The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Hatin’ on the Hawkeye State, Or: Should Iowans Burn Jim Geraghty in Effigy?

Posted on | December 22, 2011 | 10 Comments

Mob violence is rare in Iowa, but National Review‘s Jim Geraghty would be well-advised to avoid any gatherings of Hawkeye State Republicans after he blasphemed against the Sacred Caucuses this morning.

A special kind of prejudice causes pundits to disparage the campaign Holy Trinity of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — the crucial early states that have dominated the presidential nominating process for more than three decades now.

What the pundits want is an orderly system that delivers credible Big Name nominees quickly, so that the pundits can then cover the Main Event between the Serious Contenders. What the traditional process provides, however, is an extended, unpredictable and at times anarchic struggle in which Big Names often flop, while voters sometimes deliver enough votes to Obscure Underdogs to embarrass the Political Wizards who had predicted victory for the Big Names.

Let the reader do some research as to what the pundits were prognosticating in autumn 2007, and cite examples in the comments if you wish. My own memory is that all the Political Wizards were wondering which of the alleged GOP front-runners — Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney — would emerge victorious to take on the Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Oh, those damned voters!

Three months ago, right before those Florida GOP bastards wrecked Christmas by jumping their primary date to Jan. 31, I briefly stated the case for the early-state tradition in an American Spectator column:

. . . There are logical reasons why the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries, especially, have become sacrosanct as the first events of the quadrennial presidential campaign calendar. Both are states with small populations (Iowa about 3 million, New Hampshire about 1.3 million) where TV and radio advertising are relatively cheap. This permits little-known long-shots with small budgets to campaign on a fairly even playing field with better-known and better-funded candidates. Furthermore, Iowa and New Hampshire are states where retail politics — the old-fashioned business of shaking hands and meeting voters one-on-one or in small meetings — are a huge factor in the campaign. Barack Obama famously beat Hillary Clinton in Iowa four years ago because of Obama’s greater strength in grassroots organizing, and Jimmy Carter won New Hampshire in 1976 by bringing scores of Georgians (the “Peanut Brigades”) to go door-to-door for him in the Granite State. So unless we wish presidential campaigns to become all about money and what pollsters call “name ID,” having Iowa and New Hampshire go first looks like a good idea.
Yet we ought not confine ourselves to merely logical reasons for keeping Iowa and New Hampshire first. Aren’t Republicans conservatives, and don’t conservatives believe in the value of tradition? There is something wonderfully traditional — indeed, downright reactionary — about having presidential candidates go through the quaint custom of waiting for returns from tiny precinct caucuses in Iowa and shaking hands with voters in the snowy streets of small-town New Hampshire in February. Nor are these traditions merely sentimental. The pragmatic and utilitarian value of tradition is evident in that voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, long accustomed to their role in vetting presidential candidates of both parties, have become quite shrewd judges in these matters. A joke told by Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad, is quite relevant here: An Iowa Republican is asked whether he supports a certain presidential candidate and answers, “I don’t know. I’ve only met him twice.” Early-state voters are not over-awed by “rock star” candidates and media hype, because they’ve seen it all so many times before. Such is the real value of tradition. . . .

Read the whole thing. Either Jim Geraghty ignored that column or else his Fear and Loathing of Iowa is so profound he could not be persuaded to abandon his hateful vendetta against the Hawkeye State.

Iowans are a gentle and peaceful people, and it’s unlikely they would seek revenge against Geraghty. On the other hand, rural Iowa is a lonely place, and if a journalist were to make a wrong turn somewhere between Pella and Oskaloosa, he might find himself confronted by an outraged Iowan with a long memory: “Did you say ‘Geraghty’? Wait a minute, feller, whilst I fetch my hog-slaughtering knife . . .”

Out in the cornfields, they say, no one can hear you scream.

