Decades ago, my mother’s good friend and neighbor Ruth begged her to attend a caucus meeting in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Something was happening to the Republican Party and Ruth was worried. There was a strong, well-organized religious movement that infiltrated the Republican caucuses, successfully electing friends and relatives to be delegates, and taking over leadership positions. The Republican Party of my parents and grandparents was dying as their shared values for fiscal responsibility, local control and a small federal government became distant memories. Even the definition of Conservative, which was based on these values and the philosophy for educated, well-thought out change has been replaced. Now Conservative means highly emotional decisions led by self-proclaimed prophets dedicated to ending abortions, influencing school choice and other beliefs held by the religious right.
Why didn’t this religious movement form its own political party, instead of hijacking my ancestors’ legacy? It takes time and money to organize. Plus, it’s easier targeting well-established groups with strong reputations, but weakened by lack of involvement by its members. By the time long-term members discover what has happened, it’s usually too late to salvage—and the integrity, the history is lost. The era of thoughtful change conflicts with today’s 24/7 news cycle and the sensationalism that drives it. Malicious gossip is exciting, decadent, it motivates the masses. Moral discussion and decision-making does not.
Even candidate debates that used to be organized by The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to voter education and participation, has been replaced with the media, whose motivation is ratings and revenue. The day of dignified, thoughtful discussions about issues, is now the worst kind of programming with candidates taking potshots at each other and raising their hands at the moderator like anxious Kindergarten students needing to use the bathroom.
Our country was founded on revolution and rebellion. Maybe it’s just in our blood. In 2012, Ron Paul, a Libertarian leaning Republican used a rousing strategy when campaigning for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The Ron Paul Revolution.
There was controversy during the Iowa Caucuses that year. Did Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum win the straw poll? It really didn’t matter because as those two campaigns squabbled about the results, Ron Paul’s movement successfully won what was truly important, dedicated delegates. Supporters willing to sacrifice personal time to attend the county, district and finally state convention in order to assure that Ron Paul delegates moved on to the Republican National Convention, where delegates from across the country formally choose the party’s presidential candidate. Even though there was a motto that election cycle “Anyone But Romney”, national leaders intervened in the Ron Paul movement to assure that Romney, a more moderate choice was the candidate.
It isn’t just Republican leaders that yearn for a moderate candidate. Democrats have Bernie Sanders, a declared Socialist who currently hangs his shingle with the Democrats. He gave Hillary Clinton strong competition in the 2016 presidential race. Once again, national leaders intervened to make Clinton the moderate candidate instead of Sanders. This election cycle Sanders took off like a rocket, basically tying for first in Iowa, winning New Hampshire and Nevada. Joe Biden, the chosen moderate with the long resume, isn’t creating the passion that Bernie does.
Trump is our president because his supporters love him. He tweets his mind. There is nothing politically correct in his speech and many people admire his candor. Religious Right Republicans continue to support Trump, even though his history and lifestyle really couldn’t be held up as a sterling example of religious morality. It seems political power usurps God. Karma. The secret is to live long enough to enjoy it.
Grassroots movements annoy those at the top who feel that they are politically wiser. Ordinary party members should simply follow their leadership. Nevertheless, for a number of election cycles, people are sending a very clear message to leadership that they want change.
Targeting the Iowa Caucuses as the obstacle for moderate candidates’ campaigns tanking won’t solve the problem. Actually, if the process was strengthened, instead of eliminated, it might help. Caucus meetings have very specific parts that are designed to work together and could safeguard these continuing takeovers by candidates and their supporters who don’t support the party’s platform. This is the key to the problem.
Each party has a platform, which is a detailed job description for choosing the right candidate to represent the values, beliefs and priorities of the party and this is where the process breaks down. The candidate is supposed to represent members of the party. Although eligible voters are allowed to participate in either party’s caucuses, these late comers may not know or even support the party platform. So how meaningful is the contribution by these people to the party’s selection process?
The job description or platform is fluid and changes as party members across the state meet to hopefully discuss what needs to be added, subtracted or updated. Unfortunately, since this takes time, many neighborhood caucuses will not read or discuss the planks to the platform, preferring to hand them in to be given to the platform committee for discussion at a later date. This is a decided loss, since some of these changes may be new ideas that candidates have been sharing with Iowans for months. This would be important information to discuss, while figuring out which candidate is the best fit for the party’s platform. It would also be helpful to refresh party members’ memories, before choosing the best candidate.
Iowa Democrats continue to receive criticism for their presidential preference process. They use a math formula to determine a candidate’s viability. It’s similar to ranking a job applicant’s skill set for a job opening. When a candidate doesn’t have enough party members in the caucus to earn a delegate, these members are allowed to either give their support to another candidate who they believe will best represent the needs of the party or lobby the members from another candidate’s group that isn’t viable to support their candidate. These are not votes. Although the candidates are awarded a certain number of delegates, and delegates are elected by the party’s caucus members, these delegates may not even vote for the candidate if they go on to the national convention, and the vast majority of them do not go on to this convention. This is all done out in the open and a well-organized campaign knows the results of the caucus meetings before the party gives the official results.
Republicans have a much simpler system. They conduct a straw poll to show candidate support. Campaign representatives are allowed to view and count the votes for their candidate. But once again, the election that takes place is for delegates, who may not be bound to the results of the straw poll. For example, although Santorum was declared the winner of the Republican’s state- wide straw poll in 2012, Ron Paul supporters successfully won the delegate elections, so the straw poll results were simply symbolic.
So with the presidential process being done in the open, why aren’t the numbers adding up? The Democratic National Convention (DNC) put an unrealistic and unnecessary burden on Iowa Democrats, who should have said no, but Iowans are just too darn nice. New policies were demanded this time without proper training, resources or a realistic implementation. Added to this disaster waiting to happen was a last minute security patch put on an app sanctioned by the DNC. It’s important for national leadership to take responsibility for their role with the problems in Iowa, otherwise history has a way of repeating itself.
Probably the most important part of both the Iowa Republican and Democratic caucuses is electing volunteers to the central committee and the platform committee at the county level. These are the leaders and the keepers of the two parties, who may want to have thoughtful discussions during the interim about possible changes that could keep the Iowa Caucuses from future hijacking. They may also want to discuss why the needs of the moderate or no-party voter has greater value to leadership, then the party platform? Why are members spending time working a platform that isn’t respected? Yes, thoughtful discussions. My ancestors would be proud.