Iowa’s ‘Winnowing’ Role on the Line in Republican Caucuses

If Trump wins, it may threaten the state’s coveted status as the first test in the nominating process.

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Clinton, Iowa.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
S.V. Dáte
Add to Briefcase
S.V. Dáte
Jan. 31, 2016, 8 p.m.

DES MOINES, Iowa—Mer­ri­am-Web­ster defines the verb “win­now” this way: “To re­move (people or things that are less im­port­ant, de­sir­able, etc.) from a lar­ger group or list.”

If Don­ald Trump winds up win­ning the Iowa caucuses Monday night, that pre­cise defin­i­tion is prob­ably something that Iowa Re­pub­lic­ans who care about their role at the head of the pres­id­en­tial-nom­in­at­ing pro­cess hope the rest of the coun­try will over­look.

Oth­er­wise, they will have to ex­plain how a pop-cul­ture en­ter­tain­er with a seem­ingly tenu­ous grasp on world af­fairs, the func­tion­ing of the eco­nomy, and in­ter­na­tion­al trade has nev­er­the­less won their first-in-the-na­tion con­test with policy pro­nounce­ments that barely go bey­ond his cam­paign theme to “make Amer­ica great again.”

While tra­di­tion­al Re­pub­lic­ans around the coun­try might have the lux­ury of not un­der­stand­ing Trump’s ap­peal, it is, in the­ory, the job of Iowa Re­pub­lic­ans to as­sess his qual­i­fic­a­tions and policies. And should Trump par­lay his polling lead in­to ac­tu­al votes, it will once again call at­ten­tion to Iowa’s un­even per­form­ance in that role.

Un­like the cen­tury-old New Hamp­shire primary, the Iowa caucuses be­came a fix­ture in the pres­id­en­tial race re­l­at­ively re­cently, after Geor­gia Gov. Jimmy Carter rode a strong show­ing here to the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion in 1976. But while Iowa has fre­quently pres­aged nom­in­a­tion wins for its Demo­crat­ic caucus win­ners—Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2008 are just the latest—its track re­cord choos­ing the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee has been dis­mal.

Even in 1980, the first time that the Re­pub­lic­an caucuses were act­ively con­tested, win­ner George H.W. Bush was un­able to main­tain “the big mo” in­to New Hamp­shire, los­ing there to Ron­ald Re­agan, who went on to win the nom­in­a­tion. In 1988, as the sit­ting vice pres­id­ent, Bush came in third in Iowa, be­hind Sen. Bob Dole and tel­ev­an­gel­ist Pat Robertson, be­fore win­ning the nom­in­a­tion. In fact, only twice in the past 36 years has the Iowa win­ner gone on to head the GOP tick­et.

Be­cause of these res­ults, con­sult­ants, elec­ted of­fi­cials, and even voters who de­fend Iowa’s place in the pres­id­en­tial-nom­in­at­ing pro­cess use the word win­now­ing to de­scribe the state’s role.

“We take it ser­i­ously. I’d really hate to see it go away,” said Meg Cour­ter, a West Des Moines re­tir­ee. “It’s part of the win­now­ing pro­cess. We do this bet­ter than any­one else.”

In real­ity, though, any “win­now­ing” that hap­pens fol­low­ing a primary con­test oc­curs not be­cause can­did­ates do poorly in the vot­ing, but be­cause they run out of money. (Sen. John Mc­Cain, for ex­ample, fin­ished fifth in Iowa in 2000 after not really cam­paign­ing there. But after win­ning in New Hamp­shire later, he was able to raise enough money to stay in the race against George W. Bush through sev­er­al more primar­ies.)

And in that con­text, Iowa de­fend­ers have ar­gued over the years that the state’s voters get an hon­est sense of a can­did­ate away from the stage­craft and me­dia glare of a mod­ern cam­paign. And in get­ting the true meas­ure of a per­son, the ar­gu­ment goes, their as­sess­ment is more mean­ing­ful than those who only see can­did­ates at large ral­lies or on TV. Iow­ans’ judg­ment is to be trus­ted be­cause the can­did­ates come to big cit­ies and small towns and every­where in between and look caucus-go­ers in the eye as they ex­plain why they’re best suited for the job.

