By Newt Gingrich
I first got engaged in the Iowa Caucus when I was supporting Jack Kemp for President in the 1987-1988 campaign. I personally ran in the Iowa Caucus in 2012 as part of my Presidential campaign. Callista and I crisscrossed the state for months (helped by the fact that she had gone to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa). We both know how volatile and rapidly changing the Iowa Caucus can be.
Because Iowa has a caucus rather than a primary, the ability to get committed supporters to go out on a particular evening and spend several hours talking and voting is key. It really favors those with strong, devoted advocates. It also favors those who catch a wave at the last minute and surge by attracting all the undecided voters, who are not comfortable with other candidates.
I don’t know who will win the Democratic Iowa Caucus next Monday night. As an historian, I will analyze the results after the fact.
However, my guess is that Bernie Sanders is the most likely winner. He ran well four years ago. He has a base of incredibly dedicated supporters. He has also built a small-donor money machine, which makes him the second-best financed candidate in the Democratic race. (Only Mike Bloomberg will have more money than Bernie among the Democrats.)
Furthermore, the surprising collapse of Elizabeth Warren has shifted many of her supporters to Senator Sanders – the other true left-wing candidate.
The potential of Sanders to win Iowa, and the fact that he is even further ahead in New Hampshire (neighbor to his home state of Vermont), means that the Socialist candidate could clearly be the front runner in the next few weeks.
Sanders’s strength is being bolstered by Vice President Joe Biden’s weakness. The more Biden campaigns, the weirder he gets. The longer the campaign goes on, the more stories by Peter Schweizer and others shed light onto Biden’s family’s finances. This takes a toll on his chances.
If Biden comes in third or fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire, his role as a front runner will be over.
The two most likely candidates to fill the vacuum left by a Biden collapse are Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar. However, each has suddenly developed some challenges.
Mayor Pete has been haunted for the last two months by his inability to attract African American voters. This has now been compounded by his use of the term “Heartland” to describe his vision for America – which has been interpreted by some as a concealed racist (or at a minimum thoughtless) appeal for the values of the white Midwest.
Senator Klobuchar is suddenly grappling with fallout from a 2003 murder case she prosecuted before she ran for the Senate. Her gradually improving momentum may have been slowed or even stopped by the new controversy.
If Buttigieg and Klobuchar cannot fill a vacuum, then Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s billions of dollars may be the only thing standing between an avowed Socialist and the Democratic Party nomination.
So, we could have the spectacle of the anti-billionaire populist Sanders slugging it out with the elitist billionaire former Mayor of New York. This will guarantee an amazing Democratic Convention in Milwaukee in July.
If Sanders wins decisively, the convention will have a collection of the most radical speakers ever to appear at a major party convention – and the most radical platform ever adopted by a major party.
If Bloomberg can find enough establishment allies to stop Sanders, the billionaire will have virtually guaranteed a civil war within the party. The Sanders supporters already believe Hillary Clinton stole the nomination in 2016. If they now come to believe that a billionaire allied with the establishment (and a former Hillary supporter) was going to steal the nomination again, the Democratic Convention could rapidly come to resemble the 1968 and 1972 conventions. During those conventions, the party simply melted down and proved it could not govern itself – let alone the country.
So, I will be watching the Iowa returns Monday night – but I will be thinking of Milwaukee this summer.