Four years ago, I wrote about the 2012 Caucus after stumbling off a Greyhound bus into the cold new year of a Montana winter. This year, the caucus was a month later, on February First. I spent the day unable to follow the tweets and shifting shades of purple and yellow on maps of Iowa's 99 counties. I instead was helping someone I never met, but new from an internet community, move into their new apartment after a no-cause eviction in Portland, Oregon's bubbling rental market. A day spent wrestling with flimsy boxes in the rain in a corner of downtown Portland where the homeless and destitute mixed with people smoking legal cannabis a block away from Voodoo Donuts. Its a long way from Portland to the caucuses of Iowa, where conservative and Evangelical voters would decide who would be Iowa's selection for the Republican nomination for president. But not too far: some of the issues that helped me unload a truck with acquaintances, like the frustration of a marginalized middle-class and the recourse to internet communities, were playing an equal part in my day and in the Iowa caucuses.
The big story in the primaries, and people reading this in a few years might think I am exaggerating, was Donald Trump. Ever since the summer, when he had made the seemingly politically lethal move of insulting John McCain's war record, Trump had managed to kick each conservative sacred cow and still manage to fill rallies. But, the polls said, while Trump had his hardcore supporters, he also had his hardcore detractors: could he actually form a broad coalition? And while that question was up in the air, a number of other questions were juggled: who was the "moderate" alternative, was it Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or John Kasich. Was there another "outsider" candidate, such as Doctor Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina, that would take Trump's place? For five months or more, we wondered, and tonight we finally have some information.
The first place finisher was Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas. Evangelical, conservative, but still a sitting US Senator, Cruz managed to slightly eclipse Trump. Third place was Senator Marco Rubio from Florida. They finished with little distance to separate them: 28, 24 and 23 percent respectively. Ben Carson a distant fourth with 9 percent, libertarian-leaning Rand Paul with less than 5%, and the dynastic candidate, Jeb Bush, with less than 3%.
In most cases, Trump's second place showing of 24% would hardly be a poor showing. However, given the hyperbole and energy of his campaign, getting second place with less than a quarter of the vote shows Trump to be hardly an unstoppable force who has transformed politics. On the other hand, given the fact that conservative, outsider candidates like Trump, Cruz and Carson together got over 60% of the vote, the idea that this primary season will be boisterous and unconventional seems to be a fair assessment.
So what do we know after Iowa? That we are going to have a busy season! And of course, that is just on the Republican side. The Democratic side looks to be pretty interesting too...