The way Democrats run their Iowa caucuses is difficult to explain briefly, but the result Monday was clear. Within an hour of the beginning of the complicated process, the totals of the first-round voting began to be reported via social media, and from precinct after precinct came the same phrase: “Biden — not viable.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden has based his campaign on the argument that he’s the most “electable” Democratic candidate, but the voters of Iowa shot a torpedo through the hull of that argument. Due to a technical glitch that delayed the state Democratic Party’s counting process, we still don’t have official results. But by 10:30 p.m. Eastern time Monday, it became apparent to caucus-watchers that Biden was headed for a fourth-place finish in the Hawkeye State, behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Buttigieg’s strong second-place showing is a big story — the young mayor out-performed expectations — but Biden’s humiliating defeat is much bigger.
Remember that the reason House Democrats impeached President Trump was their claim that his July phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amounted to soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election. But if Biden has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination — if he is “not viable,” as so many Iowa precincts reported Monday — then what harm was done by exposing the alleged Ukrainian corruption involving Biden’s son Hunter? Of course, the Senate will vote Wednesday to acquit Trump of these charges, but it now seems that the whole premise of the Ukraine “scandal” narrative might be moot. Trump doesn’t need “foreign interference” to beat Biden if Democrat voters in future primaries reject Biden as decisively as Iowa voters did.
The irony is that the impeachment may have hurt Biden worse than it did Trump, because for week after week, coverage of the impeachment story reminded voters that Hunter Biden got an $83,000-a-month gig with a Ukrainian natural gas company. That arrangement looked shady, and no amount of media spin (or huffy lectures from Adam Schiff) could make it look otherwise. For caucus-goers in Iowa who cared about integrity, the impeachment saga didn’t help Biden. Nor did Biden himself help his “electability” argument by his performances on the Iowa campaign trail. Already notorious for his gaffes, Biden was frequently incoherent in public appearances, looking and sounding every day of his 77 years. His campaign events in Iowa suffered from low turnout, and Biden’s audiences never showed anything like the enthusiasm that Sanders gets from his fanatical supporters.
The party’s bungled Iowa vote count lessens the impact of Biden’s defeat and allows cable-news network talking heads to explain that the Democrats’ problem is that Iowa is not representative — too white, not enough “diversity” — of the party at large. Meanwhile, conservatives were laughing at the vote-count fiasco, with blogger Stephen Green declaring of the Democrats: “Unfit to run a caucus in a high school gym, but they want to run the country.” The Sanders campaign, however, knows how to count votes. According to a tally compiled by their staff, the Iowa numbers were 29.7% for Sanders, 24.6% for Buttigieg, 21.2% for Warren, 12.4% for Biden, and 11% for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The fact that Biden barely edged out Klobuchar for fourth place in Iowa is a resounding death knell for the Democrats’ allegedly most “electable” candidate
Can Biden still win the Democratic nomination? Sanders supporters fear that once again the party establishment will somehow cheat their candidate out of the nomination, which they feel was stolen from them in 2016. It is a near-certainty that Biden will do no better than third place in next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, which is in Sanders’ and Warren’s backyard, and the next contest after that is the Nevada caucuses on February 22. Winning a caucus requires more intensive organizing as compared to a primary, where TV advertising can be decisive. Given how badly Biden was beaten in the Iowa caucus, it seems likely he’ll be 0-for-3 after Nevada, and no one could then credibly call him the “frontrunner.”
Biden’s best hope for rescuing his candidacy is to win the February 29 primary in South Carolina (where black voters are believed to be solidly in his favor) and then win big in the March 3 “Super Tuesday” primaries, where more than 1,300 delegates will be at stake. Even in that most optimistic scenario, however, Biden would still face an uphill battle, and even if he got the Democratic nomination, the party would be fractured, with Sanders’ supporters angry that they’d been cheated once again. It is nearly impossible to imagine Biden beating Trump in such a scenario. More probable is the verdict that came from precinct after precinct Monday night in Iowa: Joe Biden is simply “not viable.”