Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 Iowa caucuses: The greatest day in American democracy


UPDATED FREQUENTLY.


9:06 pm - Okay, here we go. The 2012 presidential nomination season is underway. And by "underway" I mean, votes are actually being cast.

Is it a great day for democracy? Well, that's the intention. Old-school democracy. Caucuses (particularly in Iowa), unlike primaries, represent a sort of idyllic (if mostly obsolete) Jeffersonianism, the people actually coming out, talking politics, and making their choices. Unlike the atomized process of voting in a booth, in privacy, this is about community, about political engagement as something other than, more than, the mere casting of a ballot.

And by "the people," of course, I mean a tiny fraction of an otherwise alienated and disengaged electorate, the hardcore of the hardcore, extremists of partisanship, ideology, and political temperament. In this case, a tiny fraction of the electorate in a small state that, all due respect, isn't exactly representative of America. So why should it be so important? Why should it be the focus of our political obsession?

Exactly. There's really no good reason for it. If not for the fact that it's the first in the nation, a tradition that defies common sense. The nomination process is a long slog, but we do love the horse race, don't we? And any indication of who's ahead and who's behind is like a drug. For months, all we've had is polls, poll after freakin' poll. Now it's the real thing, baby. As crazy as it is, as ridiculous as the Iowa caucuses are, at least we're getting some votes. At least it all means something now.

And so here we are.

9:24 pm - Yes, it's what we thought it would be, a tight three-way race between Romney, Paul, and Santorum. With 18% reporting, here's the breakdown (via CNN):

-- Paul: 5,348 (24%)
-- Santorum: 5,283 (24%)
-- Romney: 4,988 (22%)

Yes, in a nation of 312,796,207 people, we're talking about a few thousand people launching the 2012 presidential race and holding enormous sway over where the race goes from here.

Let's just say Iowa's impact is a tad disproportionate.

All due respect.

9:31 pm - It's now even closer:
-- Romney: 6,297 (23%)
-- Santorum: 6,256 (23%)
-- Paul: 6,240 (23%)

Gingrich is back at 13%, Perry at 10%, Bachmann at 6%. Remember when each one was not least leading in Iowa but looking like the inevitable winner there?

9:45 pm - In case you missed it, the past couple of days were all about playground politics in Iowa. Which is to say, they were all about juvenile name-calling. For example:

-- Santorum: "Ron Paul is disgusting." (Oh yeah? Your mama is so fat...)

-- Paul supporters to Santorum: "nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye." (Okay, that's pretty amusing.)

-- Gingrich: Mitt Romney's a liar. (A Romney Super-PAC has been relentlessly attacking Newt, contributing to his rapid decline, but Romney has denied any connection to it. Newt: "This is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC -- it's baloney. He's not telling the American people the truth.")

Well, he's right. Just as he's mostly right about this:

It's just like this pretense that he's a conservative. Here's a Massachusetts moderate who has tax-paid abortions in "Romneycare," puts Planned Parenthood in "Romneycare," raises hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes on businesses, appoints liberal judges to appease Democrats, and wants the rest of us to believe somehow he's magically a conservative.

I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney, not try to invent a poll-driven, consultant-guided version that goes around with talking points, and I think he ought to be candid. I don't think he's being candid and that will be a major issue. From here on out from the rest of this campaign, the country has to decide: Do you really want a Massachusetts moderate who won't level with you to run against Barack Obama who, frankly, will just tear him apart? He will not survive against the Obama machine.

For a variety of reasons, Romney has largely escaped any sustained criticism from his rivals thus far. (See what I wrote about this earlier today.) But this conservative critique of Romney isn't going away. It just needs the right spokesperson. Maybe it's Newt. Maybe with his bad loss in Iowa he'll actually go on the offensive.

10:35 pm - Santorum now has a narrow lead over Romney, but we're only a little over halfway through this. Paul has fallen back a bit. (It's 24-24-22.)

10:37 pm - For a good look at the Iowa caucuses, and how they came to be so significant, see Ezra Klein's interview with Rutgers political scientist David Redlawsk. Key quote:

In fact, every cycle we have this question of whether somebody will try and leapfrog or jump ahead and that's how we get frontloading. The national parties try to penalize those who do that. This year, for instance, Florida is only getting half of its delegates because it violated the rules by trying to go early. So the system stays in stasis through a combination of Iowa and New Hampshire jealously guarding their privileges and the national parties penalizing anyone who tried to change the status quo. No one loves the current system, but no one has come up with something they would like better.

Even here, in this supposed democratic paradise, politics -- and power -- is about privilege.

10:46 pm - In case you were wondering, the population of the U.S. is now 312,796,488.

10:50 pm - Suddenly we're up to 88% reporting. It looks Paul has slipped to third and will end up there. It's now a two-man race between Santorum and Romney:

-- Santorum: 26,443 (25%)
-- Romney: 26,398 (25%)
-- Paul: 22,728 (21%)

Just 45 votes. Pretty amazing, really. We knew it would be close, but this is crazy.

