Iowa offers lessons for North Carolina

The states of Iowa and North Carolina have at least two things in common. First, they are the nation’s top producers of hogs. Second, they are often overrun with politicians desperate to attract attention and votes.

But I repeat myself.

Now that we know the results of the Iowa caucuses, the 2016 political landscape is much clearer. Those seeking office or running campaigns in North Carolina would be well advised to look to Iowa, another purple state, for lessons about the press, the polls, and the parties.

For starters, reporters and commentators are only as insightful as their sources. Many rules of thumb about the Iowa caucus turned out to be wrong. Although the press is sometime scammed by spinmeisters, the truth is that the “experts” are often guessing. Presidential elections are relatively rare events. There aren’t a lot of data points from which to draw valid conclusions.

As for polls, Iowa demonstrated once again that you should read them as snapshots, not as ironclad predictions. Ted Cruz upended Donald Trump, for example, because he got his vote out and Trump didn’t. Also, the undecided vote can’t remain undecided on Election Day. Just as Thom Tillis beat Kay Hagan in 2014 due to late deciders breaking his way, Marco Rubio beat expectations in Iowa because he won a disproportionate share of voters making up their minds in the final 48 hours — after the last polls were taken.

Finally, the two major parties are closely divided, if not bitterly so. On the Democratic side, the divide is between a transactional faction exemplified by Bill and Hillary Clinton and a transformational faction exemplified by Bernie Sanders. The Clintons want to steer the country further to the Left, no question about it. But they are willing to do so gradually if need be, negotiating side deals or playing hardball as necessary to eliminate obstacles. The Sanders faction is a mix of secular elites, Occupy radicals, college kids, organized labor, civil right activists, and various single-issue voters. What they have in common is a disdain for both the pragmatism and the ethics of the Clintons.

To transactional Democrats, nominating a socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union would be a disaster. To transformational Democrats, nominating an untrustworthy Clinton with ties to Wall Street and foreign strongmen would be distasteful and disappointing. In the end, assuming no criminal indictment, this intra-party conflict will probably be resolved in the favor of the Clintons. In Iowa, however, it produced just 23 delegates for Clinton and 21 for Sanders.

On the Republican side, Cruz (8 delegates), Trump (7), and Rubio (7) dominated the Iowa balloting. They represent a different kind of intra-party divide, a disagreement about the role of conservatism in the GOP. The Cruz argument is that there are enough ideological conservatives in the country to elect a Republican president. Past candidates have failed to mobilize them, Cruz says. He will.

Trump doesn’t think there are enough conservatives in today’s electorate to form a winning coalition. So he mixes conservative positions on some issues (such as immigration) with moderate to liberal positions on others (such as health care, entitlements, and property rights), and then stirs in generous amounts of patriotic fervor and entertainment.

Rubio agrees with Trump about the electoral math but disagrees about the solution to the problem. He seeks to attract new voters not just to the Republican Party but to conservatism itself, by making the case that it offers better solutions to such problems as economic stagnation and the rising cost of education and health care. Rubio wants to persuade. Cruz wants to mobilize. Trump wants to cut a deal.

In our state, the two political parties exhibit similar stresses. Democrats are divided about the proper mix of pragmatism and liberal orthodoxy it will take to compete with the ruling GOP. Republicans, in turn, disagree about how best to apply conservative principles to solve practical problems and expand their electoral coalition.

See, Iowa and North Carolina have more in common than just hogs.

John Locke Foundation chairman John Hood is the author of Catalyst: Jim Martin and the Rise of North Carolina Republicans.
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