February 1, 2016

Iowa and New Hampshire bring out the worst in American politics

By Ryan Hiles–

If you’ve been following the traveling circus that is the 2016 campaign trail, you’ve probably noticed the candidates doing some pandering that, even for national politics, seems pretty disingenuous.

Almost every major candidate for the 2016 presidential race is setting up shop in Iowa and New Hampshire. What’s so special about these quaint, charming states that compels some of the highest-elected officials in our land to meander around a cornfield double-fisting deep-fried pork-on-a-stick? Well, nothing really. Both states are homogeneous, agrarian and have a fairly strong libertarian streak.

The reason those candidates are there has nothing to do with any of that. Iowa and New Hampshire have the most important quality any state can possibly have if you’re running for president of these United States: they are early voting states.

How, you may ask, did these two states receive kingmaker status in American politics? The answer is less satisfying than you might expect. These two states are given this power, not by any regulated government body, but by the two major political parties. Part of this is tradition. New Hampshire has held the nation’s first primary since the 1920s. Another driving force behind keeping these primaries the way they are is the archaic amount of importance heaped upon what is referred to in campaigning as “retail politics.”

Retail politics is the idea that voters, in lieu of substantive policy discussion or debate, are drawn to candidates who humanize themselves by interacting with voters. Most voters will almost certainly never meet a presidential candidate, but retail politics is supposed to leave you with the impression that you’re getting to know them anyway. Who doesn’t want to see Ted Cruz wrestle a greased-up hog or Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley in a heated hatchet-throwing contest? But let’s consider the practical implications of allowing retail politics rule the day.

The problem in modern politics is there are no candid moments. Candidates practice every answer to every question until a meaningful, substantive policy question is swatted down with an arsenal of platitudes and clichés. Politicians, especially presidential candidates, shell out nonsense for a living—why would we expect them to be any more honest or authentic to an inquisitive hockey mom from Iowa than to a “New York Times” reporter in Manhattan?

This really comes back to the unjustifiable influence of early nominating states. In reality, a national primary voting day, very similar to what transpires on the first Tuesday of November, would be ideal. That would be a massive undertaking, so let’s at least make the case for not allowing such a ludicrously misleading process to continue.

Losing Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn’t be a nail in the coffin for a candidate’s campaign, just as it shouldn’t be a coronation for the winners. Remember—Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee won Iowa in the past, and they never received the Republican nomination.

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