On WOIO CBS Cleveland, political science professor Jason Johnson recaps the results of the Iowa Caucus.
On MSNBC with Tamron Hall, political science professor Jason Johnson and Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis discuss the Iowa Democratic Caucuses and the historically close result between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
If you listen very, very quietly you can almost hear it buzzing just below the surface of the post-Iowa caucus coverage. It’s not quite the howling of a newborn calf or the chirping of a baby bird cracking out of its eggshell, but the sound of a new political narrativebeing born has a distinct wail all its own.
When children ask me, “Where do narratives come from?,” I’m always a little nervous about giving them all the graphic, gory details. Eventually, I’ll sit them down on my knee, look them in the eye and tell them the dirty truth: Narratives happen when one political analyst really, really cares about a certain idea, and squeezes as many disparate facts into that idea as possible until eventually a little baby narrative pops out. And if that narrative is nourished by enough talking heads and reporters, one day it may grow into conventional wisdom, which might as well be fact.
It’s important to take you through these political facts of life because a whole lot of narratives are going to come out of Monday night’s Republican caucus results, most of which should’ve never been born. The loudest one right now is that somehow, some way, Marco Rubio “won” the Iowa caucus.
The final Iowa caucus results were Ted Cruz, 28 percent, Donald Trump, 24 percent, and Marco Rubio, 23 percent. That’s a third-place finish for the junior senator from Florida. But if you attended his watch party Monday night, you’d have thought he was about to accept the GOP nomination, a Grammy and an Oscar. Rubio claimed that a third-place finish somehow proved the “doubters” wrong. He then went into a classic Rubio stump speech.
It is true that Rubio performed better than was expected in the polls, and the delegate count is close, but by the news coverage, you’d think he had just lapped the competition and was assured victory.
Before you could flip the channel or get online, the baby narrative was born that Rubio had “momentum” and his “victory” would force establishment candidates like John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie to bow out, propelling Rubio to a win.
That’s a very cute narrative, and this time of year, everybody is excited to create a new narrative and bring it to work to show off to the other analysts, journalists and talking heads. However, there are three basic facts about this campaign, even post-Iowa, that are essentially narratus interruptus for political pundits and armchair analysts alike.
1. The establishment isn’t going anywhere.
With three races to go until Super Tuesday (New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada), establishment types like Bush, Kasich and Christie have all set their eyes on states they think will change their fortunes. It’s unlikely that any of them will drop out of the race until Super Tuesday, which only gives Ted Cruz and Donald Trump time to build upon their successes in Iowa, denying Rubio the supposed “coalescing” that will make him the anti-Trump/Cruz.
2. Donald Trump wasn’t even trying.
Donald Trump spent little on organizing in Iowa, skipped the last crucial debate and still came in second place with 24 percent of the vote. He maintains a huge lead nationally, and if anyone eats into that lead, it’ll be Ted Cruz, not Rubio. Furthermore, Trump’s leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina are in the double digits and “get out the vote” is less crucial in a primary than a caucus. This looks more like a Cruz vs. Trump race than a three-man contest.
3. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are the same guy.
Ted Cruz and Donald Trump supporters are essentially a large voting bloc that accounts for over 50 percent of Republican primary voters. Over 25 percent of Trump voters said they would choose Ted Cruz as their second-choice candidate if Trump got out of the race (13 percent said they’d choose Ben Carson). Among Cruz voters, Trump is their top choice if Cruz gets out of the race. Throw in the fact that Carson supporters would jump to Cruz or Trump if the good doctor were to drop out (likely after South Carolina) and that is a steep hill for Rubio to climb in the next few weeks. Marco Rubio can’t sit back and hope Trump and Cruz “destroy” each other since those voters will likely switch between candidates but not fall into Rubio’s lap.
I am all in favor of letting new ideas grow and flourish, but when it comes to politics, we will suffer from a Malthusian crisis of public discourse if we keep letting these baby narratives get conceived and wander all over our television and news landscape with no rhyme or reason.
Ted Cruz won last night. He’s got the best chance to be the Republican nominee for now. The next-best bet is the guy in second place, Donald Trump. Rubio isn’t legitimately in the conversation yet when it comes to winning the GOP nomination, and neither history, nor numbers nor statistics are in his favor as the third-place finisher in Iowa.
As much as pundits want to flirt with the idea of a Rubio insurgency that’s sitting across the bar, maybe they should wait awhile before trying to get their facts on and creating a narrative that no one is going to be able to take care of.
This article originally appeared at The Root.
