The day after this week's Iowa caucuses offered a case study in the oddities of mainstream political analysis. I've been at this for a while, and even I spent much of the day shaking my head in disbelief.
If the buzz and hype are to believed, here's what we're supposed to believe: the Democrat who finished first in Iowa looked weak by winning, while her second-place rival looked impressive. The Republican who won wasn't particularly important -- even though he was expected to lose -- while the second-place finisher was the day's biggest "loser" and the candidate who finished third is taking a "victory lap," despite the lack of a victory.
For the punditocracy, all of this makes perfect sense.
There's no shortage of angles to this dynamic, but as the chatter grew louder yesterday, I found myself thinking more and more about Donald Trump's performance. MSNBC's Ali Vitali reported yesterday that the Republican spent the day complaining and licking his wounds.
Blaming the media for unfair coverage of what he called a "long-shot great finish" in the Hawkeye State, Trump began reminding people of an undercurrent that he said followed him throughout Iowa: He wasn't supposed to win there. Trump echoed the sentiment during his Monday night speech in Iowa, reiterating on Tuesday that it factored into his strategy on the trail.
"Because I was told I could not do well in Iowa, I spent very little there -- a fraction of Cruz and Rubio," he wrote.
Look, some elements of this are simply undeniable. When one candidate leads in every poll, and then that candidate loses, there's a letdown. As Rachel explained on the show last night, "That's how these things go. You raise expectations that you're going to win, and you don't, you get bad press."
But while I'm usually not sympathetic to Trump's arguments, it's worth kicking around a contrarian idea: maybe he did pretty well in the Iowa caucuses?
They're sometimes called "sleeper issues." Most Americans can easily name the key issues that define major elections -- the economy, foreign policy, national security, et al -- but occasionally an issue just outside the spotlight will make its way onto the agenda, connecting with voters in surprising ways.
And while 2016 is still getting underway, Hillary Clinton is pushing just such an issue: water.
For example, to her credit, the Democratic candidate recognized the importance of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, before other candidates -- and even many news organizations -- took note of the story. Yesterday, Clinton added Jackson, Mississippi, to her focus, as the Clarion Ledgerreported (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she's concerned about lead levels in Jackson's water and called for national infrastructure improvements. [...]
State health officials notified officials in Jackson on Thursday that 22% of water samples taken from city residents' homes in June contained excessive lead levels. City officials notified residents Thursday and Friday.
"I'm heartened that Jackson city officials are taking the right steps to fix the problem, including repeated testing and openness with the results, so families can stay informed,'' Clinton said in a statement. "As the emergency in Flint, Michigan, has made clear, cities and states must treat these situations with the utmost seriousness and do everything in their power to ensure that families -- especially children -- have access to safe, clean drinking water. We as a nation must make urgent investments to modernize our utilities and infrastructure, to keep families and communities safe and healthy."
Clinton has even introduced a new phrase into the lexicon: "environmental justice."
Rachel Maddow reports on results of the Iowa caucuses, both actual and apparent, and shows how the expectations set or challenged by what happens in Iowa can change the tone and direction of the entire presidential race. watch
Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan talks with Rachel Maddow about the FBI's investigation of the Flint water crisis and the disappointing list of witnesses expected at a Congressional hearing on the matter. watch
* Putin won't be happy with this: "President Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression in the region."
* Good call: "President Barack Obama will ask for more than $1 billion in the new budget to fight drug abuse and overdoses, which are at record highs in the U.S., the White House said Tuesday. Obama's budget request to Congress aims to expand treatment for people who get hooked on prescription opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin, as well as people who use the cheaper street drug heroin."
* Selective Service System: "The Army and Marine Corps' top uniformed leaders both backed making women register for the draft as all combat roles are opened to them in coming months, a sweeping social change that could complicate the military's gender integration plans."
* Somebody obviously wants attention again: "In a new dare to the United States and its allies, North Korea has notified the United Nations agency responsible for navigation safety that it is planning to launch a long-range rocket this month to put a satellite into orbit."
* Iraq "on Tuesday awarded an Italian company a contract to overhaul and maintain the Mosul dam in the country's north, days after a U.S. general warned of its possible collapse."
Not only is the crisis in Flint, Michigan, ongoing, the investigation into this catastrophe appears to be expanding. The Detroit Free Pressreported today:
The FBI is now investigating the contamination of Flint's drinking water, a man-made public health catastrophe, which has left an unknown number of Flint children and other residents poisoned by lead and resulted in state and federal emergency declarations.
Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, told the Free Press Monday that federal prosecutors are "working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA's Office of Inspector General, and EPA's Criminal Investigation Division."
The report added that Balaya did not specify whether the investigation relates to possible criminal acts.
The FBI's involvement isn't the only evidence of federal interest in Flint. The Detroit Newsreports today that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is also in the city today "to meet with researchers and local elected officials to discuss the city's ongoing problems with lead contamination in its drinking water."
As for Congress, the House Oversight Committee will hold its first hearing on the Flint crisis tomorrow, but the Detroit Newsadded that at least one prominent figure in the scandal has decided to turn down an invitation to testify.
President Obama hasn't spent a lot of time with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but the two leaders, joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), met at the White House this morning. The point, according to everyone involved, was to look for ways the policymakers can find some common ground and try to get things done in 2016.
To help set the tone, the Wisconsin congressman told reporters yesterday he was excited about the Iowa caucuses because "what it tells me is the days of Barack Obama's presidency are numbered."
He's a real charmer, this one. You can just feel his enthusiasm for bipartisan policymaking in an era of divided government.
