Early State Insiders Say: “Me-Me-Me”

Since I said snarky things about Politico in the last post, let’s give the devil his due: one thing Politico does really, really well is regularly weighing the views of Insiders (yes, they actually call them that, though collectively they are known as the Politico Caucus) in the first two presidential nominating states. Today’s topic of discussion with them from James Hohmann is why Jeb Bush did poorly in the recent Quinnipiac Poll of Iowa (you know, the same one that showed Scott Walker losing a catastrophic four points since February), and what he should do about it.

Here’s the big shocker: Iowa Insiders–every single one of them–think Jeb needs to spend a lot more time in Iowa! And here’s another shocker: half of New Hampshire Insiders think Bush should skip Iowa–which picks corn, not presidents, yuk yuk yuk–altogether and just focus obsessively on–you guessed it!–New Hampshire.

I know I’m sometimes a crank on this subject, but it’s amazing how often big smart well-paid political observers do not remember that the power of the early states in the presidential nominating process is heavily, heavily attributable to the determination of their political leaders and activists to keep themselves at the center of attention with promises and threats that invariably outweigh anybody else’s efforts to cut other states in on the action or design a more rational nominating process from scratch. This is not just a matter of ego or pride for these people; it’s how both parties in both states finance their operations, and it’s a bipartisan economic development issue for state government and regular folks.

This should matter to political observers because you have to parse everything you hear from the early states via this consideration. That was true when a lot of pundits were hearing dire threats to Hillary Clinton’s nomination from Iowa activists who really just wanted her to show up and spend money (if that took a seriously competitive Caucus, so be it) and Keep Iowa Relevant, and it’s true now when people in IA and NH are competing for Jeb Bush’s reportedly immense bag of money.

In the grand moral calculus of American politics, the self-referential nature of people in the early states isn’t all that bad, and they do have a level of political engagement that others should envy. But you do have to pay attention to it if you want to understand what’s going on in presidential nominating contests.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.