Good & bad out of Iowa

Published 7:07 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Trump’s bluster didn’t win; Sanders’ did, virtually

The Iowa caucuses represented some of the worst in politics, such as big money substituting for big ideas, negative advertising saying more about the advertiser than the target and media concentration on the polls, the polls, the polls. But Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign and super PAC money did not work, the ads regularly crucifying Sen. Marco Rubio did not work and the polls were wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s also the case that Donald Trump’s buffoonery did not carry him to victory, which is not to say there was nothing bad that worked. Look, for instance, at Vermont’s 74-year-old socialist senator, Bernie Sanders.

He won on the Democratic side even though he lost by four-tenths of a percentage point. He gained electoral credibility because the outcome was in effect a tie with Hillary Clinton, whose primary and general election victories were once considered as inevitable as a sunrise. There’s a distance to go, things should ultimately look better for her, but in Iowa it seemed more like her sun was setting.

Her problems included moral malfunctions tracing back to her days in Arkansas. She has never let up. The lies mount, the disgraces mount, the classified email revelations mount. Will she be indicted? Probably not, but the threat’s there alongside such advantages as a hustling machine and her experience as a first lady, a senator and a secretary of state. Of course, she never achieved much and her policy proposals are partly stumbles contrived to match opinion polls even when they contradict positions she once embraced.

So Sanders did have the advantage of straightforward honesty. He is also a fanatical hate-monger. With anger written all over him, he would have you believe that evil creatures on Wall Street rule the country and is asking his willing supporters to exchange their freedom for freebies. He would turn half of what’s best about America upside down and lead us into a financial crisis that just could tower above the Great Depression. His intellectual supporters defend him by saying he could never achieve all his eerie promises. That’s the best they can do?

It’s still a hallelujah moment that Trump lost despite vulgarized marketing savvy appealing largely to people truly up against it. He has been clever in the way he has simplistically overstated his otherwise thoughtless positions but then outdid himself. He skipped a debate because he didn’t want to face a tough questioner, Megyn Kelley of Fox News, and Sen. Ted Cruz got off a good line: How was Trump going to deal with Vladimir Putin if he could not deal with her? Trump did give a gracious, surprisingly humble concession speech.

Cruz was the official GOP winner, partly, observers say, because he did the hard work of organizing get-out-the-vote squads. Another part was religious preachments that seemed more like strenuous efforts to win votes than simple statements of what he believed. That might strike some as a misuse of faith, but he did do particularly well in garnering support from evangelical Christians.

One of the best things about Cruz in Iowa was the way he stood up against the unjustified ethanol mandate beneficial to vast numbers in the state. While Trump gave it a supposedly politically profitable kiss, Cruz explained he was against all energy subsidies.

The unofficial GOP winner was Rubio. He came in a close third after second-place Trump. It’s still not quite a three-man race as some are saying, but Mike Huckabee has already suspended his effort and others could join him after New Hampshire.

Rubio seems likely to get many of those who would vote for them. His election-night speech was impressive — saying the nation is facing a referendum on whether we are going to do our part in uplifting our greatness or watch it decline. His appeal to those hit hard by economic and other changes was optimistic and positive, many steps above the phony, the unworkable and the hateful.

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.