Iowa Was Meaningless

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ImagePete Buttigieg and a reporter aboard the Sky Glider at the Iowa State Fair last August.

Credit…John Locher/Associated Press

We spent countless hours reporting about how Iowa’s Democratic electorate longed for a younger, fresh-face candidate who could usher in generational change. We found out which campaigns had the strongest ground game. We walked readers through the state’s byzantine caucus process. Our colleagues chronicled local supporters’ lament that there was “no excitement” around Joe Biden’s campaign.

All of those things were important because of the belief that a winning performance in Iowa can catapult an underdog candidate to the White House. But that has happened only twice — for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008. Iowa’s power now lies in its nostalgia, while the Democratic electorate has become far more diverse than the caucusgoers candidates encounter in Iowa.

In the end, the race in Iowa this year was a contest to see who could become president of Iowa. Pete Buttigieg narrowly won, but we didn’t find out the results until after the epic fiasco that was the caucus counting process.

The things that mattered in Iowa — excitement, organization, money spent on TV ads, crowd sizes for town hall meetings — had next to no bearing on who eventually won the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr. Biden, with Bernie Sanders dropping out yesterday, will be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee against President Trump this fall. He never had the most money, never had the biggest crowds and never had much buzz.

We weren’t blind to this fact — and neither was Iowa’s nearly all-white electorate. Elizabeth Warren, on her first trip to the state in January 2019, spoke eloquently and in depth about racial disparities to crowds that had never experienced them. My Times colleague Astead Herndon wrote about how white guilt shaped Iowa Democrats’ feelings about the candidates. And there was plenty of coverage about how Mr. Buttigieg, who bet his campaign on winning Iowa, never got much traction with black audiences.

So what was the point of all of those pork tenderloins and Ferris wheel rides? Iowa did cull the field a little bit. Onetime top-tier candidates like Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris dropped out when their message failed to resonate with Iowans. We learned that Mr. Sanders wouldn’t change his ways to broaden his appeal beyond his liberal base. And we learned from Mr. Biden that there would be no malarkey on his 2020 campaign.

Turns out, while the Democratic Party has shifted left on policy over the last 12 years, how to win the presidential nomination hasn’t changed all that much. Next time around, we’ll find out if candidates and the reporters who follow them spend more of their time focused on the voting bloc that can best power them to the White House.

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How well has President Trump responded to the coronavirus crisis? Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and former U.N. ambassador under Mr. Trump, says that’s not the only question to ask.

Governors should take the lead, she suggests, not spend their time complaining about the president. “We should not lose sight of the essential role that states and governors must play,” Ms. Haley argues in an Op-Ed.

But Susan Rice, a former national security adviser and U.N. ambassador under President Barack Obama, writes that the Trump administration is, in large part, to blame for a botched response to the pandemic.

“President Trump spent weeks playing down Covid-19, comparing it to the flu,” Ms. Rice says, adding that “the Trump administration shelved the war plan, or pandemic ‘playbook,’ prepared by the Obama administration.” To cover for this, Mr. Trump now “falsely blames his predecessor, impeachment, governors, health care workers and China for his failure to engage the battle early and effectively.”

Agreeing with Ms. Rice, the Times columnist Frank Bruni offers this assessment of Mr. Trump: “He’s not rising to the challenge before him, not even a millimeter. He’s shriveling into nothingness.”

Evaluating those who have risen to the challenge of this crisis, Farhad Manjoo says that “two Republican governors, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Larry Hogan of Maryland, were among those leading,” along with two Democratic governors, Gavin Newsom of California and Jay Inslee of Washington.

— Adam Rubenstein

This Zoom gathering of canine college sports mascots looks way better than any of the virtual meetings I’ve been on during the last month. My question: How did they get all those good dogs to sit still at the same time?

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