Three moments stick out to me from last night’s disastrous and inconclusive Iowa caucus:
- Political commentator Jason Johnson scolding Sanders advisor Nina Turner live on MSNBC for calling Bloomberg an “oligarch”, apparently a term we only call “Russians” and not billionaires who are investing their personal fortune in a campaign designed to allow minimum scrutiny and opposition.
- Wolf Blitzer coming out of a commercial break two hours after the caucus doors closed and immediately declaring “something must be going wrong” with the results.
- Pete Buttigieg declaring victory with no official results reported.
This is a high-pressure primary campaign, one where the very fundamentals of the Democratic Party are being tested. Last night was, if nothing else (and it was basically nothing else), a demonstration of the extreme strain the party is under.
Johnsons’s comments are deeply stupid, yet they come from a place of fear, based on the belief that critizing a man who spent his elected career as a Republican and Independent will somehow propel Donald Trump to reelection. As the networks held and filled time, waiting for the official results, another sort of dawning fear overtook them and overtook the conversation on Twitter: something wrong is happening.
It now seems clear that the delay in results was due to a technical glitch with the state party’s new tracking app. That hasn’t stopped a wave of spin and conspiracy mongering from overtaking the discussion; the Biden camp is preemptively questioning the veracity of the results, the online Left is claiming this is another example of the party trying to stop Bernie, and everyone is attempting to spin this as a win for their ideological preference, another shot in the internal civil war in a barely held together party.
Yet the truth is less surprising and more grim: that the Democratic Party organization is a mess, and that twelve years after the Obama campaign’s technical revolution they still can’t really figure out how to effectively deploy and use technology. That the app in question was constructed by staff of the aborted Hillary 2016 campaign likely speaks more to the harmful sycophancy at the heart of the party than any grand conspiracy against any candidate.
To say this is an embarrassment for the party is an understatement. For Iowa, it likely means the end of its first-in-the-nation position in the primary calendar. For the party writ-large, it reveals yet again the incompetency of the administration. Tom Perez can write all the Medium posts in the world about his efficent reforms of the DNC; none of it matters if they can’t do something as basic as conducting a caucus. The stakes are unbearably high for the candidates and their supporters, the lack of a conclusive result last night only raises the fever.
Standing on a stage in Des Moise late last night, Pete Buttigeg told his supporters that “by all indications we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.” Twelve hours later, it’s still unclear what indications he was referring to. Regardless, his speech was an incisive moment in this primary: it reminds us that there is an army of opportunistic vultures waiting for any indication to claim victory in this contest for the soul of the party. The referees better get their act together, because the fight is only going to get more vicious and muddy.