After posting his precinct’s results to Twitter and expressing frustration over the process, he agreed to talk with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the disorganization of Monday night.
Then, about a minute into chatting with Blitzer, the 37-year-old heard another voice on the call, one from the state’s Democratic Party, saying it was his turn to report the results from his precinct: two delegates each for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“This is a real coincidence, Wolf,” Sebastian told the anchor around 10 p.m. “I just got off hold just now, so I gotta get off the phone to report the results.”
Blitzer asked if they could listen in on the call and Sebastian obliged. As this was happening, a woman on the other end of the line was heard saying, “Hello? Hello?”
“Hi, hello?” Sebastian asked the official.
But it was too late.
“They hung up on me,” he said to Blitzer, laughing to himself at what had just happened. “They hung up on me. Okay, I’ve got to get back in line on hold.” Still in disbelief, he added, “They just hung up.”
Blitzer, whom some online blamed for Sebastian getting hung up on, was just as surprised. “So frustrating, indeed,” replied Blitzer, who was trending on Twitter into early Tuesday.
CNN put @shawnsebastian live on air after being on hold for AN HOUR AND A HALF with Iowa dems. They party *finally put him through* AND THEN THEY HUNG UP ON HIM WHILE HE WAS TALKING TO WOLF BLITZER LOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL #IowaCaucuses https://t.co/QOCKBxbt5n pic.twitter.com/U8JPCK3JIl— Brett Banditelli 🚫✂️ (@banditelli) February 4, 2020
Explaining afterward in Twitter messages to The Washington Post, Sebastian said: “Of course, the moment that I’m like — ‘Who knows how long this will take? Might as well talk to Wolf Blitzer’ — that’s the exact moment I get off hold.”
It was a fluke that Sebastian, a senior strategist for the grass-roots organizing network People’s Action, could not have envisioned playing out in front of millions of viewers.
“The whole experience was surreal, and I guess I didn’t act quick enough,” he said to The Post. “Just had to shake my head and get back on hold.”
He added, “I think tonight is the best argument there is to abolish the caucus.”
Before the “quality control delay,” as it was being called for much of Monday night, Sebastian said his day as caucus secretary in central Iowa had gone better than he could have imagined. Though he had caucused in 2004 and 2008, it was his first time as caucus secretary, a role, he said, he “was volun-told, because no one else wanted to do it.” The nervousness he felt at the start of the day evaporated once his caucus of 285 people started shortly after 7 p.m. in an elementary school gym.
“Everyone was polite, the numbers were posted for everyone to see, and there were no controversies,” Sebastian said. “It went about as smoothly as it could.”
That feeling didn’t last long. After he was told that a phone app created to enter the precinct results wasn’t working and he had begun cleaning up the gym, Sebastian said he was told by officials to call the caucus hotline. He returned home and got on Twitter to offer a breakdown of the delegates in his precinct, all while he was on hold.
So the formula to apportion delegates is the total numbers after 2nd alignment x (the total number of delegates) / (the total of people at the caucus).— Shawn Sebastian 🐺🐴 (@shawnsebastian) February 4, 2020
So these 2nd alignment numbers x 6 / 285
That rounds out to two delegates each. pic.twitter.com/00QkeQ9nS1
Soon, the whole thing went viral as a microcosm of the disorganization in Iowa. The video caught the attention of Matt Wolking, deputy director of communications for President Trump’s reelection campaign, who needled Sebastian for being “too busy chatting with Wolf Blitzer” to report the results.
Clare Malone, senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight, described the clip as “the best TV all night.” Others noted the comedic value of listening to an unlucky but avoidable situation.
“This might be the funniest thing I’ve ever watched,” one observer tweeted.
this might be the funniest thing I’ve ever watched.— Austin Huff (@AustinHuff) February 4, 2020
this poor guy had been waiting on hold for over an hour, does an interview with Wolf Blitzer, and in the middle of the interview, someone picks up... and, well, just watch. #IowaCaucuses pic.twitter.com/omsU7pCC20
About an hour after he was hung up on, Sebastian got through again shortly after 11 p.m. Given the different types of caucus data he had to relay to the Iowa Democratic Party, it took almost 20 minutes to report the results. “Starting to understand why I was on hold for so long,” he tweeted.
Sebastian remained frustrated early Tuesday with how the reporting process played out, noting that he “was just following the rules, and this is the outcome the rules got us.”
When asked about the chuckle he let out once he realized he had been hung up on, Sebastian said the reaction was all he could offer in a situation that had turned into “a mess.”
“You just have to laugh to stop from crying,” he admitted to The Post. “It’s just so absurd.”