Out of the Chaos, Let a Thousand Conspiracies Bloom
When facts are few, opinion looms large—and sometimes, conspiracy-theorizing looms larger. And the weedy results from the Iowa Democratic presidential caucus seem destined to be one of those moments when conspiracy theories grow as high as an elephant’s eye.
As of this writing, late in the day on February 4—nearly a full 24 hours after the caucuses—it appears that Pete Buttigieg is slightly ahead in delegates, while Bernie Sanders leads, barely, in the popular vote.
So now, every curious political reporter is going to be scrutinizing the tangled relationship between the Iowa caucus-counters, the online app that did the counting, and people who made, and paid for, the app.
That app was created by a for-profit technology company called Shadow, Inc.—not exactly a name aimed at discouraging conspiracy-mongers—which, in turn, is owned by a big-bucks non-profit called Acronym. Oh, and Shadow, Inc. was also hired by the Buttigieg campaign.
Interestingly, Buttigieg, being a diverse and well-credentialed young meritocrat, is the preferred candidate of many Silicon Valley tech types, including Reed Hastings of Netflix, and family members of Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt of Google, as well as Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. So yes, it’s interesting that the Shadow-y app showed Buttigieg doing so well in Iowa.
Critics—of whom there are many—wonder why Iowa Democrats suddenly needed this app. The Iowa caucuses had been doing well enough, after all, for half a century, using just pencils, chalkboards, and calculators. And yet now they started using an app that hasn’t been tested anywhere? Couldn’t Democrats have field-tested it in some aldermanic election?
A headline in Vice captured prevailing lefty-snarky sentiment: “The Democrats Screwed America With an App No One Asked For.” Surveying Shadow, Inc. and Acronym, the piece declared,
There’s enough going on with these two operations to launch a thousand conspiracy theories, and that’s probably what will happen. A few examples: Gerard Niemira, CEO of Shadow and formerly COO and CTO of Acronym, once contributed to a project to generate “fake data such as names, addresses, and phone numbers”; Pete Buttigieg’s national organizing director, Greta Carnes, came directly from Acronym.
In the meantime, the Sanders campaign, which had the big mo going into Monday night, has been dissed—and it’s miffed. As Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Sanders supporter, tweeted, “democracy dies in the darkness.”
Pro-Sanders blogger Matt Stoller delved deeper into the Pete B.-Big Tech entente, writing, “The key validator for Acronym is board member David Plouffe, the former campaign manager for Barack Obama.” We can quickly observe that today, many Sanders fans see the 44th present in strikingly harsh terms, as just a stooge for Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
Stoller adds, “Plouffe is also the head of policy and advocacy for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative”—and that, of course, is the philanthropy financed by Mark Zuckerberg. And lefties (among others) have plenty of opinions about the Facebook founder; it’s also not forgotten that back in 2017, Zuckerberg visited Buttigieg in South Bend, Indiana. Stoller continues, “Plouffe unlocks the trust of the entire Democratic operative class”—and those are the very people, of course, whom the insurgent Sandersistas despise the most. And now, lo and behold, Sanders seems to have lost to them and their app.
We might also add that the right, too, is on the hunt for a conspiracy that seems to have been hiding in plain sight; the conservative watchdog group Capital Research Center adds valuable information on Acronym, Shadow, Inc., as well as Acronym’s superpac, Pacronym. For sure, these seem to be names out of a James Bond movie—and so now, where’s SMERSH and SPECTRE?
In the meantime, looming over all, is the, uh, specter of Michael Bloomberg and his money—which currently clocks in at $61 billion. We can note that Bloomberg’s balance is up ten billion in the last year or so. In other words, during the time that Bloomberg has been plotting his run for president, his wealth has been increasing exponentially. That’s the power of compound interest, or, more to the point, of capital gains. Such are the ways of plutocracy, now come to politics.
So we can see: It’s easy for Bloomberg to spend many hundreds of millions of dollars on his campaign—and, if he wanted to do so, spend many billions.
Indeed, Bloomberg seems to smell blood in the political water, and that has him at least scratching the surface of his principal. Hence the headline atop The New York Times mid-day on February 4: “Bloomberg Plans to Double Ad Spending After Iowa Caucus Problem.” As the Times explained,
Bloomberg’s presidential campaign moved on Tuesday to exploit the chaotic outcome of the Iowa caucuses, escalating an already massive campaign of television advertising and publicly making the case that a messy outcome in the early states opened the way for Mr. Bloomberg.
“Messy outcome”—hmmm. It doesn’t take much of a conspiracy theorist to ask the classic question, cui bono? As veteran journo Josh Kraushaar wrote in The National Journal on February 4, Bloomberg is “one of the biggest beneficiaries from the confusion.”
For his part, Kraushaar still sees Bloomberg as unlikely actually to win the Democratic nomination, although he does allow that Bloomberg “could become a kingmaker in the event of a contested convention.”
Of course, those of a more conspiratorial turn of mind might think that for Bloomberg, a contested Democratic convention in Milwaukee could be more—much more—than a king-making opportunity.
After all, given the laxity of campaign-finance laws—or, come to think of it, any sort of law, since party-politicking is a constitutionally protected legal category—one wonders if the king-maker at the convention couldn’t simply buy the crown for himself. (And if that were to happen, then cascades of conspiratorialism, clotted with packets of justified paranoia, would go pouring into the mainstream, there to eddy forever in the public consciousness.)
To be sure, even if Bloomberg were to enthrone himself this July, it’s a long throw to the November election. The Sanders people, most obviously, won’t be happy to see their man bested twice in a row by Wall Street money—first indirectly through Hillary Clinton, then directly from Mayor Mike. So Bloomberg and his billions would have to find a way, if they could, to bandage up those intra-party wounds. Yet of course, even the most embittered progressives often yearn for get-out-the-vote money, to say nothing of walking-around money.
Still, standing athwart Bloomberg’s path to the White House, there’s Republican Donald Trump—and he’s no pushover. So we can only guess at how much Bloomberg, if he were to get that far, would be willing to spend in his big push to Pennsylvania Avenue. Can we count that high? If not, maybe we’d have to learn.
In the meantime, this author will stand by what he wrote on November 13, when Bloomberg announced his candidacy: “We must recognize an eternal truth: When it really puts its mind to it, more often than not, Capital wins.”