A year ago, I wrote:
For me, the issue this US election season is the corruption. Sure, I'd like a balanced budget and less debt and repeal of Obamacare, but I'm getting used to being sold out on those issues. So I'm down to the bare minimum requirement for a politician: The corruption nauseates me, and, if it doesn't nauseate the candidates, then that explains a lot about why nothing happens on any of those other matters. It's in the air, it's in my nostrils, and I'm sick of choking on it. We have a "justice" department that prosecutes a senator who made the mistake of crossing the President (Menendez) but declines to do anything about a tax collector who treats American taxpayers differently on the basis of how they vote (Lerner). We have a revenue agency that regards itself as the paramilitary wing of the ruling party. We have replaced equality before the law with a hierarchy of privilege, so that no-name ambassadors can be fired for breaking federal record-keeping requirements by a department whose boss outsources her federal records to her own server and then mass-deletes them with no more thought than when she's parking her van in the handicapped space. We have a federal police agency in which 26 out of its 28 hair analysts gave false testimony favorable to the prosecution. We have a cabinet officer who managed to get more firepower deployed to toss her designated scapegoat videomaker into the county jail than she assigned to the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi. We have a president who rules by decree on everything from immigration to health care - and a legislature of castrati too craven to object.
I would like a candidate who promises to hose out the sewer.
Unfortunately, the system that produces the candidate is itself a sewer. Sixteen years after the chad-diviners of Florida we now have the coin-flippers of Iowa. The Des Moines Register, which endorsed Hillary Clinton pre-caucus, is post-caucus calling for a "complete audit" of the vote to establish whether she actually won it - as the maniacal cackler has been going around bragging about ever since.
I would say it is almost certain that she did not win it. But whether anyone can know for sure is more doubtful. The Democrats run their end of the Iowa caucus as a folksier version of the union block vote in the old British Labour Party. No actual vote tallies are released, just the numbers of SDEs - or "state delegate equivalents". Whatever that means it doesn't mean delegates to the summer convention. It's just some term of art the Iowa Dems use as a substitute for actual votes of actual citizens. On Monday night it was reported that SDE-wise Bernie Sanders had won 695 and Hillary 693. Which sounds like Bernie won.
But SDEs are themselves calculated via a larger number of county delegates, of whom six were decided by a coin flip, all of which Hillary won. So the net result is that Hillary beat Bernie by four SDEs.
If Iowa were one of those banana republics in which the president-for-life has been prevailed upon to hold an election and Jimmy Carter and a bunch of UN observers had flown in to certify it, none of the above would pass muster. But in the Democrat Party it does:
Hillary Clinton edged out Sanders by just 0.2 percentage points, a margin the Register notes would trigger recounts in other states... In the Democrats' process, voters physically arrange themselves around the room to signal their support for a presidential candidate and are counted by precinct captains. Ties can be settled by coin flips, and reports out of Iowa suggest that a handful of delegates were assigned by pure chance.
That makes a full recount impossible, and a Democratic official confirmed to The Hill Monday night that there is no recount provision.
The Sanders campaign has called on the party to release the raw vote totals at each precinct.
I would doubt such "raw vote totals" actually exist, at least to the extent that they're reliable. In effect, Hillary and Bernie fought Iowa to a draw. But a miss is a good as a mile and, as I said on Tuesday, Sanders needed the headline "BERNIE WINS!", and all Mrs Clinton had to do was figure out a way to deny him that. The squalid and repulsive rules of her caucus helped her do that. As The Des Moines Register put it:
Something Smells in the Democratic Party
But Democrats are used to that smell. Whether Bernie's social justice youth corps is willing to put up with it is another matter.
