Justifying their unfair first-in-the-nation status in the presidential nominating process, an Iowa Republican offered the typical rationalization: “You really need a population that takes this event seriously and does their due diligence and their homework. Iowans have shown themselves to be up to that task.”
New Hampshire boosters offer similar justifications, claiming that their residents are uniquely skilled at forcing candidates to engage in retail politics.
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that retail political skill matters in a president. Let’s also assume that for some bizarre reason, only Iowa and New Hampshire residents have the ability to make the proper face-to-face presidential evaluation (even though that’s obviously not true).
If Iowa and New Hampshire boosters are right, then the candidates leading in those states should have spent extensive time campaigning there, right?
Nope. In fact, Newt Gingrich — your freshly minted leader in Iowa — opened up his first campaign office in the state just last week. Since Oct. 1, according to media reports, Gingrich has spent just six days in Iowa, three of them because of debates.
Gingrich has been just as scarce in New Hampshire — twice for debates, once to file his paperwork to be on the ballot, once to open up his campaign headquarters (in mid-November) and once to meet with the Manchester Union Leader’s editorial board. In fact, just two weeks ago, Gingrich was unable to file a full slate of New Hampshire delegates to the national convention. He needed 20 names and 20 alternates. Gingrich scrounged up just 27 names, and three of them were staffers.
And yet there is Gingrich, now tied with Mitt Romney in the Granite State, according to the latest Magellan Strategies poll — and that was before Gingrich’s traditionally influential Union Leader endorsement.
This is a new era, and one in which media dominate the debate. Throughout the campaign, the candidates who have led in Iowa have been the exact same candidates who have led in the national polling.
So in Iowa, you had Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFrench election: Le Pen, Macron ahead in early results Trump: Government 'involves heart,' unlike business Issa dodges when asked if he wants Trump to campaign alongside him MORE rising in the polls earlier this year, even though Trump never even campaigned! Hawkeye State voters then rode the Michele BachmannMichele Bachmann'Real Housewives' producer 'begging' Conway to join cast Ex-rep admires furs amid PETA inaugural gala Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog MORE wave, the Rick Perry wave, the Herman Cain wave, and now are giving Gingrich big leads in their polling — not because he’s spent months of retail politicking at county fairs. Gingrich is up in Iowa because he’s up nationally.
There’s still time for retail politics to win the day, of course. The two most diligent Iowa campaigners — Bachmann and Rick Santorum — may yet pull off a caucus stunner. But the trends are clearly in favor of the candidates with coast-to-coast support. The nominating process is now a national affair, and the continued and rapid spread of political and social media ensures that this will be the status quo into the future.
There was never any reason to grant Iowa and New Hampshire a monopoly in the nomination contest. But now, in this media-saturated world of 24/7 news cycles, even their best rationalizations are, objectively, no longer operative.
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).