The Status Quo is the Real Winner in Iowa – Again

For months we’ve been treated to a presidential race buildup that’s been spiced with outsider candidates – Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul, at the very least. Despite the theatrics and media attention, I’ve long suspected that none of these players had a serious chance of winning the nomination of their parties, let alone the presidency. I hope I’m wrong, but I think the real winner in Iowa is the status quo. America may find outsider candidates to be interesting, and even entertaining, but it will never put them in the White House.

With the Iowa caucus in the rearview mirror, both parties now have validated frontrunners, and they’re both established politicians. I think that’s the message, and the real winner in Iowa.

The Status Quo is the Real Winner in Iowa - Again
The Status Quo is the Real Winner in Iowa – Again

As a rule I don’t write about politics, not here on OOYR, and not on other sites that I write for. It seems to be mostly a waste of time, since business-as-usual is the predictable end result, no matter who sits in the Oval Office, or which party controls the ship of state. But given the number of out-of-the-box candidates, I thought that 2016 might represent a break from the past. Now that isn’t at all certain.

It’s admittedly a stretch to gauge an entire election based on the results from one state, but some trends are coming into focus, even if we don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball.

Americans Prove Once Again That They Don’t Want Real Change

This is the biggest trend in American politics in my lifetime, but especially in the past 25-30 years. Americans don’t want real change. They want leaders who do lip service to change, but whom the voters are certain will never actually deliver on it. Real change scares us, and there’s an outstanding reason why: America is addicted to government benefits.

A 2014 Forbes article reported that 49.2% of Americans receive benefits from one or more government programs. More ominously, the article quotes Benjamin Franklin’s warning:

?When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.?

We don’t want that gravy train to stop. We don’t measure the cost of those benefits either, only the benefits themselves. The “change” we want to vote for is a status quo that runs better, but not true reform that might threaten those benefits.

Probably the most glaring example of this is heathcare. While we talk a good game about the need to reform it, what we really want is more healthcare at lower cost. So we go endlessly round-and-round, talking about making someone else pay what we think is their fairshare, and about fraud and other nebulous factors that are hard to quantify and close to impossible to cure to anyone’s satisfaction.

Another stellar example is the tax code. What we need is a flatter income tax that eliminates most of the deductions and loopholes. That will probably do more to create sustainable organic economic growth than any other single act. In theory, most Americans agree – until you start talking about eliminating cherished loopholes, like the home mortgage interest deduction or relief for education and student loans. So we labor forward with a byzantine tax code that has thousands of pages of regulations, and that requires computer programs to navigate.

I could go on and on with this stuff, but I think most people have at least a vague idea that this is more than just a little bit true. But when we have a chance to bring about serious reform – by voting in people who come from outside the political norm – we think about our benefits, and we go with the candidates who are most likely to either keep them intact, or even to expand them.

Here are my thoughts on the real winner in Iowa this week – other than the status quo – but focusing on the candidates.

Donald Trump

No one can say with a straight face that Donald Trump isn’t an establishment candidate. As a successful business magnate, he represents the core of American establishment. But two factors about Trump make him a political outsider:

  1. He’s a businessman, not a career politician, and
  2. He’s funding his own campaign, so he’s free to speak his mind

And speak his mind he does. Even if you don’t agree with him, it’s refreshing to hear someone speak in the public arena who isn’t hogtied by political correctness and groupthink.

But Trump finished second in Iowa, a state in which polls indicated that he would win easily. Instead, he finished a solid second best to the senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, and was nearly dropped to third place by the senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.

Now we can argue that Iowa is just one state, and that the odds still favor a Trump nomination. But there are two issues that arise out of the Iowa caucus:

  1. Iowa is a state that Trump would have to win, since the political establishment is dug in even deeper in the more urban states.
  2. Polls indicated an easy Trump win there – now we have to question the validity of the polls; every one of seven polls taken just before the Iowa caucus showed Trump out in front.

We now have to wonder if those polls are mostly reflecting entertainment value, rather than political conviction. Trump figures to win the New Hampshire primary next week, but we’ll have to see how that materializes. The Republican faithful may decide instead to go with the winner, which at the moment is Ted Cruz.

Maybe Cruz makes people feel better. Since Trump has never held public office, there’s no way to know what will happen to our cherished government benefits under a Trump presidency.

Bernie Sanders

The optimist’s interpretation is that Sanders closed a 50 point deficit in the polls to run a dead heat with Hillary. Yes, there’s something encouraging about that dynamic, but Hillary still fought to a draw in a state that we can reasonably assume could have gone to Sanders.

Once again, as is the case with Trump, Sanders’ prospects are likely to dim in urban states. The Democratic Party machine is generally stronger in urban states, and will be pressing hard with get-out-the-vote initiatives. And can you imagine states like New York, Illinois and California – with their millions of federal, state, and local government employees – voting for anyone other than Hillary?

I can’t.

My prediction is that Sanders makes a valiant run of it, but ultimately the Democrats fall back on their tradition of digging in and supporting the candidate they deem most likely to protect the status quo, and all the jobs and benefits it provides them with.

Ben Carson

Carson had a lot of promise to the more conservative wing of the Republican party, and we could have reasonably assumed that Iowa would be a solid bet for him to do well, if not to actually win. But he pulled less than 10% of the vote. That looks like his campaign will end sooner than later.

Rand Paul

The only declared libertarian fared no better than libertarians ever do in US elections, by drawing no better than low single digits. And like Carson, if Paul couldn’t have a strong showing in Iowa, he’d go nowhere.

