With the votes all but counted and the results of the overhyped Iowa Caucus -- the first electoral contest of this year's presidential cycle -- in, the conclusions are, to say the least, dumbfounding and defy conventional political wisdom. The established political punditry and sundry pollsters have been found wanting, proved wrong in many ways, and left shaking their heads at the stunning results starting with the fact that their projections of a snow storm induced low voter turnout missed the mark by miles.
And in many ways the Iowa Caucus served to underscore and illuminate the deep divide now in American politics into two belligerent camps -- one on the right and the other on the left. It does not matter much as to the degrees of political separation between and in between a conservative or moderate Republican or for that matter a RHINO (Republican In Name Only) and a progressive left Democrat or a democratic socialist for that matter. For example, there is very little to differentiate between the bloviating, bombastic, foul-mouth Republican presumed frontrunner, Donald Trump, and this main rivals the utterly loathsome and arrogant Texas Senator Ted Cruz or the smooth-talking, mega political opportunist, Senator Marco Rubio.
As the Iowa Caucus lay bare the differences between Democrat Hillary Clinton, the hitherto presumed unbeatable front runner on the Democratic side, and her quirky, acerbic challenger the avowed democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, are as much about political and economic targets as sharp and rabid departures from Democratic political orthodoxy. Infact, any analysis of the Iowa Caucus's results will conclude that the caucus goers were able to see through Donald Trump's characteristic unhinged karaoke style of entertainment politics that made them hold their noses and vote for, the just as loathsome, Ted Cruz instead.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's wafer-thin victory must be a wakeup call for her campaign that sought initially to ignore Bernie Sanders, tagging him as a political gadfly and out of touch with the mainstream of America's national political discourse. But the fundamental fact is that this time last year amidst the snide jokes and flippant remarks from Clinton and Company the shock of a near Iowa Caucus victory by a Democratic Socialist was not within the realms of possibility.
The message today is clear: Hillary Clinton is the best candidate representative of America's politics and the status quo, the American Establishment if you will, while Bernie Sanders is the best candidate of a nostalgic American politics built on fairness, social justice and economic equality.
Indeed, the political implications of the Iowa Caucus will have repercussions for BOTH parties long after the eventual respective nominees issue for their parties is settled. For those thinking that Bernie Sanders declared political identity as a "socialist" is off the beaten path and something outside of the American political mainstream -- think again. A poll conducted earlier this month showed that a whopping 43% of Iowa Democrats defined themselves as socialists. This would never have happened or come to the fore were it not for ordinary working class Americans feeling "the Bern's" campaign.
On the Republican side, the Iowa Caucus spells big problems for the party and it's struggled to redefine itself in a 21st century context. The struggle between the various forms of conservatism, from traditional conservatism to neo-conservatism, is now more pronounced and strident. From denying the realities of climate change to "carpet bombing ISIS," and banning Muslims from coming to the United States, have all coalesced around this year's Republican presidential candidate's trying to outdo each other with rigid, far-right wing rhetoric and insults ruling the discourse.
In more ways than one the results of Iowa send the undeniable message to the party that its members and supporters do not respect or like so-called establishment politicians. Senator Ted Cruz beat out Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio, all anti-establishment candidates, AND the GOP's establishment candidates like former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Ohio governor John Kasich, and New Jersey's governor Chris Christie -- all of whom had dismally poor showings.
Such outright rejection and rebuke only helps to sustain the Republican civil war and give it more life in a protracted battle for the party's very soul. When a presidential candidate who is not supported by his senate colleagues who loathe his guts wins a major caucus against another candidate, where only miniscule degrees of separation being less loathed than he is, and the message is clear and unambiguous. Then add the 52% they got between them to the 9% who backed Ben Carson -- the brain surgeon who claimed pyramids were for grain storage - and you have almost two-thirds of Iowans rejecting anything close to a consensus candidate who could unite the Republican Party.
The unmistakable conclusion is that the "outsider/insurgent" wings of both political parties are actively reorganizing and redefining American politics as we know it. For Hillary Clinton the Iowa Caucus was a sobering event as she was bloodied and pummeled even as she continues to have the Democratic political machine behind her and high-profile endorsements including her husband, former US President Bill Clinton. For her this was not supposed to go this way. It should have been the first coronation with Bernie Sanders playing the annoying, but harmless political renegade.
So now the stage is set for a very long set of primaries and races that will go well into spring. Contrary to commonly held views, there is no national election for President of the United States -- only separate state elections. For a candidate to become president, he or she must win enough state elections to garner a majority of electoral votes. U.S. presidential campaigns, therefore, focus on winning states, not on winning a national majority. Because the role of the president was so important, most of the Framers of the United States Constitution thought that the people couldn't be trusted to elect the president directly. Instead, they should elect electors, who would convene as a "college of electors" to consider the available candidates and pick the best man (not woman in those days) for the job.
Still, Iowa proved that some traditional electoral tactics and strategies still apply. And the caucus also exposed the fact that vulgar posturing and crass insults, while they may be embraced by an angry fringe element, does not engender support or respect from the political mainstream of "ordinary voters." That was the comeuppance for Donald Trump, a candidate that was out of line with Iowa voters values.
Mud-slinging and infantile name-calling aside, the Iowa Caucus also revealed the fact that a great "ground game," that is, field operations, wins elections. On the Republican side Senator Ted Cruz must be commended for putting together an awesome field operation and voter contact program that yielded the positive results. No other Republican candidate came even close, including Marco Rubio, to matching Cruz's ground game.
On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton's political machine was well oiled, seasoned, experienced, and knew what it was doing. That is why Bernie Sanders's showing with a caucus day operations that was disorganized, unfocused and inexperienced, is all the more stunning in comparison. However, if he's to remain viable, his campaign's field operations have to improve -- exponentially in the coming weeks and months.
So on to New Hampshire it is with all of the campaigns now doing a re-assessment, re-evaluation and wondering what the hell happened in Iowa in the first place.