Because I'm fascinated by politics, I was one of the folks who stayed up till about 3:30 A.M. to find out whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders won in Iowa. At this point, while Mrs. Clinton has declared victory, there are still some questions about whether she really won; and even if it turns out she did defeat Mr. Sanders, it was by the narrowest of margins. Six months ago, few if any pundits thought a 74 year old self-described socialist from Vermont would have a chance against a well-qualified (and well-funded) establishment Democrat like Hillary Clinton; and yet Mr. Sanders was able to run a strong race and come within inches of victory. Okay fine, it's Iowa, and Iowa's population does not represent that of the entire US, but it's still a great story. Going forward, can Mrs. Clinton win over those voters who see her as too much of a centrist? And can Mr. Sanders win over those voters who like his populist message but think it's impossible for him to get elected? Those questions remain to be answered.
The Republican story was equally fascinating, especially given the high expectations many pundits and pollsters had about Donald Trump; the common wisdom was that he could not possibly lose. But as it turned out, he could. And he did. We can all wonder whether his snub of the Fox News debate, or his feud with Megyn Kelley, had anything to do with his loss; more likely, he did not have the ground game that his opponents (especially Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) had. And as I suggested on several occasions, I think lots of curious spectators showed up at Mr. Trump's rallies and events, eager to meet the famous celebrity. Many even cheered at his speeches and applauded some of his most controversial assertions. But in the end, when it came to casting their vote, they chose someone else. One wonders what Mr. Trump was feeling as the votes were counted and it became clear that he would not be the victor. He had spent so much time bragging about how he always wins. His concession speech was short and courteous, but I wonder if this unexpected defeat will affect his style of campaigning. Will he brag and insult his opponents less, and instead focus on his plans for improving our country?
Another story-line in Iowa, and one that will probably persist, is religion. Because a large number of Iowa Republicans are evangelical Christians, most of the GOP candidates who campaigned there tried to out-do themselves in mentioning their own religiosity, quoting scripture, praising God and Jesus, and promising to restore morality to America (in some cases, it seemed they were also pledging to promote evangelical Christianity, or at least give it a favored place in the government). And while I have never been fond of candidates publicly announcing how religious they are, at least I could understand why Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio made their religious faith a central pillar of their conversation with voters-- if most of your voters are very religious, it's important to let them know you speak their language and support their views.
But here's what I don't understand: there was a recent anti-Bernie Sanders article in the Washington Post which remarked on his lack of religious piety, saying that his refusal to align with an organized faith or speak about God could hurt him in a general election. (It is well-known that Mr. Sanders was born and raised Jewish; but while he respects his heritage, organized religion does not play a central role in his life.) I tweeted about this-- I said I truly did not care what religion a candidate was, as long as he or she cared about the country and wanted to move things in a positive direction. In fact, I find it annoying when candidates pander to certain voters with mentions of how often they pray; and I find it equally annoying when voters feel they must know which house of worship a candidate attends, and how often they go there. I fail to see the correlation between going to church (or synagogue or mosque) and being a good leader for our country. There have been many politicians who were regularly seen in church, but who turned out to be corrupt and dishonest. The Founding Fathers were right when they stated in the Constitution that there should be no religious test. Sadly, some people think there should be one, and that their faith should win. (And whether a candidate who is proudly non-religious could ever get elected is another open question.)
So, now everything moves to New Hampshire. I'll be interested to see if the way Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio campaigned in Iowa will resonate with voters in the Granite State. I'll be interested to see how Mr. Trump recovers, and whether he comes back with a new strategy. And of course, I'll be interested to see how the Sanders/Clinton battle plays out. But whatever happens in New Hampshire over the next week, there is one trend from Iowa that I hope will continue: a large number of young voters actually came out and caucused, working hard for their favorite candidate, and becoming an active part of the political process. Too often in the past, young adults have not participated-- but in Iowa, to the surprise of many political observers, they did. I'm hoping this will continue. In fact, I'm hoping more people of all ages will get off the sidelines and begin to support a candidate they believe in. Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or something else, there's a lot at stake in this upcoming election, and sitting around complaining on social media isn't an effective strategy for improving the direction of the country. Now is the time for all of us to get involved... or we have no right to be upset about the results of the next election.