The results of the Iowa Caucuses were, on the Republican side, predictable: President Trump won overwhelming support from his GOP base. He received over 97 percent of the vote. A surer sign of the unanimity of Republicans heading into the 2020 election would be hard to imagine, especially given the high hopes Democrats had harbored for impeachment. The anticipated crackup of the Republican Party, along Trumpian fault lines, just never materialized. Never mind — some Democrats, gluttons for punishment, are already talking about impeaching the president again.
On the Democratic side, the results could hardly have been better — for Republicans. First, Iowa Democrats proved themselves incapable of running an election in the first place. It took them almost a day to tabulate even partial results. As a consequence, the candidates who appeared to be falling short, especially Joe Biden, immediately began casting into doubt the integrity and reliability of the election. Even the prospective winners, however, had reason to grumble, since their precious momentum had been stolen by the Democratic establishment's fumbling. Or was it fumbling? Could the extraordinary inefficiency in reporting results have been a ploy to shield Sleepy Joe from the consequences of his anemic performance? Rumors are swirling in Democratic circles, and tempers are fraying. The prospects for ugliness in the weeks ahead have never been greater.
Meanwhile, the horse race itself has become, if anything, even more muddled. Sanders did well in Iowa, as expected, but so did Elizabeth Warren, bringing her campaign back from the dead. Ergo, the “progressive lane” in the Democratic Party has not yet resolved itself into a Sanders lane, and that makes it problematic for Bernie to build up a head of steam heading into Nevada, South Carolina, and Super Tuesday.
Among the “moderates” running for president, Joe Biden flubbed in Iowa. While some polls predicted he would win, he actually finished fourth — and came perilously close to fifth place. For a national front-runner, this is a humiliation, although Biden put a brave face on it Monday night. (Brave — or oblivious?)
Pete Buttigieg can credibly claim to have won the Iowa Caucuses, and he certainly outperformed expectations. The latter can also be said of Amy Klobuchar, who ran neck-and-neck with Vice President Biden and breathed new life into her campaign.
The problem for Mayor Pete and Sen. Klobuchar, however, is that neither is showing much strength in national polls, and neither is well-positioned to win any of the upcoming contests. It's hard to see, therefore, how the “moderate lane” will narrow to a single candidate anytime soon. That gives the progressives — Sanders and Warren — room to hope.
The good news for Democrats, therefore, is that their massive field of two dozen candidates has effectively been winnowed down to just five (or six, if you count Mike Bloomberg).
The bad news, however, is far more compelling. None of the remaining viable candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are anywhere close to sealing the deal. All of them possess serious flaws, and most of them are repugnant to a sizable portion of the Democratic electorate.
Moreover, the process by which the Democratic nominee will be chosen is increasingly fraught with complications, causing doubt among many voters and activists about the integrity and fairness of the contest. Consequently, the vast potential for mutual recrimination and ideological fractures among Democrats has only begun to be realized. The bad old days of the Clinton-Sanders slugfest in 2016 may look mild when all is said and done in 2020.
Nor can we exclude the possibility that none of the current Democratic candidates for president will receive a majority of the pledged delegates at the Democratic convention. A brokered convention, and thus a protracted, bitter battle over the nomination, could ensue.
In short, the Democratic race for president is in a chaotic state, and hostility between the candidates, and between the different factions in the party, seems to be steadily on the rise. It is hard to conclude, in this environment, that any Democrat coming out of Iowa can be accurately described as a “winner”.
President Trump and Republicans, on the other hand, have never been stronger, in terms of organization, financing, and polling. They have survived the impeachment maelstrom and look set to sail majestically into calmer waters, just at the moment when Democrats are on the brink of a veritable civil war. Since politics is a zero-sum game, the challenges now faced by Democrats can only be regarded as opportunities, even as gifts, to the GOP.
In 2016, some analysts observed that only Hillary Clinton, a deeply flawed candidate, could have lost to Donald Trump, whose unfavorable ratings were in record-high territory.
In 2020, Trump's luck may be holding. Despite his consistently high disapproval numbers, he may be a cinch for re-election — simply because the Democrats are beating themselves.