The Iowa Caucus Is Trash And We Should Get Rid Of It

More like Bye-owa, caucus.

It was right around the time that news broke that certain Iowa precincts were determining which candidates were going to win delegates by virtue of a coin toss that I'd finally had enough, and decided it was time to throw the system by which Iowans determine presidential nominees into a dumpster, set it aflame, and push it out into East Okoboji Lake to disappear from our lives forever. The Iowa caucus: Let's do it, let's erase it from existence.

Lord knows this is only going to get a subset of Hawkeye State residents all up in my face, but enough's enough, you guys. The assignment of county convention delegates should not go down to uncertainty because of everyone's failure to plan for the possibility that there might be an even number of humans in a room.

And look, I know that the media really rode the coin toss story hard. As Pat Rynard of Iowa Starting Line opined the morning after, "It was particularly disheartening to see the national media run wild with the coin flip story." Well, you know, in our defense, we're not the ones who came up with this whole coin toss nonsense. We're not the ones who came up with any of this nonsense.

But between all the horse-trading, the different rules on both sides, the coin tosses, and the fact that a "handful" of precincts kept everyone waiting around Monday night because whoever was in charge forgot the official caucus abacus or something, it's time to take a good look at scrapping the caucuses, which bear a greater resemblance to a game of Calvinball than to an organized electoral process.

There are ancient criticisms of the Iowa caucus, of course, most of which have to do with the ways the state's voters are not representative of the rest of the country. Caucus-goers are too white, for example. They're too evangelical, on the GOP side. Everywhere, the state is too obsessed with ethanol.

Progress, at least, is being made on that last front. Ted Cruz's victory in the GOP caucus marks the "first time a candidate opposed strongly by the state’s ethanol industry came in first." In the homestretch of Hawkeye State politicking, Cruz looked like he might end up stumbling at the finish line after Gov. Terry Branstad called in the ethanol industry equivalent of a code red on the Texas senator. Donald Trump, sensing an opportunity, whacked Cruz hard on the issue. In the end, perhaps Cruz won because of the state's heavy evangelical tilt. Or maybe he won because Trump surrogate and word-salad tosser Sarah Palin made limp cracks about "huffing ethanol" before an unamused crowd of voters.

But who cares? The point is, the Iowa caucus is the only place in America where an election potentially hinges on the quadrennial obsession with a corn byproduct.

Really, who can say who won what and why? Sometime before the night's end, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, coasting to a high-performing third-place finish, came on stage and essentially delivered a victory speech. Normally, the only Americans who caterwaul on and on about their third-place finish are the upset winners of obscure Alpine events at the Winter Olympics, but there Rubio was, proclaiming, "This is the moment they said would never happen," about a thing that everyone was pretty sure was going to happen.

Now, all sorts of people are grousing about how Marco Rubio's gotten more love from the media for his third-place finish than either Cruz or Trump have gotten for beating him. Look, I am more sympathetic than most about the way goofy media narratives take hold in spite of actual facts, but let's face it: Part of the blame here goes to the fact that it's so easy to discount Iowa's results. "Oh, Cruz won Iowa? Well let's see if that holds up after we get the results from New Hampshire, the next wholly cloistered and unrepresentative voting cohort on the docket."

Over on the Democratic side, things ended in a genuine pileup, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders locked in what's essentially a tie. Here, if the media narrative skids into the goof zone, that's entirely on them. But this process is still pretty nonsensical. Besides the fact that a handful of contests went down to a round of "What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss, friend-o," the Democrats keep things pointlessly obscure. Unlike Republicans -- who at least count the number of votes cast for each candidate -- Democrats don't provide a count of the raw vote totals, only the number of delegates each candidate wins.

So, right now, I literally could not tell you how many human beings in Iowa opted for Clinton or how many went for Sanders. Which is dumb. Don't just take my word for it. When I asked HuffPost Pollster's Natalie Jackson why the Democrats do it this way, she said, "Because they're dumb."

And without raw vote totals, the delegates become all-important, and that's when you trip into the fact that there are county convention delegates (the coin-flip guys) and "State Delegate Equivalents," or SDEs, the total apportionment of which solely determine who was "won." (In this case, Clinton has 701 SDEs to Sanders' 697.)

Steve Kornacki on MSNBC Monday night got so tripped up over these distinctions that he had to come on the air after a commercial and apologize for boofing it. Steve Kornacki! A man so detail-oriented and knowledgeable that when I forget what my wife wanted for her birthday, I just direct message him on Twitter and he tells me. Any election whose vagaries trip Kornacki up is one that needs reforms.

Basically, if a horde of jumpy 10-year-olds made up the rules that governed their clubhouse, and also their budding pre-pubescence, it would probably end up making a lot more sense than the system Iowa is using to kick off what is always "the most important election in American history." It's just no way to run a country, even for one day in February every four years.

I understand that this caucus process occupies a special place in people's hearts. Ardent fans of this process will look at the way normal Americans come out of their homes, gather together, and work their way to a result as a community of citizens, and they'll remember that this really is the essence of democracy. And it actually is nice to be nostalgic for some old aspect of America that didn't involve the denial of somebody's civil rights.

Although, now that I think about it, the Iowa caucus basically excludes people who work nights (which cuts out a lot of working-class Iowans) and who have to take care of young children (which cuts out a lot of parents ... probably mostly women at that). So, sorry, Iowa caucus, you're boned in this respect as well.

Right about now is when someone pipes up about how I've talked about a problem without proposing any solutions. I don't know, man. We could trade around the "first in the nation" status every cycle to give other states a shot. We could just hold a nationwide single-day primary. Or, for Pete's sake, Iowa can just do that thing where citizens of voting age take a whole day to cast their votes in voting booths, we total the results, and call it a night with defined winners and losers, like most of the rest of us here in the 21st century do it.

Sorry if none of these suit your fancy, caucus fans, but when mom and dad tell you that there's no such thing as Santa Claus, it's not on them to make up some new magical Christmas man for you. It's on you to grow up and get on with the business of living an adult life.

Get it together, Iowa. You're blowing it.


Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast, "So, That Happened." Subscribe here. Listen to the latest episode below.

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