The reason Libertarians never do well in elections is that they are the most anti-big government party, and Americans consider them to be “dangerous”, as in dangerous to our cherished government benefits.

Let’s give Rand Paul credit for high intelligence – he saw that same thing, and withdrew from the race immediately after Iowa. My suspicion is that we lost a good candidate.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio

I’m not opposed to either one of these candidates, but both did much better in Iowa than anyone thought they would, and they’re both sitting US senators from very large states. That largely confirms the point that I’m trying to make, that when it comes down to when it really counts, America will go with candidates from the political establishment.

We can assume that the Republicans, despite their rhetoric, are no more interested in real change than the Democrats. They just have more outsiders on their side of the fence. But rest assured, none of the outsiders will ever get anywhere.

I kind of like Marco Rubio, as establishment politicians go, but I find it disturbing to hear him beating the war drums about the Middle East. Haven’t we had enough of that for the past 15 years? How does that platform represent real change?

Hillary Clinton – the Ultimate Winner?

I’m of the opinion that Hillary Clinton is the real winner in Iowa. She’s the most established of the political establishment running, being from a political family, having been senator and a former secretary of state for the current administration, and having been at least on the fringes of government throughout her career. No one more represents the entrenched interests, despite her tired, 1960s-sounding political speeches railing against those interests.

She may have won Iowa by the thinnest of margins, but she did win. And she did it in one of the states where Bernie Sanders needs to win, if he is to have any chance of securing the Democratic nomination. If Sanders can’t win in the heartland, it’s hard to imagine him winning in the big urban states.

We can also presume that both the Democratic political establishment and the mainstream media squarely support Hillary’s nomination. Clinton is seen by both as one of their own, as an insider and a child of the 1960s (the whole JFK, Camelot, Great Society and liberation-for-everyone symbolisms that resonate deeply with Baby Boomer liberals).

Thus far the media has been polite in their handling of Bernie Sanders, but when push comes to shove, their true loyalty will become clear, and the kid gloves will come off. (If you happen to be in the mainstream media and you’re offended by that statement, I’m sorry, but you guys and girls are completely predictable.)

An Unexpected Advantage for Hillary May Be in the Works

One more point on Hillary…it has nothing to do with the real winner in Iowa, but I think it’s huge. The economy and financial markets are showing clear signs of weakness early in the year, and I think that favors Hillary as well.

The general consensus is that the Republicans will benefit from a bad economy, since the Democrats control the White House during the decline. I disagree with that consensus. It’s usually what happens, but I doubt it will play out that way, at least not this time. I think that a weakening economy squarely favors not only Hillary for the Democratic nomination, but also for the White House.

Here’s why…Bill Clinton is widely associated with the strong economy and good times of the 1990s. Personally, I think it was the Reagan tax cuts, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and George H.W. Bush demonstrating that America would go to war to guarantee the free flow of cheap oil that gave us the 1990s, the last decade of real economic growth in America.

Bill Clinton, in my estimation, may well have been the luckiest man ever to serve as president of the United States. He served two full terms and enjoyed high ratings throughout, despite the failure of his center-piece agenda (national health insurance) and a series of scandals that hounded him throughout his presidency.

But it wasn’t Bill Clinton, the man, who everyone loved, but the country America was during his presidency that made him so popular. No matter, the good times/Clinton connection is cemented in the public mindset. If the economy is deteriorating, people won’t vote for real change, they’ll vote for a Clinton – Hillary Clinton – with the expectation that it will all be fixed in due course.

I’m not writing any of this with any kind of enthusiasm. If ever there was a time when we need a different way of thinking, and new ways of doing things, it’s now. I believe that we?re on the edge of changes that will later be judged to be cataclysmic, and we need truly dynamic leadership as never before. But the results of the Iowa caucus point solidly in the direction of establishment politics – same problems, no new solutions.

It’s been said that nations get the leadership they deserve; what kind of leadership will that be when the smoke clears in November???

What are your thoughts? I know that it’s easy to declare that “it’s too early to tell”, but I think we can draw significant insight from the Iowa caucus results.

( Photo by aj.hanson1 )

2 Responses to The Status Quo is the Real Winner in Iowa – Again

  1. America has reached the tipping point where there are more people voting themselves benefits than there are who don’t. My admittedly pessimistic view is that we will never recover from all the takers voting for candidates who promise to steal from those who earn an income and give to those who choose to not work. If we elect a democrat for another 4-8 years, we will have joined all the European countries as a social welfare state. Wish I knew where to move to. 🙁

  2. Hi Kathy – I share your pessimism, but we have to make it work here since most of the rest of the world has similar problems, or they’re already complete basket cases. My own thought is that the problem is mostly paper/digital money. Ever since that’s been the norm for money (rather than money that was actually tied to something of value), the politicians have been free to promise whatever they want to the masses, without worrying about where the money will come from. They just print or borrow whatever they need to keep the goodies flowing. It guarantees their popularity and reelection, and steadily adds more people to the handout process.

    Rush Limbaugh has referred to this as the “New Deal coalition”, started by Roosevelt, and kept going ever since. The more people who are put on the gravy train, the less likely it is that they will ever go against the establishment. I think this is why we seem to be increasingly incapable of making even small improvements in the system. Everything is protected for the benefit of some group of beneficiaries somewhere. Any attempt to cut any spending program leads to allegations of “starving small children” or “putting grandma out on the street”. Let’s forget about families and working people, its as if they don’t exist, and don’t matter if they do.

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