DES MOINES, Iowa — Large candidate fields and tight races are nothing new for the Iowa Caucuses but the 2016 edition is unlike any that has come before.
“Nothing like this. This is unknown territory,” said Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball.
We’ve heard national journalists, like Matthews, share this sentiment — but the befuddlement stretches into the academic field as well.
“There is no playbook for this,” said Jennifer Glover Konfrst, head of Drake’s Strategic Political Communication Department. “If you wrote about this in Hollywood no one would believe it.”
“I think anything is possible,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, Political Science professor at Drake University.
The man in the middle of the unknown is Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump has done something brand new. He has broken apart the Republican party and the country,” said Matthews. “He shakes things up and his message is wild.”
“In the history of the Iowa Caucus there has never been a candidate like Donald Trump,” said Leo Landis, of the State Historical Society of Iowa. “No one has had the statue of celebrity he has…you had Ross Perot as a third party candidate but he was not able to dominate the media cycle like Trump.”
It’s not just the fight Trump is having with his own party but a win by a Vermont senator could add to the intrigue.
“A win by Bernie Sanders tonight and a win by Donald Trump tonight creates an earthquake in American politics,” says Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “The likes of which, I can’t remember in my lifetime. That means the Republican Party and Democratic Party and the power structure in Washington D.C. are decimated all in one day. The people in Iowa can do that tonight. They can change history tonight, we’ll see if it happens.”
While the 2016 Iowa Caucuses have a chance to be historic there is something very familiar about them.
Landis is a curator at the State Historical Society of Iowa. He helped pick all the artifacts in the “First in Nation: Shaping Presidential Politics Since 1972” exhibit in 2015. “You had a contested Caucus on both sides,” said Landis of the 1988 Iowa Caucus. “You had a wide open race one side and a highly contested race on the other side.”
Landis would go on to say that he was also reminded of the ‘88 Caucus because of the amount of media attention that it received.