~Something smells on the Republican side, too. Karl Rove despises Donald Trump, and Trump despises Rove. Nevertheless, Rove all but declared that Trump had Iowa stolen from him by Ted Cruz:
The Cruz Campaign, Spence Rogers, sends out a tweet. And the tweet is headlined, "Press says that Carson is going to take a break"... so tell all the Carson people to campaign with Cruz... At 7:53 the Carson people send out a release saying, "We're here. We're staying in the race. We're going to New Hampshire and South Carolina." And at 8:20 the national co-chairman of the Cruz campaign, Steve King, sends out a tweet saying, "It looks like Carson is getting out of the race." Now they knew at this point that this was inaccurate.
Senator Cruz in his initial explanation about this said we were sending it to our team, leaving the implication, I suspect, to most viewers, that this had to do with sending it out to staff members. No, no, no... They sent this to their nearly 1,500 precinct captains. There are 1,500 precincts in the state. And they sent this message from Spence Roberts (Rogers). Now why does that matter. Now the gap between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is 6,239 votes. There are 1,500 precincts. Do the math... If that message cost Carson four votes per precinct to switch to Cruz, then Cruz beats Trump. If he doesn't switch four, then he loses.
By the way, all the Cruz shenanigans occurred after CNN had clarified their original report:
Carson won't go to NH/SC, but instead will head home to Florida for some R&R. He'll be in DC Thursday for the National Prayer Breakfast.
At 6.43pm CNN reporter Chris Moody added:
Ben Carson's campaign tells me he plans to stay in the race beyond Iowa no matter what the results are tonight.
Which seems plain enough. Nonetheless, the most senior Cruz operatives spent the next two hours embellishing the original rumor by inventing two critical elements - that Carson would be "making a big announcement" and then (lest that were insufficiently clear) that he was "suspending campaigning".
As Rove sees it, this is as malodorous as Hillary's coin flips:
1) At the very moment the caucus begins, a fortuitously timed rumor emerges about Ted Cruz's principal rival for the evangelical vote;
2) Cruz honcho Spence Rogers takes that rumor and embellishes it by falsely declaring that Carson will be "making a big announcement";
3) Within seconds the Cruz-embellished false rumor has been zapped direct to 1,500 precinct captains to relay to Ben Carson supporters in the room;
4) Even after Carson has denied the rumor, Cruz then further embellishes it in telephone calls to precinct captains, kicking it up from the coded "making a big announcement" to the more explicit statement that Carson is "suspending campaigning":
All this was hard on the heels of Cruz's creepy "VOTING VIOLATION" official-like Big-Brother-Is-Watching-You notices design to shame his voters into going to the polls.
The morning after Iowa, Scott Johnson wrote at Powerline:
I think Cruz flubbed the opportunity presented by his victory speech. Rubio went first, while the viewing audience must have been near its peak during prime time, and gave a winning speech. I thought it effectively advertised Rubio's strengths as a potential general election candidate... In its critique of Hillary Clinton, Rubio's speech was powerful; it was hard-hitting; it had the additional advantage of being true. By contrast, Cruz's victory speech was overlong and flat. It seemed to me to advertise his weaknesses as a potential general election candidate.
I think that's true. Let me say that I personally don't care for Rubio, who is the kind of canned over-disciplined on-message candidate that makes me despair of politics: in media interviews, his answers to almost any question are like modular furniture, with the same half-dozen stump-speech lines chopped up and re-assembled and invariably concluding with the ultimate banality of the hustings that "this election is about the future". But, if you'd never heard Rubio speak before Monday, he came over as a crisp effective candidate making the most of his time on national TV. By contrast, Cruz's unfocused ramble of a victory speech left you wondering how the hell this guy won the state.
It can't all be down to ethically dubious mailers and sabotage emails, can it?
Time magazine cautions that "criticizing Ted Cruz seldom works". But, whatever the truth behind these two incidents, they are (as Cruz's former fellow British subjects would say) not cricket. To go back to where I came in, I would like to be governed by honorable men. The Cruz campaign's behavior in Iowa does not meet that test.
~On Friday I'll be checking in with Boston radio colossus Howie Carr, live at 4.30pm Eastern. Hope you'll tune your dial accordingly.