2020

The Real Truth the Iowa Caucuses Don’t Want You to Know!

There's no Pepe Silvia? This is big.
February 7, 2020
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I have a very simple maxim that I share with non-political friends who ask me to explain what I think is happening behind the scenes in any given political scandal:

When in doubt, it’s VEEP, not House of Cards.

Human nature leads us to resist this maxim. To desire a reality where things turn out badly only because there’s an evil genius behind the curtain. There’s something comforting about the idea order would exist if not for the evil genius—and anyway, that if you’re genius enough, evil or not, the world is rational enough that you can pull its strings.

But that’s not reality. And it sure as heck isn’t our political reality. There is no Kevin Spacey behind that curtain. There’s just Gary and Selina and Jonah, bumbling their way to the White House.

Podcast
Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng on Sinking in the Swamp.

The problem is that there are three contingents which work together to argue against reality.

First, there’s a media environment that doesn’t just push back against the VEEP reality—it nurtures and feeds the House of Cards view. Then there are the bad actors who always prey on the human inclination towards conspiracy. Because it works. People want to believe and if you’re selling conspiracy theories, there’s always going to be a group of people eager to buy them. Finally there are the true believers, who get some sort of emotional payoff from wrapping themselves in conspiracy theories, either because they feel the need to blame someone or the need to believe that the world isn’t random.

These three contingents were on full display this last week as the Iowa Democratic party did literally everything wrong in their effort to clean up the plus-sized homunculus Jonah Ryan bumblefuck that they made of their caucuses.


To those of us well-versed in the VEEP-not-House of Cards theory, it was abundantly clear what happened this week.

The app makers screwed up and tried to use a croissant as a dildo. It didn’t do the job and it made a mess.

But it wasn’t just the app! The volunteers at precincts who were asked to report multiple numbers and complete complicated SDE math equations amidst the chaos misreported data to an overwhelmed party headquarters.

Also, 4chan trouble makers compounded the problem.

And then Iowa Democratic party leaders screwed up (1) the oversight of the process; (2), communication about the situation; and (3) fixing the common core math errors that still persist.

Not great, Bob.

But out there—in the progressive Twitter news cul-de-sacs—the VEEP explanation was just a bit too pat. No—these guys didn’t just execute a political butt fumble for the ages. There must’ve been something else happening. At this level, “screw ups” are always just the cover story for dirty pool.

In this world, the Iowa Democratic party poobahs are diabolical geniuses out to get Bernie Sanders—not flawed human beings who didn’t know as much as they should have known and whose process faltered before cascading out of control. No, no, no.

These party bigwigs knew Bernie was going to win the caucuses in a landslide. So they only had one choice: sabotage the process.

And then, rather than pin the sabatoge on some other outside force, these geniuses decided to blow up their careers, their reputations, and the consulting cash gravy train that rolls into town every four years, by making themselves look as incompetent as possible. It’s the double-bluff! By making it look like they gakked it by accident, no one would ever realize that they gakked it on purpose.

Chairman of the Iowa Democratic party. Probably.

There are as many theories of how the Evil Plan was supposed to work as there are rose avatars, so I wanted to give you a guided a tour through some of my favorites.

This first came to my attention in a thread by @LuluFriesdat. Lulu has a group called Smartelections.US which is dedicated to “ensure accurate vote count.” Which is good news!

Except there there’s also some bad news: The people watching the watchers are also incompetent.

SmartElections.US reviewed various caucus worksheets and found a series of what they called #RoundingErrors that always redounded to the benefit of @PeteButtigieg.

When I first encountered it, the thread had over 7,500 likes, none of which were by “mainstream” political reporters or entities. I have to admit that at first blush I thought to myself, “oh gosh did they really screw up the rounding too?”

After thinking about it for 7 seconds it became clear how absurd it was to claim that the same Iowa Democratic party staff who botched the count also hatched an Office Space decimal point scheme where caucus goers were systematically dispersed across the state to intentionally round incorrectly to benefit one candidate. Sure enough, the Smartelections.US just didn’t understand the caucus rounding policy. But the truth got ever-so-slightly-less #engagement.

But I’ll always be grateful to @Lulu for introducing me to this rabbit hole, which led to thousands of #MayorCheat tweets (this hashtag trended on Monday night, despite the dearth of evidence of cheating) and into more mainstream journalism galaxy-brain takes on the potential for a corn fed cover-up.

The most common theory was that Mayor Pete was somehow behind the app, Shadow, which the IDP contracted to report counts from caucus sites. If you look at the replies to any of the viral tweets about the caucus, you will see this image of an expenditure from the Buttigieg campaign to Shadow for a service. The absolutely-not-pro-Sanders news outlet the Intercept reported (incorrectly) that Buttigieg was the only campaign with ties to the company. Not true: Biden and Klobuchar also contracted for services with Shadow. The Intercept also shared tweets claiming “they’re trying to steal this.”

The question of why Buttigieg—that sly little boy from McKinsey—would leave such a blatant paper trail between himself and the company that was the lynchpin of his plan to rig the caucus is never raised, let alone answered. (Maybe it’s another double-bluff? Leave evidence linking you to the crime so that no one will ever suspect you of committing it!)

There were also rampant claims that Sanders had spies recording key precincts who could prove that the results were rigged. (This did not turn out to be the case). Verified accounts claimed that there was a coup underway and that the DNC hired a disinformation team to counter attempts to get to the truth. Trump allies got in on the fun and stirred the pot claiming the DNC had rigged the caucus.

The online magazine Outline saw this discussion going on and dropped an article that should’ve been titled: “Mayor Cheat: Hold My Beer.” Instead they went with: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they didn’t rig the Iowa Caucus.”

Five grafs in—after offering a perfunctory list of potential dots that could be connected—comes the epic nut graf.

It is not unreasonable to wonder, in an event like this, if the outcome was to any extent deliberate, perhaps arranged by some secret coterie of Buttigieg operatives. This is, after all, a man who worked for a company that was fixing bread prices.

This 247-character miracle has it all: The “I’m just asking questions” preamble. A secret coterie of operatives. A Canadian bread price shout out.

Well I’ve got a warning for you, Zoe Barnes, if you ever find yourself on a Metro platform with Mayor Pete, stay a few steps away from the edge. You have no idea what this monster is capable of!

What evidence follows the astonishingly serious not-quite-an-allegation that a presidential candidate rigged the vote count in the lead-off caucus?

Uh, none.

Instead the author launches into a treatise on the meaning of conspiracies, an adominition against Russiagate conspirators, a discussion of queer theory, a thought provoking Noam Chomsky anecdote, and an aside about how Pizzagate was basically true, so long as you didn’t get bogged down in the particulars.

Woo boy.

This is just a taste of what we have in store for us in the coming months. An unyielding shit-storm of amateur sleths, liars, con-men, and kool-aid drinkers on the edges of the ideological spectrum further eroding any faith in our democracy by grabbing at any string that looks like it might finally unmask the secret powers working against them.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is a contributor to The Bulwark and a communications consultant. He previously served as senior advisor to the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC, communications director for Jeb Bush, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.