And even though Paul is well back now, I'm sure his fanatical supporters will declare his third-place finish an historic victory heralding the Age of Ron Paul, the present and future of the Republican Party. They don't have a monopoly on delusion, to be sure, but they seem to have more than their fair share. 

10:56 pm - And Paul remains a bitter, nasty, and vindictive man. Here's what he (or one of his minions) tweeted (via) a while ago:

we found your one Iowa voter, he's in Linn precinct 5 you might want to call him and say thanks.

Nice.

Huntsman actually has 629 votes, a whopping 1% of the vote. Honestly, though, what's the point of kicking him when he's down? (Whatever the outcome, he's a bigger man than Paul will ever be.) 

11:07 pm - So we've moved up one to 89% but now Romney has the lead. What? How did this flip-flop so quickly? It's still 25-25, but he's up 27,101 to 26,976.

11:09 pm - Dan Amira at New York mag, with the funniest line of the day:

A few weeks ago, Rick Perry said he wanted to be the Tim Tebow of Iowa, and now a Michele Bachmann super-PAC ad is trying to make the same comparison. So which campaign is actually like Tebow? Both of them!: They were both wildly, inexplicably successful for a brief period of time, and now they are just embarrassing.

As a Steelers fan, I shouldn't laugh at jokes like this. I mean, what if Tebow beats them on Sunday? We're six days out, but my anxiety is already ridiculous.

11:13 pm - Did I mention that on the Democratic side Barack Obama has been awarded all delegates in Iowa? Yes, today isn't just about Republicans.

11:14 pm - At Crooks and Liars, where I do the blog round-up now and then, Rick Perlstein argues that Iowa doesn't matter, as Republicans always go with the "next in line":

Another pattern: the desperate attempts of the political press to drum up evidence of a competitive race, whatever the historical lessons that point obstinately in the opposite direction. It's not a hard argument to make: "on the ground," things always look competitive. The vaunted party "base" plain their disgust with the sell-out moderate party elites want to shove down their throats, dutifully falling in love with a series of far-right saviors in the earlier innings: President Pat Robertson, who nearly won Iowa in 1988; President Pat Buchanan, who took New Hampshire in 1992; and All Hail Huckabee the choice of Iowa caucus-goers in 2008—but not before Fred Thompson's moment in the sun later in the year, and after Rudy Giuliani dazzled conservatives who hadn't yet figured out that he was a cross-dresser with gay roommates The same thing always happens next: The insurgents fall by the wayside. The base comes around. Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line.

Is he right? Historically speaking, yes. And he may be right about 2012. Maybe it really will be Romney. But is that because Romney is "next in line," or because the various alternatives have been so weak? And while it's true that Republicans generally "fall in line," things may be changing in an age of social media and the decline of central-party politics. The moneyed elite, represented by Karl Rove, still wields enormous power in the GOP, as do mainstream pundits like Charles Krauthammer and George Will, but there isn't really a center anymore. Media giants like Dear Leader Rush are just as influential, if not more so, and they can reach millions (particularly grassroots primary/caucus voters, those in the base who have so much influence in these contests) without going through the party apparatus or requiring the approval of the establishment.

I agree with Perlstein that Iowa is far less important than people think -- or rather than the media tell us it is as they try to drum up drama -- but his assessment of how the GOP works may be based on a reality that has shifted over recent election cycles.

And as for Romney, I'm not sure he's "next in line." Why not, oh, Sarah Palin?

11:28 pm - 93% reporting, and Santorum has swung back into the lead, 28,201 to 28,086.

11:33 pm - Interesting results from CNN's "entrance poll":

-- 57% men, 43% women. (Doesn't sound fair, does it?)

-- By age: 17-29 (15%); 30-44 (16%); 45-64 (42%); 65+ (26%).

In other words, this whole damn thing is being decided by older white men. (Actually, that sounds pretty damn Republican.)

Also check out the results man. It's like a general election dividing the Democrat and Republican. Faux conservative Romney is winning the urban areas (like any Democrat would), notably Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport, while social conservative Santorum is cleaning up in the rural areas (like any Republican would). Paul is doing well in the eastern part of the state, along the Illinois border. Perry has actually won a couple of counties in the southwest.

11:39 pm - 96% reporting, and it's tightened, now 28,958 to 28,879 for Santorum. Yes, fewer than 100 votes separate the two leaders. There's no reason to get too excited about any of this, unless you're a loyal follower of either one, but, again, it's pretty amazing that it's this close with almost 60,000 votes between the two of them.

11:44 pm - In case you were wondering, I'm rooting for Santorum. (Actually, I would have been rooting for Newt, until his fall. I'm still hoping he recovers and re-emerges as Romney main rival.) Because it's just so... ridiculous. And funny.

12:11 am - A CNN panel featuring Ari Fleischer and James Carville. Horrendous. I'm turning back to Family Guy or Chopped.

12:12 am - Crazy. It's even closer now. 97% reporting, and Santorum is up by just 37 votes, 29,210 to 29,173.

Whoever comes out on top, even by just a few votes, will declare victory, but I'm not sure it really matters. It's basically a tie.

