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The Informant! Caucus

I think the political culture’s gonna change a little bit for you, Iowa.
by Jim Swift
February 4, 2020
The Informant! Caucus

By the time you read this, we may or may not know who “won” the Iowa caucuses. Historically, it’s true that Iowa produces more electoral losers than winners, as the fun thing about Iowa is that their folksy political eccentricity requires that more than one person gets a biodegradable golden corn ticket out of Iowa. Only three caucus winners have gone on to be president (Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama).

Monday’s real winners, however, were not T, B, and D, but cable networks and advertisers like Linzess, a product that may “may help relieve symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation.”

If you step into a time machine—and perhaps Iowa should consider trying one; the tech might be more reliable than what they used Monday night—you wouldn’t have to go far back to reach a time when our television presenters, pundits, and experts wouldn’t lose their minds having to wait for hours for election results. God forbid their partially scripted kayfabe-fight night spiral out of control. And spiral it did, thanks to an app.

Reporting a few hours before the caucuses, Fortune said the “security through obscurity” rationale of this new app, which people only had hours to test, was this:

When Iowans caucus Monday evening for their preferred Democratic presidential nominee, party leaders will be encouraged to use a new smartphone app to tally and transmit results. The app will allow caucus managers, Democrats who run the caucus process in each of Iowa’s 1,678 precincts, to quickly report results back to the state for tabulation. But that’s about all party leaders in Iowa have said about the app: It exists.

It is reminiscent of The Informant!—a movie based on a true story about how Archer Daniels Midland, a major corn processor, was sullied by a lysine price-fixing scheme. In particular, a quote where protagonist / whistleblower / conman Mark Whitacre says “It’s all very scientific, but if you’re a stockholder, all that matters is corn goes in one end and profit comes out the other.”

That’s Iowa politics in a nutshell. And while very few of their voters turn out on caucus night (by design), all Iowans are stakeholders, in a way. Especially their political class. The Iowa caucuses are a big sham that we’ve put up with for far too long. Whoever designed this stupid failure of an app actually deserves our praise for finally lifting the veil. Because of the failure of the 2020 Iowa caucuses, the decades-long grift of Iowa whisperers might finally come to an end. Thank. God.

While the app failed, thankfully Iowa has back-up paper worksheets that look like a Common Core curriculum.

Collecting data from 1,678 sources? It’s not that hard. In 2012, Mitt Romney’s team tried to soup up the RNC’s Voter Vault database into a consultant’s wet dream called ORCA. They failed bigly. Trying, and failing, to measure data in real time on election day from 100,000+ polling places is understandably harder than what many Iowans do every year for their high school homecoming with a year’s preparation.

Supposedly “some time Tuesday” we’ll get better, more accurate, results. At which point those candidates deemed successful enough to move on will have a couple hours to bask in the glory of wasting a year in Iowa before going before a radically different voter base.

Was it worth it?

All the town fairs, the diner visits, the weird door-to-door questions, odd photo ops with tractors and pork loins, and millions of dollars in staffing costs, transportation, ads, and signage?

It’s all fun and games to suggest that Michael Bloomberg’s meh Super Bowl ad and laissez-faire strategy made no sense. But look at Monday’s Iowa shitshow and ask yourself: Do you think Mike Bloomberg is laughing right now? He is. And not just because corn is a major ingredient in Big Gulps.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.