Yet if Trump man­ages to win Iowa any­way with large ral­lies and on TV—without hav­ing vis­ited voters’ liv­ing rooms, Amer­ic­an Le­gion halls, and oth­er small ven­ues—then why should Re­pub­lic­ans con­tin­ue to give Iowa any spe­cial re­gard? Or even per­mit it to al­ways go first, for that mat­ter?

The ques­tions are already troub­ling Iow­ans who care about the state’s spe­cial status.

“Trump is such an an­om­aly com­pared to what Iowa is used to,” said former Iowa GOP chair­man Matt Strawn. “If it’s a na­tion­al phe­nomen­on, it would be un­fair to point the fin­ger at Iowa.”

And that ap­pears to be the con­sensus re­sponse to the pos­sib­il­ity of a Trump win: that he rep­res­ents a con­flu­ence of na­tion­al celebrity, deep pock­ets, and brash­ness, un­likely to re­peat it­self any­time soon. Be­sides, if Iow­ans wind up giv­ing him a vic­tory, they have only done what any oth­er state would have done, ac­cord­ing to na­tion­al polling.

“There are way too many people who pay far too much at­ten­tion to real­ity TV,” Cour­ter said. “But would it be any dif­fer­ent any­where else?”

What We're Following See More »
“VAULT 7”
Additional Charges Added in Wikileaks Case
31 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Federal prosecutors have charged a former software engineer at the center of a huge C.I.A. breach with stealing classified information, theft of government property and lying to the F.B.I. The engineer, Joshua A. Schulte, 29, of New York, had been the main suspect in one of the worst losses of classified documents in the spy agency’s history. Government investigators suspect that he provided WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization, with a stolen archive of documents detailing the C.I.A.’s hacking operations, but they had not initially charged him in that crime."

Source:
BUT HE ASKS FOR $200 BILLION MORE IN TARIFFS
Senate Defies Trump on ZTE
32 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate voted Monday to reimpose the U.S. ban on Chinese telecom giant ZTE, in a rebuke to President Donald Trump and his efforts to keep the company in business. The provision targeting ZTE was part of the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass defense spending bill that cleared the Senate by a vote of 85-10. It must now be reconciled with the House version of the measure, which takes a narrower approach to ZTE." Separately, Trump is directing U.S Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to identify $200 billion more in tariffs on Chinese products.

Source:
OFFERED TO SELL DIRT ON CLINTON FOR $2 MILLION
Roger Stone Says He Forgot About Meeting with Russian
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Two longtime associates of President Donald Trump are now acknowledging a previously undisclosed contact in May 2016 with a Russian who they say offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. Roger Stone and Michael Caputo say they forgot to tell investigators about their contact with a Russian national who goes by the name Henry Greenberg — even though they say Greenberg offered to sell incriminating information to the Trump campaign for $2 million."

Source:
MCCONNELL WANTS A TREATY
Senators Want to Rubber Stamp Any North Korean Deal
6 days ago
THE LATEST

"As Trump signed a joint statement with Kim Jong Un that offered few details on how the North Korean leader would make good on his vow to denuclearize, Republicans on Capitol Hill said Tuesday that they want and expect the White House to submit any final agreement for their approval." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for any agreement to be in the form of a treaty.

Source:
UNLESS NEGOTIATIONS GO BADLY
Trump To Halt “War Games” On Korean Peninsula
6 days ago
THE LATEST

President Trump announced that the United States will suspend "war games" with South Korea, which are "inappropriate" given his meeting with North Korean leader Kim-Jong Un. "We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money," said Trump, "unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should." The military exercises "carried out each year by the US and South Korean militaries have been consistently cited by Pyongyang as a US rehearsal for war, and a reason it needs to build a nuclear arsenal."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login