Democrats' Realities Revealed in Iowa

Democrats' Realities Revealed in Iowa
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Voters keep sending the political class a message, and the political class continues to misread it.

It is as if the political class doesn't want to understand voters because doing so would threaten their presumed expertise (and, in turn, their careers and pocketbooks).

Analysis of Iowa's caucus results made clear that the Democratic Party has realigned: It is more cosmopolitan in academic circles, more socialist among the youth and aging baby-boomers, and more anti-establishment overall.

In short, it is left of left.

Yet the post-caucus coverage largely zeroed in on the personalities of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, not on a deeper examination of where their party stands.

The Democratic Party is a storied political organization with roots going back to Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Now, as it fractures and realigns before Americans' eyes, no one seems to be addressing the event.

Instead, much of the national media focuses on a fractured-party narrative for Republicans, who arguably are less divided but appear to be so on the surface because they have more candidates — and because of the media's obsession with Donald Trump, who has failed on numerous occasions to espouse traditional Republican tenets.

More candidates does not mean there are more factions of a party; it means there are (or were, until Iowa) 12 people who felt the call to run for president.

What seems more worthy of examination is the robust — sometimes vicious — Twitter war engaging thousands of Sanders and Clinton supporters over which Democrat is more progressive.

Polling taken as Democrats left Iowa precincts showed almost everyone who identified as liberal or very liberal (mostly those younger than 30 and male) went for Sanders; Clinton got the older, wealthier voters (older than 65, making more than $100,000), of which more identified themselves as moderate and female.

The future of the Democratic Party, a coalition built on the campaigning and policies of Barack Obama, is far to the left of its older voters, mostly New Deal Democrats and the remnants of Bill Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council.

In contrast, Republicans had a “normal” caucus in Iowa: The candidate with the most religiosity (Ted Cruz) was favored by an electorate that is 60 percent evangelical (contrasted to 20 percent nationally) — something they have done consistently for 16 years. The only thing abnormal — and quite good — for the party was that it had a historically high turnout.

Message and discipline prevailed, as always; Cruz now faces the curse of previous more-religious candidates in making his appeal broader.

What many observers overlooked about this first contest was that Republican caucus-goers, while angry and frustrated, still voted their values and beliefs. That outcome will differ from state to state — yet the party that was turned upside down in Iowa was Democrat, not Republican.

While Republicans have realigned in the past eight years, picking up discarded Democrats who have been thrown out of Obama's coalition, their resulting mess is simple compared with that of their Democrat cousins.

Republicans eventually will pick a very electable, traditional nominee, both in spite of and because of populism.

Remember, Republicans are the ones who won 913 state legislative seats, dozens of governors' mansions, and 69 congressional seats, largely on the backs of discarded Democrats turning out for Republicans in a series of off-year elections and midterms.

Republicans actually are pulled more toward a more-pragmatic middle, even as their more-conservative wings make the loudest noise about it.

Democrats, meanwhile, are going so far to the left that socialism not only has become normal, it has become accepted across the board as the true base of their party.

The Republican Party is not perfect, and it deserves the scrutiny and examination that the political class has given it.

Yet, remarkably, after the results in Iowa revealed the fissure in the Democratic Party, the political class continues to dismiss that fracture and persists with the narrative that the results were only about the personalities of Clinton and Sanders — and not about real-time party problems.

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at
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