The Democratic Party Fails Its Voters

Democratic presidential preference cards are gathered to be counted at a caucus at the West Des Moines Christian Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, February 3, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)
Both parties have big flaws in organizations. But at least the GOP counts the votes.

By Wednesday afternoon, we were allowed to see 92 percent of the Iowa Caucus results. That’s better than the zero percent on Election Night, and the 62 percent released late Tuesday afternoon. But the full results of the caucus — which used to be available the night of the caucus, live, on television, late in the evening, in the era before the Internet — are apparently being collated so slowly, they may or may not arrive before the next George R.R. Martin novel.

The Iowa Democratic Party was entrusted with running the first and arguably one of the most consequential contests in the presidential nominating process, and it completely fumbled, prat-falled, and metaphorically set itself on fire in the process. Not only can the state party not provide the full results, not only can they not say when they will be able provide full results, but they also cannot explain why they cannot provide full results. The unnerving possibility from this inexplicable refusal to give answers is that the party doesn’t actually know if their data are accurate and that perhaps some staff in some precincts made errors during the recording of votes.

Who entrusted the Iowa state party with that privilege and responsibility? The Democratic National Committee, which controls and runs the nominating process. This is the same DNC that Democrats fume has changed the rules for the primary debates after the process began, whose efforts at ‘inclusivity” have somehow left only white candidates up on stage, who is generating “endless grief from fretting party regulars,” in the words of the New York Times, and who is apparently preparing a “generous exit package” for Chairman Tom Perez and top deputies.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign secretly assumed control of the Democratic National Committee’s debts, effectively co-opting the DNC into its service. Incoming chairwoman Donna Brazile, according to Politico, was stunned to learn that “Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (the campaign’s joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the DNC’s remaining debt, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.” Once this was revealed after the 2016 election, many supporters of Bernie Sanders concluded, understandably, that the committee was not merely biased — it’s not surprising that committee staff would prefer one presidential candidate to another — but in fact a tool designed to ensure the illusion of a fair nominating process.

When you hear the argument that the modern political parties are much weaker than in the past, the argument is generally correct, but there’s a difference in the form of the weakness of each party. The modern Republican Party can’t prevent the wrong guy from winning the most votes; the modern Democratic Party can’t count the votes.

The modern Republican Party establishment was not capable of preventing Donald Trump — a former registered Democrat, and pro-choice, pro-gun-control donor to the opposition party, with no experience in government — from stepping in, winning the nomination, and once he won, more or less turning the entire party apparatus (the party committees, lawmakers, and allied groups) into extensions of his own political empire. But the party did extract certain unwritten agreements from Trump. Trump wholly converted to the causes of the Second Amendment and the pro-life movement, more or less picks his judges from the Federalist Society All-Star team, and raises funds and does rallies for Republican candidates down-ticket.

If you’re a Republican who wasn’t enamored with Trump, the 2016 primary offered a great deal of disappointment and frustration. Fox News and talk-radio figures who had positioned themselves as defenders of principled conservatism suddenly started explaining why Trump’s past support for the Democratic Party and abortion and other deviations from orthodoxy didn’t matter, in light of the fact that Hillary was his opponent. The mainstream media, convinced that Trump would be toxic in the general election, boosted their ratings by offering extensive and often uninterrupted coverage of many of his speeches and rallies. The other candidates, instead of focusing their attacks on Trump, seemed much more interested in beating one another up in an effort to become the last man standing against him. And when both Ted Cruz and John Kasich stayed in, all the way to the Indiana primary, it became clear that no one would end up in a one-on-one matchup against Trump.

Conservatives who were unreconciled with Trump could (and did) fume at all the factors that helped Trump, and they may well feel that they were failed by the institutional measures that were supposed to prevent someone like Trump from getting the nomination. But what didn’t fail those conservatives was the primary or caucus process.

Trump may have won less than half the votes in the primary — 44.95 percent, when all was said and done — but he won 6 million more votes than any other candidate. Never Trump conservatives may have felt that the GOP’s nomination of Trump was foolish and reckless and unlikely to succeed (it was more likely than it seemed, it turned out). But the process was certainly fair, and he was freely chosen by those who chose to participate in the Republican presidential primary. Donald Trump went out, made his case in his own wildly unpredictable and never-boring style, and convinced more Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to vote for him than any other candidate. Trump’s rivals might be upset by their defeat, but they knew it was an honest one.

Bernie Sanders fans weren’t so convinced that their defeat had been an honest one.

Since 2016, this has continued; the Republican establishment tries to work behind the scenes but doesn’t openly intervene in primaries much. By conservative lights, things go the wrong way with depressing regularity. We’ve seen Roy Moore win a Senate nomination and fumble away a seat that was once thought impossible to lose. Corey Stewart won a GOP Senate nomination in Virginia and promptly got spanked by incumbent Tim Kaine, that whirling dervish of raw political charisma. Kris Kobach managed to lose a gubernatorial race in Kansas, and his prospects looks similarly disastrous in this year’s upcoming Senate race.

But you know what happened in those GOP primaries in Alabama and Virginia and Kansas where those awful candidates won? They held a primary, and they counted all the votes! Every time some idiotic, morally repugnant non-establishment underdog wins, it is another sign that the establishment doesn’t control the vote tabulation through shadowy hacks and dirty tricks and other unethical and illegal means. Sure, now and again the GOP may get stuck with a candidate who’s terrible, but the problem is with the electorate’s judgment, not that the primaries are a meaningless exercise designed to rubber-stamp the choice of shadowy power brokers. You may think that a majority or a plurality of GOP primary voters must be on drugs or have suffered head injuries before making their choice, but at least on our side of the aisle, the democratic process works as intended.

After Iowa, if you’re a Democrat, you can’t say that with confidence.

 

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