John and I have already expressed our disdain for the Iowa caucuses, but I thought I should do so once more, and do it while the outcome is in doubt for both parties, lest my views be attributed to the results.
I guess there could be a worse way to kick off the presidential selection process than having 100,000 or so Iowans (per party) weigh in following lengthy meetings, but it’s hard to imagine what that would be. As John put it:
The caucuses are basically an embarrassment, rewarding the extreme, the patient, the infinitely sub-divided sub-caucuses, and, above all, those with nothing else to do on a weeknight. Because the caucus system is superficially “democratic,” hardly anyone dares acknowledge how it empowers a few ill-chosen people to distort the electoral process.
Fortunately, the Iowa caucuses are overrated. For example, a Huckabee win will be meaningless unless he’s able to follow it up with a good showings in, say, South Carolina and Florida. Similarly, if Romney wins, he’ll still be perceived as in trouble if he loses in New Hampshire a few days later.
Nor is there any reason to believe that Iowa provides real momentum. New Hampshire voters have a well-earned reputation for independence and, as far as I can tell, resent the role of “upstart” Iowa. In the most hotly contested races over the past 25 years, New Hampshire has declined to follow Iowa’s lead more often than not. And after New Hampshire, hardly anyone remembers what happened in Iowa.
UPDATE: The Iowa caucuses have their defenders, of course, and they include folks who aren’t from Iowa. Michelle Malkin, for example, likes the emphasis the Iowa process places on “retail politics,” which prevents well-financed candidates from being able to “phone it in.”
But this is an argument against a national primary, not in favor of the Iowa caucuses. Voters would be able to see politicians up-close and under intense pressure if the campaign kicked off with a state primary. In this setting, as opposed to the Iowa process, a meaningful percentage of the state’s voters would partcipate.
In fact, voters would have the same opportunites to witness retail politics if the campaign kicked off with, say, three state primaries on the same day. If the states were diverse enough, every serious candidate would be compelled to lay it on the line right away, instead of sitting back as Rudy Giuliani is doing.