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Iowa Shows That ‘Optics’ Are for Losers

State of the Union: Message trumps style.

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Credit: picryl

Not much can be said about Iowa that my colleagues here have not already said: This is not your father’s conservative movement, but your great-grandfather’s. Trump is going to be the nominee and, barring extralegal methods and lawfare forcing him to suspend his campaign, he might even win the general election. His messages on foreign policy, law and order, and immigration really do resonate with the masses; all the polls and focus groups are bureaucratic redundancy, a sort of email-class job scheme best ignored. The economy is far, far more important to normal people than big talk about democracy; competent governance and order trump (so to speak) lofty values. No other candidate has the charisma to pull a comeback similar to Trump. The biggest rift in American politics isn’t between the left and right, but between nationalists and internationalists. Finally, and most importantly, a significant part of the American electorate still prefers a besieged man.

Florida’s Ron DeSantis, perhaps America’s most successful conservative governor, destroyed his campaign by listening to his obnoxious online surrogates and mindlessly relitigating Covid lockdowns against Trump. While important, this truth and reconciliation is nowhere close to where the electorate’s current demands are. His lane was consolidating second by targeting everyone below him; instead he chose to do an Icarus. 

Nimarata “Nikki” Haley, on the other hand, has turned into a bizarre mix of Hillary Clinton and the repulsive, perpetually online “debate me” bro. It’s a symptom of quintessential neoconservative brain to be walloped in a contest after near record spending and then to spin it as some sort of a major victory. 

But, as Dan McCarthy explained, at least Haley is a card-carrying neoconservative, a Netflix version of a female John McCain. No one knows where DeSantis even stands at this point, and the longer he ignores hitting Haley for a clear challenger role and instead blathers about Anthony Fauci, not only his current candidacy but his future runs will be questionable. Vivek Ramaswamy, on the other hand, isn't going anywhere. His votes will be added to pad up the Trump tally, and he will be, in the words of Mark Hemingway, a campaign surrogate to end all surrogates. Naturally gifted with words, Vivek is seeking to consolidate his post-Trump role. A cabinet position that will give him some governing experience, or a role in the D.C. think-tank world, is a better fit for him than a traditional run for governor or senator.

The biggest analytical drawback for liberals and neoconservatives is that they care about optics more than anything else; as a result, their policy solutions hover around the idea that if only you “explain” more, optics would change and results would change. They talk about dangers to democracy while trying to bar the opposition candidate; ignore issues like foreign policy overstretch, which results in open borders, mass migration, and economic distortions including inflation. Unfortunately, when voters ignore that up-market drivel, both liberals and neoconservatives seek external explanations and solutions, from Russia to Resistance. Iowa, once more, however, shows that focusing on “optics” instead of message is for midwits and losers.