Peter Beinart, CFR’s senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy, says the large turnout in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa is among indications that “the anti-Republican trends that we saw in the 2006 midterm elections have not abated.” On foreign policy issues, he says that besides differences over the pace of the withdrawal from Iraq, what struck him was the fact that Mike Huckabee won the Republican caucus despite his tougher stance on free trade issues. “I think you see that one of the interesting things to take out of the Iowa race was the degree to which anxieties about globalization are profound, not simply among Democrats, but also among Republicans,” Beinart said.
The results of the Iowa caucuses are in and Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama both won with clear pluralities. Are there some significant conclusions we can draw this early?
One conclusion which supports other evidence which has appeared over the past year is that there is a much higher degree of excitement and enthusiasm in the Democratic race than in the Republican race. There were far more people who went to the Democratic caucuses than went to the Republican ones. And this is a swing state which President Bush won in 2004. So I think this is an ominous sign for Republicans, just as fundraising numbers and national polling data have been all year. The anti-Republican trends that we saw in the 2006 midterm elections have not abated at all.
On the specifics of the victories by Obama and Huckabee, first let’s start with Obama. The result more or less affirmed the pre-caucus polling, right?
There had been a Des Moines Register poll that got quite close to the final result. Other polls tended to show Obama with a smaller lead, presaging a closer race than we actually saw. Caucuses are difficult, however, to poll. The key question in these polls was trying to model the turnout. There was a conventional wisdom that if the turnout was extraordinarily high, meaning a very large number of people who had never gone to a caucus before, that would be to Obama’s advantage. That’s what the Des Moines Register predicted. That’s what turned out to be true. There was an enormous Democratic turnout and an enormous turnout of people who had never gone to a caucus before. That’s very, very difficult for a campaign to achieve. Many campaigns have claimed in the past they would bring lots of new voters in, but to a caucus that is not easy. And yet the Obama campaign did it. And it is a big part of the reason he won.
Apparently, he did extremely well with younger voters; poorly with older voters. Can he follow that up in New Hampshire next week at the next primary? Was Iowa unique in being able to mobilize so many new young voters?
Not necessarily. In fact, you would think that it would be even easier to get young people to go to a primary than to a caucus. After all, at a caucus you have to spend several hours there. So I think it is quite possible that it can continue. The Clinton campaign has always been considered to have a better organization in New Hampshire than in Iowa. Clinton has consistently had a bigger lead in New Hampshire than in Iowa. And historically, the Clintons have done better in New Hampshire than in Iowa, if you go back to Bill Clinton’s race, for instance, in 1992. [Clinton finished second in New Hampshire to Senator Paul Tsongas, but it was widely regarded a “moral victory” and propelled him forward.] New Hampshire is a natural place for the Clintons to use as a firewall. On the other hand, there’s only five days between Iowa and New Hampshire, which means that the momentum from Iowa will probably hit New Hampshire like a gale force. Although Hillary Clinton started out before Iowa with a small lead in New Hampshire, it’s not clear that that lead will still be there once the next round of polling is done.
Is there anything we should take from this vote? “Change” is a word everyone is using. Where would the changes take place in the foreign policy realm?
On the Democratic side, clearly Iraq is the issue most people are concerned about. Among Democrats, Iraq basically tied with the economy as the chief issue. So when Democrats talk about change, they’re broadly thinking about changing the view of America around the world. But I think they are also specifically thinking about the Iraq war. Here, the fact that Obama opposed the war has been a help. All the major Democrats basically talked about a much faster withdrawal from Iraq than what Bush has been doing. I think that is part of what change meant for Democrats—an end to the war in Iraq, and certainly no future military action with Iran. For Republicans, it’s a little bit more ambiguous. Iraq was not nearly so big an issue among Republicans if you look at the exit polls. But terrorism is still featured as a significant number.
But the other issue which ties into foreign policy which has turned out to be an enormously powerful issue among Republicans is immigration. And when you look at the fact that Huckabee, like the other Republicans, was very tough on immigration, and on the fact that he of the Republicans is the most skeptical of free trade, I think you see that one of the interesting things to take out of the Iowa race was the degree to which anxieties about globalization are profound, not simply among Democrats, but also among Republicans. The Republican Party is a more downscale working class party today than it was several decades ago. Those were the people who supported Huckabee and those people are no more pro-free trade than Democrats.
You would think that Iowa being a major agricultural exporting state, free trade would be quite popular.
It is a big agricultural state, but it also has a significant union presence, which is important on the Democratic side. The business community of the Republican Party, which has not been happy with Huckabee, ran ads against him. As far as we can tell, those ads had little impact on his campaign.
Commentators last night have made the point that Huckabee’s strength among evangelical Christian groups will not carry over to New Hampshire, which is not a bastion for evangelicals. How do you think the Republican race is shaping up in New Hampshire?
The Republican race for a while now has been up to now a two-person race between Mitt Romney and John McCain, with Rudy Giuliani and the others trailing pretty significantly. The conventional wisdom would be that even though Romney beat McCain in Iowa, the fact that Romney underperformed expectations means that Iowa will turn out to be a benefit to McCain. It could give McCain a chance for a significant win in New Hampshire. My guess would be that Huckabee will focus more of his attention on South Carolina, which is a much better state for him than New Hampshire. What we’re seeing on the Republican side is a much less clear race than on the Democratic side. The Democratic race is probably now a two-person race, maybe at most a three-person race. The Republican race is a four- or even five-person race, with different people having different regional strengths. It is much more difficult to see how any one individual on the Republican side makes it to the convention.
Huckabee’s article in Foreign Affairs was very tough on terrorism tied to radical Muslims and he said he would follow the advice of General Petraeus on troop withdrawal. When the Democrats talk about pulling troops out of Iraq, it is not clear when.
That’s true. I think the Democrats have all made it clear that they want a more rapid withdrawal than we are having now. I think they will also try in various ways to give themselves some flexibility in responding to events on the ground. I think there is a basic difference in perspective which divides almost all the Democrats from virtually all the Republicans, which has to do with how profound they think the success of the “surge” is. Republicans think it is more significant than the Democrats. I think the Democrats also think that the costs of America’s staying in Iraq are higher; they attack strains on the military; the growing warfare in Afghanistan; they attack our ability to focus on other issues around the world. There is a fundamental difference between the way you weigh risks and rewards in viewing Iraq. There really is no exception except, perhaps, for Ron Paul [Republican Rep. fromTexas], who favors getting out of Iraq.
Doesn’t this put the Democrats in the primaries almost in the position of hoping for bad news from Iraq, to make their point? The fact that it has been relatively calm in Iraq over the last couple of months has pushed it out of the news to a great extent. I don’t know if it helps Republicans or the Democrats—probably the Republicans, right?
Yes, but when you look at the landscape of issues out there, there are very few good issues for the Republicans. It’s true you could say that Iraq dropping off the issue list is good for the Republicans because Iraq was a very tough issue for the GOP. But notwithstanding the surge, the public remains very tired of the war, and generally is in support of a withdrawal. On the other hand, when you take away Iraq and you have a more domestically focused campaign, Republicans are very weak on almost all domestic issues. If you have a campaign dominated by concerns about the economy, people are not happy with the economy, by and large, or health care, which has been a big Democratic advantage for a long time. So it is a challenge for Republicans, even if the agenda is dominated by domestic issues, because Democrats have had the advantage on domestic issues in recent years. Republicans won in 2002 and 2004 mostly because of foreign policy issues.