As Monday’s Democratic caucuses in Iowa drifted into Tuesday’s long search for a winner, the unfolding debacle evoked miserable memories:

• Ah yes, the 2000 presidential election, with Florida officials looking as flummoxed as Democratic Party officials did Monday night in Des Moines. The quest to identify a Florida victor – eventually Republican George W. Bush, by 537 voters – added the phrase “hanging chads” to the political lexicon: Remember those bitsy rectangles still attached to incompletely pierced holes on voters’ punch cards?

• For sports fans, Tuesday’s search for a Monday winner evoked “the long count” at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1927: World heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney survived being knocked to the mat in the seventh round because challenger Jack Dempsey didn’t quickly go to a neutral corner; after the referee’s long count, Tunney recovered and won the fight. Will Democrats be so fortunate?

• For superstitious Democrats, history’s touchstone is Feb. 3, 1959: Exactly 61 years before Monday’s caucuses was “The Day the Music Died”: Rock ‘n’ roll singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson, were killed when their small plane crashed into a frozen field near Clear Lake in north-central Iowa. Expect the national Democratic Party to form a blue ribbon panel to determine who scheduled this year’s caucuses on the anniversary of a tragedy that Iowans know well.


What went wrong with the counting? We can’t yet explain. Neither can officials of the Iowa Democratic Party. Phrases such as “technical problems,” “malfunctioning app” and “quality checks” won’t suffice.

Keep in mind that caucuses are party-run events, not state-run primary elections. So Republicans are crowing about Democratic incompetence. What will sting Democrats more than this embarrassment, though, is the image of a party in search of voter-validated front-runners, yet unable to parade Monday’s winner(s) before national TV audiences Monday night and Tuesday morning. Having bought in to the Iowa caucuses as the 2020 primary season’s first event, the national Democratic Party will have to explain why it didn’t have a better handle on gauging the outcome of a party function.

That challenge only grew greater with the Fox News report that the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security had offered to test the app for hacking before the caucuses, but the Democratic Party declined. Party officials retorted to that revelation with a statement that “in preparation for the caucuses, our systems were tested by independent cybersecurity consultants.” So much for blaming President Trump.

But the possibility of a Democratic circular firing squad is strong. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday: “I think the Democratic Caucus in Iowa is a quirky, quaint tradition, which should come to an end.”


That’s not likely. Iowans have been caucusing since statehood in 1846. It was Democrats who turned the caucuses into a national spectacle. We’ve explained that it wasn’t until South Dakota’s George McGovern and his campaign manager, Gary Hart, realized how, under new party protocols meant to make the nominating process more inclusive, the state’s 1972 caucuses could launch McGovern’s long-shot presidential bid that the Iowa caucuses rose to prominence. The McGovern campaign recruited many Iowans to participate, and convinced national political reporters to fly to Des Moines and cover the outcome. McGovern, finishing second, stole the show and headlines from front-runner Edmund Muskie. McGovern won the nomination but lost to Richard Nixon in November. In 1976, an obscure Georgian named Jimmy Carter repeated the feat by shocking the Democratic field in Iowa, but he went on to win it all.

So Iowans are likely to continue caucusing. After Monday night’s humiliation of the Democratic candidates, will the rest of us continue to care about future outcomes? To be determined.

Call this episode a debacle or a fiasco, but Iowa Dems hope you won’t call it a circus. Four of the seven Ringling brothers were born in the Mississippi River town of McGregor, Iowa, north of Dubuque. What little remains of the brothers’ empire is headquartered today in, yes, Florida.

That’s yet another bad Florida association for Iowa Democrats. Neither they nor the Ringlings’ descendants can boast of conducting The Greatest Show on Earth.

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