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Comments

  • Anonymous

    “Let the reader do some research as to what the pundits were prognosticating in autumn 2007, and cite examples in the comments if you wish. My own memory is that all the Political Wizards were wondering which of the alleged GOP front-runners — Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney — would emerge victorious to take on the Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton.”

    For the record, I predicted in late May of 2007 (in a “dead pool” thread on when John McCain would shut down his campaign at Hugh Hewitt’s blog)  that McCain would be the nominee.

    Of course I also predicted that he’d win the election, because I assumed his opponent would be Hillary Clinton. 

  • http://twitter.com/sdo1 Steve in TN

    Which is why Journos should be behind HR 822.  Kinda trumps any edged weapon those nutso Iowans can find.

  • Pathfinder’s wife

    Some folks are just mad that Iowan isn’t doing what it’s told.

    All the while failing to realize the advantages to this.

  • Anonymous

    Wait: You’re talking legislation — policy — when I expected you’d be laughing yourself silly at the mental image of a DC pundit, lost somewhere on a dirt road amid in the cornfields on a cold winter’s night, suddenly faced with Iowa justice from the business end of a “hog-slaughtering knife”?

    Tough room, I tell ya …

  • Hugggy

    We have alcohol in our gasoline. Iowa is full of socialist and crony capitalist.

  • Anonymous

    I knew Hillary was toast in Iowa the minute she got caught by Tim Russert trying to have it both ways on drivers licenses for illegal aliens.

    Iowans have been howling for years about the Mexican illegals who were clearly recruited to work in the slaughterhouses. Folks in tiny farm towns that hadn’t seen an immigrant in more than half a century were suddenly concerned about neighborhoods turning into “Little Tijuana.” One may disapprove of xenophobia, but you can’t wish it out of existence, and there are people in Iowa who had never given a second thought to Latin America until they discovered that Latin America had moved in next door to them. Anyone with a scintilla of political acumen should have understood, in 2008, that the only “safe” position on illegal immigration was somewhere in a range between Tom Tancredo and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

    When Russert threw Hillary that curveball about drivers licenses, she first went with her basic liberal instinct to speak approvingly of a measure then pending in New York. But then, after another of her rivals was given a chance to criticize that measure, it suddenly occurred to Hillary that she had said the wrong thing, and she clumsily tried to walk it back, which made her look like a hypocritical phony.

    Watching that at the time, I knew she was done for.

  • Anonymous

    Stacy,

    Yeah, a sudden flip-flop like that hurts the candidate worse than just being on the wrong side of an issue.

    As of May 2007, though, she looked formidable for the nomination from where I sat.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EU5DQWQTTHTPO4A4ZYSL3AAV2U Adjoran

    The billions in subsidies pale in comparison to the billions lost in worse gas mileage and engine damage from ethanol.  If ethanol were so great as an additive, why do we add high tariffs to imported ethanol?

  • Anonymous
  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EU5DQWQTTHTPO4A4ZYSL3AAV2U Adjoran

    Your argument in The Spectator seems correct and practical.  If we adopted regional or national primaries, or rotated so big states could be early, it would boil down to those who could raise enough money for those pricey media markets.  There would rarely be more than two candidates who could do that.

    The idea I prefer is to freeze Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada as the First Four.  All are states you can work with retail politics on a limited budget.  They are in four different regions of the country with quite different electorates.  Leave ‘em alone.

    Then  allow a rotation of the other states’ primaries, perhaps matched into small regional groups to share a date.  Those who go first (after the first four) this year move to the end next year and are the last.  The second date this cycle moves up to first next cycle, and so on.

    Leaving out Alaska and Hawaii because, honestly, who cares, that leaves 44 other states to hold primaries from March through early June, say 15 weeks.  Assign the big states New York, Texas, Illinois, and California their own date, the remaining 40 are divided up among the 11 weeks left, or 3-4 states per week.  Try and keep the groupings roughly regional, not necessarily all adjacent states, though.  Every group would get their chance to be the Next Four, and the cycle would last more than half a century before the original first group came back to the front.