Lessons From Iowa; Reflections on New Hampshire

As you are reading this, the people of New Hampshire are voting. Once again, the great miracle of the American system is at work.

This newsletter, “Winning the Future,” is dedicated to the great American experiment in self-government. And if there is one theme of “Winning the Future,” it is that the American people are fed up with the usual bureaucracy and partisan infighting.

This is the conversation we’ve been having for the last two years. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the message that came out of Iowa last week.

  • Change Comes From the People, Not Washington: As the mid-term 2006 elections approached, I advocated what I call the Ronald Reagan-Contract with America Rule: Americans are hungry for real change, and real change doesn’t come from Washington and the party elites. It comes from the American people.
  • Finding Real Solutions Through Real Dialogue: A year ago, as the New Year began, I urged that we make 2007 a “year of solutions and dialogue” and leave the partisan bickering for 2008. The challenges we face as a nation, I wrote, are too important for the attack politics of the past. They require “Americans coming together, sharing ideas, being pragmatic, and finding what works.”
  • Moving From the World that Fails to the World That Works: Soon after in January, I founded an organization, called American Solutions, based on the idea that only a mass movement of the American people can break the entrenched power of the special interests and bring about real change. Americans understand that the gap between their values and the values of the elite is growing wider — and the gap between the world of private-sector innovation and efficiency of the world that works and the bureaucracy and inefficiency of the world that fails is growing wider still.

In a nutshell: Real change requires real change.

And that is the message the people of Iowa sent the nation last week.

Consider the Results of the Iowa Caucuses

Consider: The people of Iowa proved once again that we have the most open system of self-government in the world.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has no family ties to power and position, yet he won the Democratic caucus. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has no family ties to power and position, yet he won in the Republican caucus.

No other system in the world is as open to talent as the American system.

Iowans Rejected the Effort to Dominate Them by Presumption and Money

In America the people decide.

Here there is no aristocracy and no presumption of transferable family power.

The leader of the most powerful machine in the Democratic Party, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, came in third in Iowa.

The wealthiest man in the race and the person who spent between 10 and 20 times as much as Gov. Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, came in second in Iowa.

Iowans rejected the effort to dominate them by presumption and money. They decided they would vote for real change.

Change Versus More of the Same

Republicans had better learn that change is going to beat “more of the same” decisively.

The first sign of this came last year in, of all places, France.

The lesson for Republicans in French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory is that Sarkozy’s message of conservative change beat the Socialist candidate’s (who should have won) message of more of the same. I wrote about it here.

Last week, Iowans also rejected the argument for experience over enthusiasm, and they supported change.

Iowans picked the youngest Democrat (Obama is 46) and the youngest Republican (Huckabee is 52).

In the Democratic Party, the vote for dramatic change was stunning. Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards combined received 68% of the vote. In fact, with 100% name identity and a lifetime of active work as a Democrat, Sen. Clinton was rejected by 71% of the Iowa Democrats.

Enthusiasm for Change

Americans are taking seriously the opportunity to express their opinion and to change their government.

In Iowa, the Democrats more than doubled their turnout from 2004 and the Republicans had a 40% increase over their last contested caucus in 2000.

Despite the cynicism of the news media and the consultants, the American people remain idealistically committed to their system of government and elections and believe they can make a difference.

Oprah Winfrey and Chuck Norris Beat Money and Consultants

There is one more result from last week that should have the Washington elite considering some serious New Year’s resolutions.

Many sophisticated analysts discounted Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama. They were wrong. She drew huge crowds, and she helped legitimize him as the candidate of idealistic change.

Similarly, many sophisticated Republicans scorned television actor and action movie star Chuck Norris‘s traveling so constantly with Mike Huckabee. They were wrong. Norris added a sense of excitement and legitimacy to the underdog and under-funded Huckabee campaign.

Fair Is Fair: I Was Wrong About the Clintons

If I’m going to point out those areas where I was right, I also have an obligation to point out where I was wrong.

For most of 2007, I thought Sen. Clinton and her husband had the resources and the professionalism to defeat Sen. Obama in Iowa and gain the Democratic nomination.

My good friend Sean Hannity always disagreed. He and I argued on his radio show for about six months. He was convinced the anti-Clinton mood and the visceral reaction to her candidacy would outweigh any advantages she and her husband brought to the race. Sean was right and I was wrong. I publicly changed my mind in late November.

Since Bill Clinton remains the most aggressive and effective politician of his generation, it will be interesting to see what the Clintons do now that their backs are to the wall.

Sen. Obama is rapidly becoming such a phenomenon of hope and unity that his nomination seems increasingly likely. If the Clinton machine cannot derail his momentum before it becomes overwhelming, their dreams of going back to the White House are over.

A Warning for Republican Candidates and Consultants

The results of Iowa are a warning to Republican candidates and consultants that the model they have been using is obsolete.

In 2006, the Republican model of massive focus on fundraising and negative attacks on opponents lost six out of six close incumbent Senate races.

In Iowa, the best-financed Republican candidate who used the most consultants lost to an underfinanced but idealistic populist.

So here are the bullet points for going forward:

  • Message beats money.
  • Enthusiasm beats paid staff.
  • Hope beats negativity.
  • People are smarter than the consultants.

If Republicans don’t learn these lessons, they will be in for some very difficult elections.

Red-Versus-Blue Is Worn Out: Americans Are Hungry for a Red, White and Blue Nonpartisan Approach

I have been saying for a year that the red-versus-blue, base mobilization, and bitter-partisanship strategies have exhausted the American people.

As I mentioned earlier, American Solutions was founded to begin building a red, white and blue, nonpartisan momentum for change. On January 2, the night before the Iowa caucus, we held two tele-townhall meetings and had 15,600 Iowans join us for the discussion. More than 800 people submitted questions. It was clear that people were engaged, enthusiastic and excited about trying to find a better future for their country and their community.

You can listen to these two tele-townhall meetings at

The Platform of the American People and Real Change

The latest project of American Solutions is the “Platform of the American People,” a “tripartisan” agenda for change.

More than 95,000 people have now downloaded the “Platform of the American People.” See it for yourself at

In addition, next week, my new book, Real Change, will be coming out. You can pre-order it today at

As you talk with your friends and neighbors about reaching beyond partisanship and bringing about change, you might consider reading the platform and picking up my book. Encourage your friends to do so as well. They are both sources of the ideas that could unify us and the solutions that could transform our leadership.

Coming Tomorrow: The Results from New Hampshire

Tomorrow, I will send you my podcast with my analysis of the New Hampshire results.

If you would like to get all my podcasts analyzing American politics throughout this election year, just go to my website to sign up for a Premium Subscription. It features many other benefits as well.