Does the Iowa Caucus Matter?

Some have speculated that the Iowa Caucus, with its quirky, undemocratic style is losing its relevance.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Recent history demonstrates that the Iowa Caucus is an absolutely critical step toward the highest ambition of most Republican Presidential candidates – a successful broadcasting career.

It’s not so important anymore for that other thing.

Iowa’s first in the nation nominating caucus is a bizarre animal.  I’m not going to even try to describe the details.  It is not a primary.  It’s not an election.  It’s a very personal, participatory process, the kind of thing that in our day and age is tough for ordinary people to fit into their lives.

In both Parties it grants disproportionate influence to folks with too much time on their hands.  For the Republicans in particular, the Iowa Caucus skews toward the deeply religious and the…uh…less rational.  It has become a hefty investment of time and money that a serious candidate would do well to avoid unless he intends to build his entire career around the religious right (see, George Bush II).

Since 1980, there have been five elections in which there was no sitting Republican President.  The Iowa Caucus picked the Republican winner in those nominating races only twice, Bob Dole in 1996 and George Bush in 2000.

In ’96, there was no real Republican competition, but Dole still only edged out by hyper-conservative talk show host Pat Buchanan by a few points.  Bush in 2000 was running as the candidate of the fundamentalists against a stiff challenge from John McCain.  McCain mostly skipped Iowa, finishing fifth there.

But don’t discount Iowa.  Half of the past six Caucuses successfully identified the frontrunner for the most important race in the modern Republican politisphere – who’s going to get the fat contract with the evil lamestream media.  Look at this list of first or second place finishers and it reads like a TV Guide:

1988 – Pat Robertson (finished close second to Dole)

1996 – Pat Buchanan (finished close second to Dole)

2008 – Mike Huckabee (won outright while McCain finished 4th and eventually took the GOP nomination)

And you can identify the biggest GOP losers by the Iowa Caucus results too.  Alan Keyes was an aspiring AM radio ranter and perennial candidate in 2000 when his third place finish in Iowa badly dented his status.  He still finished two notches ahead of John McCain, but that sort of thing only matters if you’re trying to become President.  The best Keyes could do after that was a brief stint on MSNBC and a comic role as a Republican Senate candidate in Illinois.

The rich crop of religious fundamentalists and wingnuts in this year’s GOP race mean that Iowa will likely be more important than ever.  The race will be particularly critical for Herman Cain, who like Alan Keyes in 2000 is hoping to take his AM radio shtick to a bigger audience.  Likewise, former Senator Rick Santorum needs a strong Iowa showing if he’s ever going to get a syndicated show.  He had only achieved “contributor” status prior to this run.

But this race will ultimately be the Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s to lose.  Anything better than third place and she might finally be able to leave the drudgery of Congress behind for the one place on Earth where she’s ready for prime-time – Fox News.  Good luck and Godspeed.

As for the GOP nomination, well, someone will win that I suppose.


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