After the meeting in which the president tries to find areas of possible agreement with GOP leaders, Ryan will hold another vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act. The Washington Postreported:
The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on overturning President Obama's veto of legislation to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. The vote, appropriately scheduled for Groundhog Day, is expected to fail, leaving conservatives to gear up for a final year of budget fights with the president.
Asked about today's events, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, "Republicans are poised to host another vote in the United States Congress today for the 60th time to repeal Obamacare. It's almost like it's Groundhog Day, except today it is actually Groundhog Day and they're doing it again."
Earnest added, "So I'm not really sure that qualifies as the contours of a proactive legislative agenda but it does put some pressure on Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell, and other Republicans in Congress, to lay out what it is exactly they support and try to find some common ground with the administration."
For the record, estimates vary on exactly how many times Republicans have tried to repeal all or part of the ACA, but the last time I checked, they were up to 62. In other words, Earnest might have been understating the case a bit.
When Republican insiders and donors started warming up to Donald Trump in recent weeks, it was one of the more widely reported political developments in a while. And why not? As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote recently, "That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump. Party elites ... are acquiescing to the once inconceivable."
This wasn't just the result of polling results; the Republican establishment had come up with a plan. Here's how it would work:
Step 1. Help Trump dispatch Ted Cruz in Iowa.
Step 2. Watch Cruz fade after he loses his must-win state.
Step 3. Move closer to a one-on-one matchup, pitting Trump against an establishment-friendly rival (almost certainly Marco Rubio).
Step 4. Consolidate support behind the establishment-friendly rival, while Trump hits his ceiling.
Step 5. Sit back, pop the champagne, and wait for all the #thepartydecides tweets.
The plan, we now know, didn't work. The Republican establishment made a conscious choice -- Cruz must be stopped, quickly -- and the Texas senator foiled the gambit. Iowa's six-term GOP governor said Cruz was the one candidate who must lose, and a plurality of Hawkeye State Republicans backed him anyway.
"What happened in Iowa was that some version of normalcy returned to the G.O.P. race," the center-right columnist wrote overnight with an almost audible exhale. "The precedents of history have not been rendered irrelevant."
I think this helps capture the attitudes of Republican elites this morning. I also think it's misguided.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As expected, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has thrown his support to Marco Rubio. It's the fifth Senate endorsement Rubio has received -- which brings him into a tie with Jeb Bush for the most endorsements from GOP members in the Chamber.
* Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) argued on an Iowa radio show the other day, "If I get one vote, frankly, in Iowa, I'll consider it a victory." Gilmore won 12 votes. Congratulations, governor.
* The number of House Republicans retiring this year continues to grow: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) announced yesterday that he'll step down at the end of this term.
* Ending the suspense surrounding his plans, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said yesterday that he will run for re-election to the House, skipping the open U.S. Senate race in Maryland.
* On a related note, the latest polling in the Maryland race shows Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen effectively tied in the Democratic primary.
* Given that Senate Dems are in the minority, this is a bit of a surprise: "The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $51.6 million in 2015, $10 million more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee did in the same time period. The total came after a $13.4 million haul in the fourth quarter. In the final month of 2015, the DSCC raised $5.1 million, $2 million more than its Republican counterpart."
Ben Carson, briefly the frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses, did not close well. The retired neurosurgeon, in what appears to be his strongest state, finished fourth with just 9%. That's slightly better than his polling average going into last night, but it's little solace for a candidate moving further away from the top tier.
As MSNBC's Jane C. Timm reports, Carson and his team believe they have an excuse.
Dr. Ben Carson and his campaign accused Sen. Ted Cruz's team of sabotaging Carson in the Iowa caucuses Monday night by encouraging Cruz supporters to tell voters at their caucus sites – incorrectly -- that Carson was dropping out of the race.
"It was happening all over," Iowa State Director Ryan Rhodes told MSNBC. "One of the precincts Candy [Carson, the candidate's wife] walked into, she had to correct the record. She actually walked in, in Ankeny, and gave a speech about no, he's still in the race and that's a lie."
So, what's this all about? A CNN reporter said last night, shortly before the caucuses began, that after Iowa, Carson was headed to Florida "for some R&R," instead of going to New Hampshire and South Carolina. Many in both parties saw this as evidence of Carson winding down his struggling campaign.
Team Cruz, seeing an opportunity, quickly texted supporters in Iowa: "CNN is reporting that Ben Carson will stop campaigning after Iowa. Make sure to tell all of your peers at the caucus...."
Whether or not this was deliberately deceptive is a matter of interpretation.
A few hours before the Iowa caucuses began, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver told readers, "[D]on't be shocked if the polls are way off."
Whether or not the results were "way off" is a subjective question, but as the dust settles, it's safe to say those who relied exclusively on polling data going into last night were surprised by the results. In the final round of surveys, how many showed Donald Trump positioned to win Iowa? Just about all of them -- with some showing him ahead by double digits.
In the end, the biggest loser in the Iowa caucuses might not be the campaigns of several presidential hopefuls, but the public perception of polling organizations that were again off the mark.
heading into Iowa, GOP contender Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were projected to win the respective Iowa caucuses. Instead, Ted Cruz took the GOP race, while Clinton and Bernie Sanders finished in a virtual dead heat for the Democrats. And on Tuesday, the pollsters faced more scrutiny after the Iowa results were in. Here's a typical headline (from Bloomberg): "Iowa's Other Losers: Polls That Showed Trump Ahead Before Caucus"
Even the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, conducted by J. Ann Selzer, whose track record is excellent, wasn't quite right.
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.