The path of this campaign is forever tainted

In trying to build a forecast model of the Democratic primaries, we literally had to think about the entire process from start (Iowa) to finish (the Virgin Islands on June 6). Actually, we had to do more than that. Since the nomination process is sequential — states vote one at a time rather than all at once — we had to determine, empirically, how much the results of one state can affect the rest.

The answer in the case of Iowa is that it matters a lot. Despite its demographic non-representativeness, and the quirks of the caucuses process, the amount of media coverage the state gets makes it far more valuable a prize than you’d assume from the fact that it only accounts for 41 of the Democrats’ 3,979 pledged delegates. …

Maybe there will eventually be a decent-sized Iowa bounce despite all of this. But there’s a good chance that the candidates who did well in Iowa get screwed, and the candidates who did poorly there get a mulligan. To repeat: There’s very little importance in a mathematical sense to who wins 41 delegates. Iowa is all about the media narrative it produces and all about momentum, and that momentum, whoever wins, is likely to have been blunted.

From “Iowa might have screwed up the whole nomination process,” by Nate Silver at FiveThirty Eight.

The narrative on social media: Conspiracy!

As it became obvious late Monday night that a technical glitch would dramatically hold up the results of the long-anticipated Iowa caucuses, social media exploded with dark ideas about what had happened.

All credible reporting seemed to confirm the explanation that a technical snag, not dirty tricks, was to blame. But it didn’t matter. Iowa conspiracy theorists were already working overtime long before voters headed to their caucus sites Monday evening, thanks to another technical glitch that prompted the Des Moines Register to cancel the release of its vaunted Iowa Poll on Saturday night. …

Calmer voices could be heard amid the shouting, but you had to listen carefully.

“People should get a grip,” wrote Sam Stein of the Daily Beast. “There are paper ballots. The caucuses happen OUT IN THE OPEN FOR EVERYONE TO SEE. … There isn’t a wizard behind the curtain here.”

From “Social media was a cesspool of toxic Iowa conspiracy theories last night. It’s only going to get worse,” by Margaret Sullivan, media critic for the Washington Post.

The narrative on certain traditional media: Panic!

The app may have broken, and the hotline failed, but the most visible meltdown in the first nominating contest of the 2020 election was all CNN’s. …

Soon, very soon, we’d have the results of all this action. They’d be trickling in any minute now, [anchor] Wolf [Blitzer] said, on this momentous night. But then they didn’t trickle, like, at all. And Wolf started getting antsy, or maybe a little agitated. And then CNN totally lost it. …

The energy was infectious! Crisis coverage is what CNN does best, and the absence of news itself became a crisis. …

Soon, a CNN reporter was quoting an Elizabeth Warren insider who said that the longer this night goes on, “they worry the process loses credibility.” Aha! The people of Iowa had just watched one another choose candidates publicly, with the numbers written down on big sheets of paper, but if the numbers didn’t reach CNN, perhaps none of it had really happened at all.


From “Catastrophe News Network! Missing Iowa numbers send CNN spiraling into crisis,” by Allison Benedikt at Slate.

First mistake? Having an app for that

These problems demonstrate one of the first big mistakes [Iowa’s Democratic Party] made when introducing new tech to an already arcane process: not considering its user base.

“One of the reasons election security is such a difficult problem to solve is because the people who are operating elections aren’t tech people,” said [Maggie MacAlpine, a co-founder of Nordic Innovation Labs, a firm of security consultants whose specialties include safeguarding elections]. “They’re often retirees, people who are trying to help their community.”

Compounding the issue, many of these events also take place in rural areas where cellphone reception is less reliable. In that way, even if the app functioned perfectly, it already failed on a practical level if the people who were intended to use it didn’t understand it or couldn’t access it.

From “Iowa Democrats should have known better than to use an app,” by Kaleigh Rogers at FiveThirtyEight.

The future of the caucuses is at stake

The one good thing that can come from the disaster of Monday’s botched Iowa vote count is it may convince the national Democratic Party to end the caucuses once and for all.

The case for the Iowa caucuses is now weaker than it’s ever been — and it’s never been strong. Iowa is an unrepresentative state, and its caucuses impose an unconscionable burden on voters who wish to participate. Votes are counted in an absurd way, and the result can diverge significantly from the actual will of the people. …

It should go without saying that there is a better way to hold an election — the method used by the overwhelming majority of states.

From “Monday’s Iowa caucuses should be the last,” by Ian Millhiser at Vox.

Trump is the winner

The candidates were stunned. Their aides were livid. And Democrats nationwide, so hungry for the first signs of resolution in a primary with so many competitive candidates, waited and waited late into the night on Monday and surely, in most cases, gave up and went to bed. Not me. I was too aghast, agitated and curious to see how soon Trump and his enablers would exploit this turn of events.

The inevitable answer: right away. Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, sent a tweet out before midnight Eastern time on Monday.

“Democrat party meltdown,” he wrote. “They can’t even run a caucus and they want to run the government. No thank you.”

Lovely — and not the last of it. Trump quickly amplified the gloating and taunting, which, after golf, are his favorite sports.

From “Iowa’s unholy mess,” by Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

But which Democrat won? (While we were waiting …)

Internal numbers released by the [Bernie] Sanders campaign, showing results from 40% of caucus sites, showed Sanders winning with approximately 30% of the vote, Pete Buttigieg coming in second with 25%, Elizabeth Warren third with 21%, and Joe Biden a very distant fourth with 12%. If those numbers match the ultimate totals, they are great for Sanders and absolutely horrific for Biden. Sanders will have kicked the crap out of the front-runner, Barack Obama’s former vice president and the man most favored to win the nomination. It would be a stunning upset.

And with 0% of caucus results in, Buttigieg declared himself “victorious,” praising the “incredible result” and saying Iowa had “shocked the nation.” The only thing that had shocked the nation at this point was Iowa’s total inability to perform the relatively simple task of counting people’s votes. But Buttigieg, good McKinseyite that he is, was getting a head start on deploying the PR spin.

From “Joe Biden flopped in Iowa. And so did the Democratic Party’s reputation,” by Nathan Robinson at the Guardian.

But which Democrat won? (Once we got some results …)

The Iowa Democratic Party finally began to announce partial results of Monday’s caucuses at 4 p.m. Tuesday, as the last twinkling minutes before deadline for this article begin to blink off. Here are some observations.

Winner, though still provisionally: Pete Buttigieg. The youngest candidate is also the most deliberate, so it was surprising late Monday when he essentially declared victory. Did his internal reporting warrant such confidence? Apparently so. When the first 62% of precincts was released in a batch, he was on top in the immediate count of state delegate equivalents. (Yes, this will always be confusing.) Even if that turns out not to have held up once 100% of results are reported — Bernie Sanders was hot on his tail and had an edge in the popular vote — former Mayor Pete’s Iowa strategy clearly worked, and he has a better chance to build on it than previously appeared.

Winner: The moderate platform. At times throughout the early months of the campaign, it has appeared that aggregate support for the progressive candidates might be topping that of the moderates. But if the first batch of numbers from Iowa turns out to have roughly held, Buttigieg plus Joe Biden plus Amy Klobuchar added up to about 54%, compared with Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s joint 43%. Recall that the results of the 2016 caucuses were almost evenly split between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Winner, at least a little: The Iowa Democratic Party. Yes, this is a contrarian view, but when the party detected problems, it chose not to rush and risk a bigger mistake.

From Star Tribune assistant commentary editor David Banks, as a last-minute addendum to this package of excerpts — no additional link.