It would be sad if it wasn’t quite so funny. In the race to declare success without knowing the result of the Iowa caucuses, Pete Buttigieg is the winner. But then, as campaigns prepare to release their own data, in lieu of any official results, the real victors are confusion, Donald Trump, and Michael Bloomberg.
‘Quality checks’, ‘inconsistencies’ and ‘technical difficulties’ are the theme of the night. People are already saying that ‘caucuses’ are clearly now outdated and must be abandoned, but the problem seems to be the toxic combination of old electoral practices, half-thought through reforms, and bad new technology.
Trump is already crowing on Twitter. Bloomberg hasn’t yet said anything, but as the richest candidate in the Democratic primary, he will be licking his lips. His decision to skip the first four states seemed high-risk: ‘going for the inside straight on the river card’, as one pundit put it, using a poker analogy. Suddenly, though, it seems inspired. A late Bloomberg charge makes perfect sense: because nothing else does. His willingness to spend $2 billion on state races from March onwards makes his candidacy powerful. The current muddle in Iowa, and a crowded field of runners all farcically claiming success, makes it seem shrewd.
If Bernie Sanders can’t claim victory this morning, after his huge polling showing and large, highly visible ground operation, his supporters will cry foul. They already are. The Biden campaign is a zombie. Warren’s campaign is faltering. It’s hard not to pity Buttigieg. He bet his candidacy on a strong showing in Iowa: the indications are that he achieved that, but the whole primary will probably be dismissed as a farce, and, if he isn’t the winner when the results are in, he will win few friends for having claimed triumph.
The others will move on to New Hampshire, where Sanders is polling very strongly. But Bloomberg’s huge spend ahead of Super Tuesday on 3 March has suddenly become a much better investment. Donald Trump was able to win in 2016 because the heavy-hitting GOP candidates all destroyed themselves in trying to stop him. Bloomberg can bide his time, and target his campaign accordingly.
The best move tonight, it seems, was not to be in the race. That’s the position Bloomberg is in. Faced with a Trump campaign that is far more efficient than it was in 2016, the Democrats have embarrassed themselves. The Democratic party has made a terrible mess. Confused Democratic voters will be looking for some semblance of order and sense. Enter Mike.