Tails, You Lose

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on February 3, 2016

Tails, You Lose

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.

Tails, You Lose
The Des Moines Register is calling it:

With Des Moines precinct No. 42’s results, [Hillary] Clinton’s excruciatingly close lead narrowed further, making the final tally for delegate equivalents in the Democratic Iowa caucuses:

[Mrs.] Clinton: 699.57

[Bernie] Sanders: 697.77.

It quickly raised questions about whether Sanders had won the popular vote in Iowa.

Asked why he supported Mrs. Clinton, the 0.57 delegate said: “I’m not half the man I used to be.” He was exaggerating,but only slightly.

As to “whether Sanders had won the popular vote in Iowa,” that’s more or less unanswerable. Each caucus reports its results in “delegate equivalents,” not actual tallies of individual voters.

What’s more, it appears Mrs. Clinton’s victory over Sanders was a coin toss—or, to be completely literal, a series of coin tosses. An earlier Register story reported in detail on a dispute in Ames, where a “numerical discrepancy” produced an “orphan delegate”:

The Sanders campaign challenged the results and precinct leaders called a Democratic Party hot line set up to advise on such situations.

Party officials recommended they settle the dispute with a coin toss.

A Clinton supporter correctly called “heads” on a quarter flipped in the air, and Clinton received a fifth delegate.

Similar situations were reported elsewhere, including at a precinct in Des Moines, at another precinct in Des Moines, in Newton, in West Branch and in Davenport. In all five situations, Clinton won the toss.

That’s a total of six delegate equivalents allotted to Mrs. Clinton, supposedly at random. Given that the odds of winning six successive coin tosses are slightly over 1.5%, some suspected a fix. But Mitch Thompson uploaded video to YouTube of a Hardin Township toss that came up tails for Bernie. Among known tosses, then, Mrs. Clinton has a net gain of five delegate equivalents, more than double her lead of 1.8. Maybe there are unreported Sanders tosses that even things out, but at any rate the designation of one or the other candidate as the “winner” comes down to pure randomness.

Which won’t stop Mrs. Clinton’s supporters from insisting their woman won. Last night Peggy Noonan tweeted: “I’m sorry but a 50-50 race on Democratic side is not, if she wins, a Hillary win. This is a draw. The fight continues. No HRC validation.” Which prompted this response from Democratic strategist Donna Brazile: “Let’s not set new rules in the middle of the game. A win is a win. They will fight this out next week and beyond.”

Donna Brazile was not saying “a win is a win” in Florida in 2000, when George W. Bush really did have more votes than her man.

The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty notes that Mrs. Clinton was very well organized indeed:

[Mrs.] Clinton was determined not to repeat the mistakes of 2008, when her seeming inevitability melted in Iowa like a snowman in April.

This time, she accepted the state and its quirky caucus system on their own terms, building a formidable army of operatives and volunteers. Staffers at the Brooklyn headquarters were instructed to cater to the needs of state-level organizers.

The meticulous work proved crucial as [Mrs.] Clinton’s wide lead began to evaporate over the summer.

Her carefully assembled machine and a few lucky coin tosses were enough to give her only a hair’s-breadth victory over Sanders. And next week she is likely to lose New Hampshire, allowing him to declare himself the “comeback kid.”

After which—unless Sanders should show a hitherto undetected appeal among black voters—Mrs. Clinton will continue her drive toward the nomination. Her supporters are already grimly preparing Democrats to surrender to the inevitability of a nominee whose most recognizably human characteristic is her unfathomable corruption. The New York Times editorializes:

Mrs. Clinton, while exuding a great deal of fire and energy at a big rally on Sunday night near Des Moines, frames her candidacy much more cerebrally and pragmatically. She made rousing calls to protect women’s rights, on wage equality and on health care, but her primary pitch was that she has detailed ideas and the ability to make them happen. “I don’t think we can wait for ideas that sound good on paper but can’t get through the gridlock” in Washington, she said, in her most pointed but still oblique attack on Mr. Sanders.

Had you heard about the great deal of fire and energy she exuded on Sunday? We sure hadn’t.

The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky:

I thought her closing argument in Iowa wasn’t very compelling. These people poll the crap out of these things, so I suppose they were doing what they were doing for a reason, but “the other guy is selling you pie in the sky” isn’t exactly inspirational. She’s going to need to switch gears. General election voters may want to hear about experience and pragmatism. Primary voters want some pie in the sky. Especially at the very beginning of the process. . . .

[Mrs.] Clinton is being challenged exactly on her Achilles Heel. Her weakest point as a pol has always been her caution. So what does God send her? A guy who’s the most incautious candidate in recent Democratic primary history. “I’m the realist” isn’t going to win her this. She has to peddle a little pie of her own.

Or we suppose she could stay home and bake cookies like Tammy Wynette. The Times’s Frank Bruni:

She’s forever stressing what she’s put up with, what she’s survived. “I’ve been around a long time,” she said in Des Moines a week ago, answering—but not really—a young voter’s question about the dearth of enthusiasm for her. “They throw all this stuff at me, and I’m still standing.”

It’s the language of drudgery and duty rather than inspiration, and she can sound as if she’s collecting on an i.o.u. and asking voters to complete her trajectory rather than begin one of their own. . . .

Clinton needs to persuade voters that as much as they’ve seen of her, she can still lead them to a place they’ve not yet seen.

Though trust us, there are places you haven’t yet seen and don’t want to see.

On the Republican side, they actually do count votes, so the results are simple. So is the narrative: It’s now a “three-man race,” according to both Politico and National Journal. In this view, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum and even Jim Gilmore might as well just give up now.

The three top finishers were Ted Cruz at 28%, Donald Trump at 24% and Marco Rubio at 23%. The biggest surprise was Rubio’s strong showing, followed by the weakness of Trump, who’d been leading in some Iowa polls. Some commentators are already writing postmortems for Trump—“Dead Clown Walking,” reads the front-page dyslogy from the antic-left New York Daily News.

It seems to us that’s premature. Iowa is just about the only state where Trump hasn’t consistently led the polls since last summer; and his second-place showing was better than anyone would have expected until very recently. The Times’s Maggie Haberman notes that “Mr. Trump lacked a true get-out-the-vote operation in Iowa”—a lack of organization that diminishes his loss just as the impressiveness of Mrs. Clinton’s organization diminishes her victory.

Maybe the Trump bubble is bursting, but the real test will come next week in New Hampshire. In the meantime, he may have a backup plan. The International Business Times quote from his concession speech:

“Iowa, we love you,” Trump bellowed at his rally in West Des Moines. “In fact, I think I might come here and buy a farm. I love it!”

David Burge (who calls himself “Iowahawk,” though he lives in Texas) tweeted: “Trump says he wants to buy a farm in Iowa; wife says ‘New Yorlk is vere a vant to stay.’ ”

Is a reality-show remake of “Green Acres” such a crazy idea? Trump has the Eastern European wife, and Mike Huckabee, another candidate with TV experience, could audition for the part of Mr. Haney—though if Rubio wins the nomination, Ted Cruz might be an even better fit.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”