This week is bracketed on both ends by a “Super Bowl,” the real one coming up in Santa Clara, Calif., between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers and the one we just witnessed in Iowa. The NFL game is a lot easier to understand, what with there being only two opponents and a final victory.
The Iowa contest, despite tons of publicity and seemingly endless buildup, is only the first polling in what remains a nine-month marathon to elect the next president of the United States. In fact, the politicking and the campaigning have been going on for the better part of a year already. Never mind the arguments over whether baseball or football is the national pastime. Based on airtime, print and social media, the answer to the question of which is the most popular spectator sport is clearly politics. It’s the only game that goes on for two years.
Politics also has its own way of scoring that defies logic. The results for the three main GOP contenders were Ted Cruz, 28 percent; Donald Trump, 24 percent; and third-placed Marco Rubio, 23 percent. Now if four points won a football game, we would call it a close game. So Cruz is the acknowledged winner at only a quarter of the total, and Trump is only a little behind. Yet everyone talks of Trump’s poor showing — except him. And Rubio is somehow congratulated for coming in even a whisker behind Trump. This is a game where absolute numbers don’t seem to count; it’s a contest of expectations. Better the pols should set themselves up the way they do on the stock market: Put out poor expectations of future earnings and when your results rise above that lowly level, the value of the stock goes up.
But we always knew the guys on Wall Street were smarter than the presidential aspirants. That’s why the politicians hate the market makers so much.
Anyway, back to the Iowa caucus. Besides being the first in the country, how important is it in history? The answer is tepid at best. In contested caucuses, where there was no sitting president running for re-election, Iowa Dems chose the eventual presidential nominee five out of eight times, according to the Des Moines Register. And twice that winner has gone on to become president: Barack Obama and, before him, Jimmy Carter — with a miniscule number of voters who showed up at the polls. In 1992, by the way, Bill Clinton finished fourth with only 3 percent of the caucus vote, and we all know what happened after that.
Iowa Republicans in contested elections chose the eventual nominee three out of six times. Twice that winner went on to the presidency: Gerald Ford and George W. Bush. In 1980, father George H. W. Bush beat Ronald Reagan in the Iowa caucus but Reagan went on to represent the GOP and then won the national election. In 1988 Bob Dole beat George H. W. Bush in Iowa but Bush went on to triumph, no thanks to Iowa. Maybe they would be better off if candidates hoped to lose Iowa.
As to the Dems, Hillary Clinton beat out Bernie Sanders in a contest so close that different groups were flipping a coin to decide which candidate their representatives would support. Yes Clinton won, like a runner who wins a race by a fraction of a second, but her enthusiasm was nothing compared to that of Sanders, who considered his results fabulous. It’s the expectations thing again.
Better to leave this discussion of politics and talk about something noncontroversial that happened this week. In fact it probably is the biggest story of the week: the weather. Maybe we have El Niño to thank, but any time I can walk the dog in February wearing light clothes — on me, not him — I consider myself wonderfully lucky. I’m not going to go on about this because I don’t want to run the risk of hexing us, but I’ll take a winter where the temperature bounces around in the 40s and even flirts with 60s on a few days, and the blizzard comes on Saturday and Sunday. I’ll consider us in the Northeast the real winners this week.