Confusion and Surprise at Iowa's Democratic Caucus

The Three-Way Split of the Moderate Camp Between Biden, Buttigieg, and Bloomberg is the Greatest Asset to the Sanders Campaign  

Despite technical problems delaying the release of the results of Iowa’s caucus vote, field data as of this writing indicates a strong performance for Senator Bernie Sanders and a fracturing of the moderate camp between Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. If Sanders should ultimately carry the nomination and the presidency, his foreign policy preferences would herald a break with American foreign policy of the Trump administration, and possibly prove more dovish than the Obama administration.
 
BERNIE SURGES, BIDEN STUMBLES
 
A comprehensive accounting of the first contest within the Democratic Party will have to wait, due to a “major coding error” in the software being used to tabulate results. Over the 24 hours since the caucus concluded, conflicting results have emerged. One set of field data collected by Senator Sanders’ campaign portends a victory for the Vermont Senator and, more surprisingly, a dismal fourth-place showing for former Vice-President Joe Biden. A slightly fuller but still only partial count by the Iowa Democratic Party shows South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg holding a slender lead of 26.9% to Sanders’ 25.1 percent. Meanwhile Vice President Biden — previously the leader in national polling —  trails in fourth place at 15.6 percent.
 
With Iowa still too close to call, eyes are beginning to turn to the next contest in New Hampshire. There, polling shows Senator Sanders holding a substantial lead over his next closest competitor, Joe Biden. Should Sanders overtake his rivals in both Iowa and New Hampshire — as is eminently possible — it significantly increases the odds that he will secure the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. Famed statistician and political analyst Nate Silver went so far as to calculate that “Iowa was the second most-important date on the calendar this year, trailing only Super Tuesday,” claiming that historical patterns indicate “it [is] worth the equivalent of almost 800 delegates, about 20 times its actual number.”
 
IMPLICATIONS OF A SANDERS TRIUMPH
 
A Bernie Sanders nomination raises the possibility of one of the more dovish major-party presidential candidacies in American history. To take one notable example, in January, Sanders unequivocally denounced what he termed “the assassination” of Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, saying “Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars,” and claiming that “Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one.”
 
Sanders has also advocated steep budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Defense. He observed, “We are now spending more than the next 10 next countries combined — we are spending over $700 billion a year. At the same time, you have veterans sleeping out on the streets, major crisis after major crisis in affordable housing, infrastructure. I think we have to get our priorities right, and our priorities should include not spending more than the 10 next nations on earth.” 
 
Perhaps of even greater salience, given the Presidency’s wide latitude in foreign policy decision-making is Sanders’ pledge to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal “on day one of my presidency and then work with the P5+1 and Iran to build upon it” while negotiating directly with Tehran to “forge a new strategic balance in the Middle East.”
 
FRACTURING OF THE MODERATE CAMP
 
Biden’s underperformance in Iowa is significant in several respects. Up to this point, he has led in polling for the more centrist wing of the Democratic party. His apparent fourth-place finish leaves him behind not only the more progressive Sanders and Warren, but upstaged in the centrist column by the youthful Pete Buttigieg. Should Buttigieg lay claim to leadership of the moderate camp, he could siphon off a substantial share of what would otherwise be Biden’s support base.
 
More ominously still for the fortunes of the former Vice President, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been rising in national polling in recent weeks. Despite his late entrance into the race, Bloomberg has been using his $50 billion private fortune to finance the largest TV ad campaign in modern primary history. In just under three months, he has spent $132 million on ads, with much to show for it.
 
Perhaps the greatest asset to the Sanders campaign is the developing three-way split of the moderate camp between Biden, Buttigieg, and Bloomberg.