It looked bleak for Romney in Iowa for a long time, but he's managed, if only because his conservative rivals are so weak, to come out with a fairly strong showing. And Santorum, of course, came out of nowhere to pull even with the supposed frontrunner, if only because Newt collapsed. Romney will go on to win New Hampshire easily. But he continues to struggle with a fairly low ceiling of support across the Republican board and needs to prove that he can win after New Hampshire, in South Carolina but even more importantly in Florida.

Meanwhile, Santorum needs to build off this result, in a state where he campaigned furiously (and where he put all his eggs), and show that he's for real. He won't be able to, because he isn't, but he might just be able to divide the anti-Romney vote long enough to guarantee Romney the nomination.

And what of Newt? Can he recover from this? Let's say he finishes a distant third in New Hampshire, behind Romney and Paul? What then? Will he have anything left? Will South Carolina be another Iowa, with the vote split and no clear winner? And can Newt, if he hasn't been thoroughly crushed by then, contend with Romney in Florida, where the polls have shown a one-on-one battle?

And what of Perry, who's now mailing his eggs to South Carolina. (Oh, he's still quite mad. He compared the 2012 election to Omaha Beach. I wonder what "The Greatest Generation" thinks of such nonsense.) Update: Scrap that. He's done.

12:17 am - Santorum on the TV. Just declared victory. (A surprise? Maybe not so much.) Before quoting that good Catholic mythologist C.S. Lewis. And thanking his wife. And then giving a public thanks to "God." And then thanking Iowans: "You... you... by not compromising... are taking the first step to taking back this country." Typical Republican BS, of course. What, take back the country from centrists like Obama? From the right-wing Republican majority in the House? From the 5-4 right-leaning Supreme Court?

Anyway, isn't today's result in Iowa the definition of not taking a stand?

12:25 am - Santorum favours cutting taxes and balancing the budget. No word on if he believe in unicorns and fairy dust. Then again, he believes in Jesus, so it's not like he lives in a rational world.

But... am I really saying this? He actually looks and sounds fairly impressive. He's certainly sincere, however delusional and extreme, and he's really come into his own, sweater vests and all, during this surge in Iowa. I still don't think he can pull this off, but maybe, if Gingrich can't recover, he'll be the guy who unites the right even at this late date. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.

12:32 am - In case you missed it, Santorum said that states have the right to ban birth control. Don't believe all his freedom talk for a second. He's a theocrat who values freedom only for plutocrats and within the confines of Christianist authoritarianism.

12:36 am - What motivates Santorum? -- "the dignity of every human life" (including "every working person"). Well, unless you're poor, or black, or whatever else he doesn't like or that in any way disturbs his God-fearin' worldview. But look, he's certainly more a man of the people than Romney...

12:38 am - ...who just emerged in front a big American flag. His wife: "we don't know who's won yet."

12:39 am - Well, Romney's being magnanimous, congratulating Santorum and Paul for a good campaign in Iowa.

12:41 am - With 99% reporting... get a lot of this: It's still 25-25, but now as close as it's been all night, 29,662 to 29,657 for Santorum. Five votes. That's it.

12:42 am - So what's Romney doing? Why, fearmongering about a "nuclear" Iran, of course, as if he wants to declare war right now, blaming Obama for not doing anything. (And what exactly should he have done?)

I can't listen anymore. It's typical Romney. Piling on Obama, saying nothing of substance, speaking too quickly, without pause, and also not connecting the way Santorum did, not telling his story the way Santorum did. He's just bullshitting. Like on energy: take advantage of oil and gas and nuclear and renewables. What does that even mean? Does he actually believe anything? Does he have any sort of concrete policy agenda? No and no, it would seem. Now he's talking about what programs he'd cut. But not really. He's just take a look at all of them. The only thing he mentions is Obamacare, which, of course, is based on Romneycare. (He neglects to mention that.) And now he's getting philosophical. This election is about the soul of America. Please. This isn't working. It's like he's just reciting lines that have been pre-approved by various focus groups. He's just ticking off the key bullets. Now he's attacking the "entitlement society." Now he's talking about the founding patriots. "Let us restore the greatness of America." He's all over the place. There's absolutely no coherence to this speech whatsoever. It's awful. And it's just Romney being Romney.

Happy, Republicans?

12:50 am: The website is ahead of Wolf Blitzer's wall. Santorum is now up by 27 votes, 29,892 to 29,865. But John King, who if nothing else can read numbers off a screen, is saying that the remaining precincts may favour Romney. We shall see.

12:52 am: Idiot Brit right-winger Piers Morgan, would-be Larry King Part Deux, just showed up. That's my cue. I'm done.

12:53 am: Stay tuned for much more 2012 election coverage here at The Reaction.

12:54 am: Good night, everyone.

**********

1:39 am: Dammit. I just can't resist. Romney has taken the lead, by a single vote -- 29,957 to 29,956. An outright win would certainly mean more to Santorum than to Romney, but, again, I'm not sure it matters all that much. It's a tie, and that's how it'll be reported.

1:41 am: Oh, now it's Santorum ahead again, but by just four votes -- 29,968 to 29,964.

1:42 am: Alright, enough. Good night.

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