HAMPTON, Ia. — This presidential campaign seethes with the anger and frustration of voters who seem to be sick of whatever they consider to be the corrupt, broken “establishment.”Keep reading.
But not here in this quiet, friendly coffee shop where Rick Santorum emphasizes what has become something of a dirty word: experience.
“I’m sort of making the case that, look, I understand your anger,” said the former Pennsylvania senator and winner of the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses who now languishes at the bottom of the polls. “I was the anti-establishment candidate last time, and that anger was channeled through me.”
But, he insisted, “Channel your anger in a positive direction.”
“I didn’t sell I was going to blow up Washington four years ago.”
The national front-runner and acknowledged beneficiary of unrest on the right this cycle is Donald Trump, the brash billionaire developer who didn’t formally enter the race until June. He boasts that he has made so much money that self-funding his campaign inoculates him from the influence that big donors wage over candidates.
On the left, 74-year-old Bernie Sanders has electrified millennials as their favorite radical grandfather. He embraces what had been assumed to be the politically lethal adjective "socialist" and proclaims a Woodstock-era distrust of Wall Street.
At least one political expert in Iowa says that he has seen this anger brewing for decades as the caucuses have mushroomed into an international reality TV show: Candidates long have promised relief for the economically disadvantaged, but quickly forget caucusgoers once the circus moves on.
Trump had flirted with Iowa for months in early 2015 as the Republican side of the preseason race churned with the typical series of cattle-call events.
Larry Sailer, a stalwart Santorum supporter from rural Hampton, has been irritated by Trump’s rise.
“It’s the same thing that elected Obama eight years ago,” he shook his head. “The popularity deal.”
Conflating Obama and Trump? It’s as if the outsider allure and celebrity mystique now factoring into these caucuses have scrambled everybody’s political calculus.
'There's a lot of angst out there'
This isn’t how the race was supposed to go. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, with a super PAC tailwind of more than $100 million, was expected to dominate the national race and duel in Iowa with whoever emerged as this cycle's darling of the evangelical right. Hillary Clinton, made wiser by her cabinet experience and the 2008 Obama upset, was expected to wow Iowans on her easy waltz to the nomination.
But here we are in February, with Bush's campaign in single digits, a nail-biter race on either side and a path littered with bad predictions.
Monday, February 1, 2016
At the Des Moines Register, "How Iowa caucuses got so angry, ripe for outsiders":