Opinion: The 2020 caucuses were bad, but 2012 was even worse

Even if takes four days, the Iowa Democrats made the right move given the circumstances, unlike the Republicans in 2012.


Jacklyn Couppee

Republican caucus at West High, count up the votes for pricints 7, 8, and 9 on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012. Mitt Romney won, with 98 votes.

Jason O'Day, Columnist

The Iowa Democratic Party, led by Chairman Troy Price, has received a great deal of criticism than it actually deserves for its botched caucus job Monday night. 

As a staunchly conservative Republican, I don’t often defend Democrats when they screw up in such an epic fashion. However, Price and his team deserve praise for the prudent manner in which they handled the debacle.

Price was asked about the possibility of anything going wrong during an interview before the caucuses. His answer was painfully ironic.

“[This is] probably the most prepared we’ve ever been as a party for these caucuses,” Price pronounced on CBS This Morning. “We’ve run through a few different scenarios. But I can tell you, we’re ready.”

Price was roasted by comedian Trevor Noah, who asked how things would have been different if Iowa Democrats had not prepared at all. That’s a fair criticism. Clearly, the app they were using had not been through enough testing.

The caucuses are a weird system for state parties to determine their preferred presidential candidate. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., won the popular vote in Iowa, while former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the party-declared victor who won the most delegates. Both candidates, particularly Buttigieg, declared victory before the final results had been announced. 

Price may not have been nearly as prepared as he thought, but at least he learned from the mistakes of Republicans in 2012.

If Democrats think these caucuses were bad, it could’ve been much worse. Many reading this are probably too young to remember the 2012 Iowa GOP caucuses — the first time I was old enough to participate in a caucus. Unfortunately, I didn’t because I was dumb and unaware of the caucus date, then incredibly frustrated when I learned that my favorite candidate lost by a mere eight votes. 

But former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., didn’t actually lose the Iowa caucuses that year. Eight days after current Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, won New Hampshire, the Iowa Republican Party admitted it had “misallocated some votes, and simply lost some others.” Santorum actually won by 34 votes.

Beyond Iowa, Santorum’s campaign lacked the impressive organization of the Romney machine, so it’s unlikely he would’ve defeated Romney even if he had the momentum he deserved from his Iowa victory.

By 2016, I had become much more politically engaged, and volunteered as a caucus secretary at my Republican precinct in Scott County. I was shocked by the informality and haphazardness that continued to plague the process. Surrogates delivered two-minute speeches on their chosen candidate’s behalf. As one of the precinct captains, I delivered a speech on behalf of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. At the time I was oblivious to the optics problem there. Participants wrote their votes on small strips of paper, which we tallied up afterward.

Price may not have been nearly as prepared as he thought, but at least he learned from the mistakes of Republicans in 2012. The way he handled the ensuing chaos of an app meltdown deserves our state’s admiration. His insistence on accuracy before announcing results is a model for leaders in other states — and political parties.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.