Ask yourself this: Why is it that we pay more attention to the comings and goings of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) than, say, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.)? They’re all Republican senators (you may not actually have known that about the latter two), all in their first terms. The reason is obvious: because Cruz and Paul are skilled legislators who have already written numerous consequential laws and will surely write many more in their careers.
No, I’m kidding. It’s because they’re going to run for president, of course. Not only does that make it potentially important to get to know them, it also makes anything they do that might have some connection to running for president — like going to Iowa — into an actual news event, even if it’s utterly devoid of meaningful content.
So today, Cruz is speaking to a meeting of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, a gathering that might have escaped your notice in years past. But the Associated Press wrote a story about it, noting that Cruz has actually been spending quite a bit of time among the Hawkeyes, more than any other potential presidential candidate. And look, there’s Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), also letting us know he’s in Iowa, no doubt to cement the longstanding ties between the two states, and hey, if you want to talk about what kind of a president or vice president he might be, he’s not going to stop you.
Yes, with at least eight months before the 2016 presidential campaign gets underway in earnest (once the 2014 midterms are done, the race will be on), there’s only so much to write about. So it’s as good a time as any for me to bring up one of my hobbyhorses: Do Iowans really deserve this?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve liked pretty much every Iowan I’ve known. But I’ll bet that Christian Home Educator groups in Oklahoma or New Mexico or Oregon would also like to have Cruz come to their party, give their hands a firm shake, look them in the eye and tell them how much he shares their values. But he probably won’t. It’s the Iowans who get showered with attention, praised and pleaded with and begged for their vote, treated like the kings and queens of American politics, which they sort of are. A couple of elections ago I wrote a column about this that holds up pretty well:
As you read this, some of the most important and powerful people in America are crawling through the Hawkeye State on their knees, pretending to know more than they do about corn, pretending that the deep fried Twinkie they had back at the state fair was just dee-licious, pretending that ethanol is the key to our energy future, and pretending that every precinct captain and PTA chair they meet is the very heart and soul of our nation, whose opinions the candidate is just dying to hear. And the good people of Iowa? They couldn’t give a rat’s ass.
If this is a typical election, somewhere between 6 and 10 percent of voting-eligible Iowans will bother to show up to a caucus. Yes, you read that right. Those vaunted Iowa voters are so concerned about the issues, so involved in the political process, so serious about their solemn deliberative responsibilities as guardians of the first-in-the-nation contest, that nine out of ten can’t manage to haul their butts down to the junior high on caucus night. One might protest that caucusing is hard — it requires hours of time and a complicated sequence of standing in corners, raising hands, and trading votes (here is an explanation of the ridiculousness). But so what? If ten presidential candidates personally came to your house to beg for your vote, wouldn’t you set aside an evening when decision time finally came?
That 6 to 10 percent figure is of the voting-eligible population in the state; by that measure, the 2012 caucus, in which there was only one competitive race, clocked in at 6.5 percent. If we’re generous and look only at Republican caucus-goers as a proportion of registered Republicans, 2012 saw a whopping 19 percent turnout.
Of course, by the time the caucuses are over, Iowans will tell you they’re tired of the attention, tired of the phone calls and direct mail and candidates knocking on their doors, and they just want it all to end. You can sympathize with that. But maybe we ought to give some other states a chance?