It’s almost fitting that the Iowa Democratic caucus was such an unmitigated failure. The official kickstarter to the 2020 Democratic presidential primary—which has been marked by baseless smears, senseless infighting, and dubiously constructed debate inclusion criteria—the Iowa caucus was unable to declare a winner due to a “coding error” in a new app being used to report the results. It took a week to finally get results.
With an entire nation watching Iowa, the Democratic Party had their chance to show that all the changes they’ve made since 2016 had made them better. Instead, they utterly failed to deliver. A good chunk of the blame belongs to the Iowa Democratic Party, whose decision to use an app seems questionable at best. The conspiracy theories about Pete Buttigieg’s campaign rigging the app will likely never go away, considering people still bring up the 2016 primary being rigged in Hillary Clinton’s favor.
Whether or not this disaster is on the Iowa Democratic Party or the Buttigieg campaign, the blame will fall squarely on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), fair or not. We haven’t even gotten to Super Tuesday and the DNC is once again a focal point in their presidential nominating process.
Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The DNC made wholesale changes after 2016, electing former Labor Secretary Tom Perez as their new chair then selecting runner-up Keith Ellison as deputy chair to unite the progressive and moderate wings of the party.
That lasted all of two seconds, and the painstakingly early start date of the primary only heated up those divisions. It’s poetic considering the party’s long history of failing to deliver on their promises. Remember that Blue Wave™ that was supposed to win back Congress in the 2018 midterms and render Donald Trump powerless, or when Barack Obama was going to end the wars overseas and close Guantanamo Bay?
Of course, the Obama presidency dealt a serious blow to the DNC. Obama’s approach to entitlements, among other things, gutted the Democratic Party’s core principles and gave birth to the infighting that now plagues the party. Even Obama’s victory in 2008 didn’t help much: the Democrats lost the House of Representatives two years later, and lost the Senate four years after that.
Since Obama left office, what’s he done to help the DNC? Aside from potentially steering the party away from a Bernie Sanders nomination, Obama has mostly become a historical myth, referenced here and there as if he were a liberal version of John Galt.
But this goes beyond Obama, as the party hasn’t had any real stronghold on the federal government since the Bill Clinton days. Clinton’s “third way” of politics that made him so favorable in the ’90s would be derided as much as Joe Biden is in today’s Democratic Party. After the party tried and failed to simply ride the Clinton wave by running his aggressively boring vice president in 2000, they gradually embraced a more radical (later rebranded as progressive) platform.
However, the logistics side of the operation didn’t follow along, and the blame for that must be laid at the feet of DNC leadership both past and present. Amidst embarrassing fundraising numbers and a lack of oversight on the app installation in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus, there are deserved charges of ineffective leadership at the top. Perhaps this is what happens when your chair can’t stop swearing in public and your deputy chair gets accused of beating his ex-girlfriend.
Yet the DNC had these problems before Perez and Ellison were in charge. The extremely inappropriate way Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and her team handled the 2016 primary is precisely why Democrats sought the allegedly new vision Perez promised. After all, who better to infuse a party with fresh, innovative ideas than a guy who’s been involved in specifically Democratic politics for 17 years?
This may go beyond just Perez and his team, and maybe it’s got more to do with the Democratic Party’s inability to connect their big ideas with the strategy and infrastructure it takes to make those ideas a reality. We see this with most of the candidates running for president: no single candidate has proposed a detailed plan to implement Medicare for All that doesn’t leave the United States in even more debt than we already are. Beto O’Rourke (remember him?) infamously struggled to explain his plan to buy back all the guns.
Between the aforementioned struggles to raise money and the inability to properly spend the money they do raise (see: Jon Ossoff), the DNC has a very clear conundrum on their hands. They have what they think to be winning ideas, but lack a winning strategy, which is more important. If having the best ideas was all it took to win an election, Ron Paul would have won the Republican nomination in 2012. But it’s about strategy, which Paul lacked and Mitt Romney possessed.
Just look at the Republican Party, which has retained their stronghold in Washington despite holding onto some laughably outdated policies. They’ve done this through well-organized campaigns that get people in on the ground floor, whether it’s promoting candidates or ballot initiatives.
While some Democratic voters simply wave this off by saying “That’s what happens when you have shady Koch money!” they ignore the fact that the Democratic Party has had access to similar levels of money from the likes of George Soros, Tom Steyer, and Mike Bloomberg (and, for a time, Trump). Yet, much like the platforms of the candidates running in the primary, the DNC burned through all this money with no concrete plan and as a result found some victories sprinkled in with even more losses.
For a Democratic Party that’s been gradually shifting their platform every year this century without any accompanying infrastructure to achieve those goals, the incompetence has torn them apart from the inside. This debacle in Iowa is merely the freshest, most visible example of such. While it likely won’t have any direct effects on later primaries and caucuses, this unmitigated disaster has cast a dark cloud on the entire primary process.