COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA — National politics are exceptionally chaotic these days, and the harms are real.
At the local level, the chaos is of a different sort, and it usually ends up being harmless.
In the band room of Heartland Christian School, the 20th and 21st precincts of Council Bluffs, 100 Iowans gathered in the Republican caucuses. Over the course of an hour, these neighbors greeted one another, cast votes, shared pens, gave speeches, and generally engaged in democracy. It wasn’t clean, but democracy is never clean.
Naomi Corrie was the precinct chairman, the party official in charge of making the caucus run, and that was the first sign of some dysfunction. Corrie doesn’t live in either of the precincts voting in this room, but the county party couldn’t find a local to chair the precinct. “I’m giving up my vote to help out here tonight,” Corrie said.
The bigger problem was that many folks didn’t know where to caucus. A voter may caucus only in his or her precinct. By 7 p.m., when the caucuses were scheduled to begin, already a handful of voters showed up griping that they had gone to the caucus site prescribed by the Pottawattamie County GOP website, were directed to a second site, and finally showed up at this site. Other voters called in to say they’d be showing up late.
Brenda Krivanek — who showed up as a simple caucusgoer, a first-timer in this precinct after moving recently — took the stage shortly after 7 p.m. as an acting deputy precinct chairman. She informed the crowd that they were waiting for a few caucusgoers who had been thoroughly confused about their proper caucus site.
“I printed off the screen grab,” one attendee said, “and it was wrong.” She called a party official and was told, “We updated it yesterday.”
After many voters sorted out where they were supposed to caucus, the voting began. Corrie had been provided about 70 ballots, but she had a lot more voters. As a result, a couple dozen caucusgoers cast their votes on blank index cards.
Then, the speeches began, with proxies for the DeSantis, Haley, and Trump campaigns giving brief orations. What was striking, for a veteran observer of politics, was the niceness of the disagreement.
Because of the complications in the caucus, chatting was inevitable during the speeches by representatives of the various candidates. That chatter, which threatened to crowd out the remarks, was met with shushes from the broader crowd. At the end of every speech, basically everyone applauded, meaning that Trump supporters were applauding Haley and DeSantis speeches.
The three major campaigns all had a representative observing the vote count, but really, only the Haley campaign did. With Kay Carne of the Haley campaign triple-checking the counts of the party officials, the Trump and DeSantis representatives felt free to relax.
The harshness of the GOP civil wars was dampened by the niceness of Iowans. The struggles of local politics were absorbed by the goodwill of neighborliness.