Iowa is an interesting primary state because it bucks conventional wisdom regularly. The ‘what will Iowa do?’ question is worth asking simply because it is far from clear what Iowa will do. This year I called the Republican primary for Santorum. How close I was! But my prognostication was not a result of some deep, unique sense of the Iowa voter formed by my nine month stint at Grinnell College (Grinnell, IA) over a decade ago. Rather, it was one of those ‘call an improbable outcome where your call is inconsequential, and if you happen to be right then you win brownie points with the two and a half people who listen to you’ kind of calls.
As is most often the case, bucking conventional wisdom does not mean the outcome is irrational. Ex-post, the results are clearly explainable. Iowa constantly exposes the poor judgment of the chattering classes. This constant revelation is also a testimony to the power of the chattering classes – they can repeatedly say the same banal stuff over and over again, constrained only by the quadrennial timing of American elections, and still maintain center stage.
The Iowa primaries are being post-mortemed to death with rather clear cut explanations for the outcomes. One question I haven’t heard asked which I would love an answer to is, “Who were the 12604 (approximately 10% of the votes cast) primary voters in the Republican caucuses who voted for Perry?”
It is easy to explain why people voted for Romney (electable and moderate), Santorum (values and connected at grassroots), Paul (Libertarian, anti-war, abolish the FED, crazy in a cute way), Gingrich (well known, apparently bright, good debater), Bachmann (woman, born in Iowa, Christian values), or did not vote for Huntsman (who?). When it comes to Perry, what were they thinking? – Let’s cast our vote for someone who was going to be the Tea Party, Religious Right challenger to Mitt Romney, who entered the race late with a lot of money (a combination which gives him less time to goof up, and enough resources to beat the other guy up badly) and who stumbled so quickly and so well that even the Lord (do not take his name in vain) would not have a chance in making his bid credible, let alone make him victorious. And it isn’t as if Perry took principled or unique stances where a vote for one of the other candidates would not have given voters a chance to channel what was deeply important to them at the ballot box.
What I am suggesting is, whatever your reasonable motivation might have been (electoral pragmatism, ideology, religious fervor, making a social or cultural point) there was a more viable candidate than Perry in Iowa. Yet he got 10% of the vote. Even a conspiratorial explanation like the Independents were trying to mess it up for the Republicans does not hold up – imagine the chaos if Santorum (best substitute for any Perry voter) had beaten Romney by 10%! The best explanation I can suggest is that a lot of people in Iowa love Texas.
There is one piece of good news that comes out of this for folks who might be contemplating a run for office. There are people who may vote for you even if there isn’t a good reason to do so. Maybe that’s what’s motivating one of my former professors, Laurence Kotlikoff to run for President! No kidding!!