-term strategy.

In politics, it’s not enough to be a winner, you got to be a Big Winner. By definition then you would think Gore and Bush are obvious winners, given that they won. But you watch, pundits will crawl out of the woodwork claiming they lost, because they failed to win by enough.

Bradley came in second, so he’ll declare himself a moral winner. Although the celebration will be as muted as a saxophone full of scalloped potatoes, considering his last place finish in a field of two. Forbes came in a strong second so he’ll assert he’s the Big Winner. But so will McCain and Keyes who maintain they’re the big Big Winners for exceeding expectations. McCain because he didn’t even campaign here, and Keyes just because he’s a black guy running for the Republican nomination.

Bauer and Hatch are medium Big Winners because they can pack up and go home. But the biggest Big Winners of all are the residents of Iowa, who don’t have to suffer through another invasion of carbon-based manure spreaders for another four years.

The biggest Big Losers? The people of New Hampshire, next on the list of the soon-to-be-fertilized.

Will Durst, host of PBS’ “The Citizen Durst Report,” is looking forward to New Hampshire the way a lobster looks forward to melted butter. Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate