Having inoculated myself early on to the possibility of Donald Trump winning Iowa’s six electoral votes, my reaction to his Nov. 8 victory in a close national election was more recoil than shock.
“Expect Iowa to award its six electoral votes to Donald Trump this cycle, contrary to the claims of prominent Iowa Democrats,” I wrote on Sept. 16.
I believed Hillary Clinton would win nationally based on conventional sources — polls, media analysis, progressive friends and family. Trump didn’t just win Iowa. He beat Clinton statewide by almost 10 points, attracting voters repulsed by his personal character but not wanting another Clinton in the White House. Trump won the voters that make Iowa a swing state.
My surprise in the result came from a failure to listen to my own experience.
“Low wage workers are everywhere in Iowa in significant numbers,” I wrote Sept. 15. “Based on my conversations with them, if they vote at all, they are just as likely to vote for Donald Trump as Hillary Clinton, whose name the corporate media associates with all things bad.”
As we now know, a majority of the people I described weren’t at all likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. I didn’t want to believe Trump could win and that distorted my perception.
The messaging from Republicans was direct, simple and effective.
“The American people have had enough of failed status quo policies which have left them less hopeful for our country’s future,” said Jeff Kaufmann, Republican Party of Iowa chair in an Aug. 10 press release. “They have had enough of serially dishonest, corrupt, and self-interested career politicians like the Clintons.”
Their candidate hammered this message home over and over in an effective social media campaign which, when combined with a national GOTV effort that worked with local parties, enabled Republicans to distract many Democrats while they networked with people early on.
What we thought we knew about politics proved to be outdated as conventional political wisdom was incinerated this cycle. If Democrats held a ground game advantage in 2006 and 2008, Iowa Republicans reached parity this cycle. Ground game is no longer a political advantage, it is a necessary tool. Ground game must be well executed for Democrats to maintain parity with Republicans.
Having competed with Jeff Kaufmann’s political organization on his home turf of Wilton and Cedar County in 2012, I believe the success of Republicans statewide is due mainly to his 2014 appointment as their party chair and broader application of tactics he has long used on the ground. Like with any competition, each game, each election is a result of training and performance. The level of expected ground game performance has been raised this cycle.
Experience tells me election day didn’t bring the end of politics as we know it. The body politic is ever changing, ever re-inventing itself, sometimes by design, sometimes by unintended consequences. Those of us who believe the framework of society is enduring also see an opportunity in the election results for positive change. After voting for Richard Nixon in 1960, Iowa elected Democrat Harold Hughes as governor.
After recoiling from the repugnant national election results my response is simple: confront bigotry, work to build positive community relations where I live, and resist the rollback of everything I’ve worked for.
These things can only be accomplished by joining together with others in common purpose. Or as Hillary Clinton said, we are stronger together.