On WOIO-TV Cleveland, political science professor Dr. Jason Johnson previews the Iowa Caucus.
Des Moines, Iowa, Sun., Jan. 31:
Different Faces, Different Views, Same Opponent
That’s the tone in Iowa, where a dozen candidates were still running campaign operations throughout the state as of Sunday night. Everyone is making the big play, but in the capital city of Des Moines, it’s those running in second place who seem to be taking up the most space. Sunday night, big rallies by Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz bookended a rally with Hillary Clinton, and while the words and thoughts of every candidate couldn’t be more divergent, in many respects you feel as if they are all, Republican and Democrat, running against the same person: Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders Is the Mockingjay
The Sanders campaign held an event at Grand Valley College in central Des Moines, and the building was packed to the rafters with college students and other members of the progressive left. You had to literally park three buildings over on a cold night and traverse melting snowbanks to get into the small gym filled with red-white-and-blue Sanders signs. The theme of political revolution and change was coming out of the mouths of everyone walking in and out of the building.
The amount of press there, especially foreign press, was extensive. Japanese, Korean and several European newscasters bustled around trying to get the perfect angle of the candidate, who took his sweet time coming onto the stage. Sanders, almost as if brandishing his millennial street cred, had a series of pop stars and garage-band types stump for him onstage. A journalist jokingly turned to me and said, “Sanders will definitely win the 20-and-under crowd with all these stars. I wouldn’t know any of these people if it weren’t for my 13-year-old daughter.”
Sanders spent most of his speech speaking in detail about the bought-and-paid-for corporate media, how his campaign announced that it has zero money in its super PAC (compared with the millions Clinton has in hers) and the need for change in Washington, D.C., that can’t just start and end with him.
Interestingly, Sanders mentioned Trump several times as an example of the extremism that would ruin this country. Clinton, on the other hand, was only referred to as “my opponent.” As exciting as the rally was, a fellow commentator in the crowd noted, “This is a great crowd. But I was here for Obama in 2008 … and this Bernie group is about a third the size of what Obama used to pull.”
Everybody Loves Ted
Across town, the Ted Cruz event was in marked contrast to the loud, screaming-concert feeling of the Sanders rally. Cruz’s 9:15 p.m. event was in a large meeting space at the state fairgrounds just outside of downtown Des Moines. The parking lot was filled with cars emblazoned with the Cruz flame logo and various flags noting the importance of liberty and freedom.
The room itself had just as much press, but fewer foreign reporters, and the crowd itself was much more diverse, agewise, than the Sanders campaign event. There were seniors, baby boomers, high schoolers and even some Generation Xers all sitting in their seats listening to a slew of speakers. The run-up to Cruz included his wife, Heidi, who spoke at length about her love for the man she believes will be president, and how Cruz’s ability to stand up to authority is what the country needs to succeed.
Before Cruz came out onstage, a short video played reinforcing the idea that he was a candidate “nobody believed” in. It featured quotes from NBC, the Washington Post and other news outlets saying that Cruz had no chance. By the time the video ended, he was being called the key challenger to Trump and a legitimate contender.
While Sanders brandished his teen and tween endorsements, Cruz had a different set of stars to legitimize his upstart status. As his promotional video ran, quotes from conservative television and radio hosts Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh flashed across the screen. This was capped off by local syndicated radio talker Steve Deuce coming onstage to say that Iowa was the only way they could support Cruz and stop Trump. “This is our last chance to take out the Death Star,” he said.
Cruz’s speech was a mixture of his personal faith, his main policies and his two-pronged attack. Interestingly, both Cruz and Sanders spent an equal amount of time criticizing Trump, albeit for different reasons. Cruz also attacked Republican opponent Marco Rubio, who he insists has no political spine, noting his flip-flopping on immigration. Then Cruz stated that Trump has no experience and couldn’t actually get anything done in Washington.
Cruz’s audience wasn’t as loud or as boisterous as Sanders’, but that doesn’t mean the enthusiasm wasn’t there. The scrum to take pictures with him once his speech was over was like a wave of bodies. He took it all in stride and seemed at home portraying himself as the only man who could beat Clinton, while at the same time the only man who had any chance against Trump.
As I stood behind the stage with a hundred people lining up to take selfies with the candidate, I spoke with a longtime journalist who had been in Iowa watching the campaigns for a week. His view? “I think Cruz is going to win this thing. He’s got the most organization on the ground. Trump has more people, but that’s not the same thing as organization. If Trump wins, he’s only going to squeak by.”
This article originally appeared online at The Root.