Clinton or Cruz – if you had to choose?

Clinton or Cruz – if you had to choose?

Grace Segers updates us on the Iowa Caucus’ winners and losers

In the United States on 1 February, the first votes were cast for the Republican and Democratic Presidential nominees in the Iowa caucus. This is an event in which party members in that state vote for the candidate they want to become their party’s nominee; for more on American state caucuses or primaries, see my article here.

Iowa isn’t a particularly significant state on the surface: its population is small and primarily white, unrepresentative of the rest of the country, and it lends very few delegates to the eventual Democratic and Republican conventions. But the importance of the Iowa caucus lies not with the literal winners and losers of contest, but with its ability to effect the country’s perceptions of the race. If a candidate does better than expected, he or she suddenly becomes viable in the eyes of other voters for successive state primaries. If a candidate underperforms in Iowa, this can have an adverse effect on their support in other states. Looking at who won and lost gives a clearer picture of what the presidential race will look like going forward.

And the Republican winner is…

…Not Donald Trump!

To the concerned Brits who have been asking me about Trump’s likelihood of becoming the next president, take a breath. The brash real estate magnate came in second place in Iowa, earning 24% of the vote to Senator Ted Cruz’s 28%.

Cruz’s victory is a result of a highly specialised campaign machine which mobilised supporters using often questionable tactics. In campaigning for Iowan votes, Cruz completed the “full Grassley,” which is the tradition for presidential candidates to visit all ninety-nine counties in the state. He also heavily leaned on his evangelical appeal: Cruz is the son of a born-again preacher, and a very conservative Christian. Iowa has a large number of evangelicals, and so Cruz played specifically to that audience. More controversially, Cruz’s campaign employed tactics such as sending flyers to Iowans publicly accusing them of “voting violations”—that is, not voting enough in elections—in order to scare people into voted.

This is a humbling loss for Trump, especially given that the last poll published in Iowa by the Des Moines Register showed him well ahead of Cruz. We should not rejoice in Trump’s loss just yet; he’s still leading in New Hampshire, the second state primary which is occurring next week. Furthermore, many of Cruz’s policies are just as far-fetched as Trump’s, and sometimes more conservative.

If Trump lost by coming in second, then Senator Marco Rubio was a winner for coming in third with 23% of the vote. Since Cruz and Trump emerged as the frontrunners of the Republican race, the GOP establishment has been desperately searching for a less extremist candidate to represent the rest of the party. There has been infighting amongst the candidates who wish to represent the establishment lane, particularly between Rubio, former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Chris Christie, and Governor John Kasich. By exceeding expectations in Iowa, Rubio proved that he may be the establishment candidate the GOP can consolidate around. This is more than a little ironic: before the race was hijacked by Cruz and Trump, Rubio was considered to be extremely conservative, a representative of the Tea Party elite.

As for the rest of the numerous Republican candidates, the prospect is grim. Bush—who had a rough night, coming in fifth—Christie, and Kasich have all decamped for New Hampshire, pinning their hopes on a better showing in that more moderate state. But the Iowa caucuses prove that the end is nigh for many of these dark horse candidates; former Governor Mike Huckabee has already dropped out of the race.

And the Democratic winner is…

…Officially Clinton. Unofficially? Too close to call. As of the time I’m writing this, Tuesday morning GMT, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders are neck and neck in the Iowa caucus. Clinton has received 49.9% of the vote, Sanders 49.5%. Poor Martin O’Malley, former Governor of Maryland, has decided to drop out of the race after receiving only 0.6% of the vote.

The caucus has been called in Clinton’s favour, proving that by mobilising her support base, she was able to overcome a strong candidate. This becomes a bit of a false victory when you remember that Sanders wasn’t supposed to be a strong candidate: he’s a septuagenarian self-proclaimed socialist who is somehow able to inspire a legion of millennial voters. By winning this many votes in Iowa, Sanders shows he’s a serious contender, and furthermore that the Democratic Party is more divided they might have thought.

When Clinton announced her candidacy early in 2015, it was assumed she would be the nominee for the Democratic Party. Now she’s barely eked out a victory in Iowa, and is lagging behind Sanders in New Hampshire.

But for the Democrats as well as the Republicans, the Iowa caucus should not be taken as a finished decision. Clinton has strong leads in South Carolina and Nevada, the next primaries after New Hampshire. She furthermore has more support amongst minorities and older women than Sanders. However, Sanders’ result does prove his viability as a candidate for the Democratic nomination, even if he wouldn’t become President.

If the Democrats lose the presidency though, they will be underrepresented in every single level of American government: from state to Congress to the executive branch.

Remember, the Iowa caucus is watched by both members of both parties, and everyone will have some serious introspection to do now when considering voting for extremist candidates.

Featured image credit: 2016 Iowa Caucuses 

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