The Josh Hansen Review of 2016 Iowa Victory Speeches; or, Anguish of the Political Independent

I just watched the Iowa “victory” speeches of Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio. Here are my notes on the themes struck by the candidates, and how their speeches came across to me, an idiosyncratic nonpartisan who isn’t anybody’s target audience.


Everybody seems to agree on a few things. All or almost all of the candidates either did say or could have said the following:

  • “The country is in crisis.”
  • “Power should reside in the people.”
  • “My [defeated] opponents in our party are wonderful people who fought a good fight.”
  • “My opponents in the other party are devious and divisive.”


The Bernie Sanders speech was vigorous and interesting.

  • Punching bag: wealthy businessmen, Koch bros, etc.
  • Against campaign finance corruption; proud of not having SuperPAC
  • Says healthcare is a right, not a privilege (without qualification)
  • Says public colleges and universities should be tuition-free; pay for it using tax on Wall Street speculation
  • $15 minimum wage
  • Rails against wealth inequality, says will do something about it but does not specify
  • Says he needs the help of a “political revolution”
  • 2.3 million donors, average donation of $27
  • Climate change
  • Mentions of unions: 0


Ted Cruz‘s speech was boring. He thanked each and every supporter and volunteer and endorser, his mom, his cousin, his dad. Then a long thing about Ronald Reagan. Then a list of conservative issues. Not an ideas speech but a long-winded consolidating support speech.

  • Punching bag: Washington establishment in both parties; “the Washington cartel”; “a corrupt class that enriches itself and leaves behind the working men and women of this country”
  • Mentions of Constitution: 4
  • Mentions of God: 3
  • Mentions of prayer: 2
  • Scripture quotations: 1
  • Mentions of Ronald Reagan: 5 (yes, Reagan is invoked more often than God)
  • Lengthy disquisitions on Ronald Reagan: 1
  • “it’s morning”; “morning is coming” (an implicit Reagan reference)
  • Obligatory but insubstantial mentions of conservative causes: free markets, Judeo-Christian values, Obamacare repeal, 2nd Amendment, Israel, limited government, economic growth, military strength, life, marriage, religious liberty
  • 800,000 donors, average donation of $67
  • Stop immigration amnesty, secure borders, end sanctuary cities
  • National security, “radical Islamic terrorism”, ISIS
  • @TheMilitary: rules of engagement have been wrong, immoral, and will end under me. (Sounds like Nixon re: Vietnam)
  • @LawEnforcement: no more being demonized
  • Margaret Thatcher reference re: socialism


Hillary Clinton‘s speech was ho-hum. She did the “victory” speech she was obligated to do. The most interesting idea was that the Democratic party faces a choice about what it stands for, with her and Sanders representing two distinct paths.

  • We’re deciding what the Democratic party stands for [choosing between her and Sanders]
  • I’m a progressive
  • Mentions reformers against the status quo
  • More good-paying jobs, raise incomes
  • Finish the job of universal healthcare coverage
  • Combat climate change
  • Education system work for every one of our children
  • Make college affordable, reduce student debt
  • Protect rights: women’s, gay, voting, immigrant, workers’
  • “Common sense gun safety measures” against the gun lobby
  • “Determined to push forward on the great goals and values that unite us as Americans”
  • Mentions of God: 1


Donald Trump was unfocused but mercifully short.

  • So happy, nobody thought we could do this well, thanks to my family, etc.
  • “We’re at 28 points ahead” in New Hampshire
  • Trump at his humblest: “I think we’re going to be proclaiming victory, I hope.”
  • Boasts of soundly beating whoever the Democrats pick


Marco Rubio came across as energetic and passionate.

  • “For months they told us… we had no chance.” Not old enough, etc. “They told me… that I needed to wait in line.”
  • “Everything that makes this nation great is hanging in the balance.”
  • Mentions of God: 4
  • Mentions of Constitution: 2
  • Mentions of Reagan: 0
  • 2nd Amendment
  • Says we need to rebuild the military (as if it were too small)
  • 2016 is a referendum on our identity as a nation. If Sanders/Clinton win, we’ll be a great nation in decline.
  • Obamacare, executive orders, military decline, liberal justices in supreme court
  • Hillary Clinton: is disqualified because of classified info in private email server; because she lied to armed forces (a jab at her Benghazi testimony?)
  • We’ll grow the conservative movement
  • People living paycheck-to-paycheck, students with debt, families trying to raise children with values
  • Defeat Clinton/Sanders/whoever
  • American Declaration of Independence, rights come from Creator not government
  • Rubio’s immigrant parents helped him see what was special about America. This isn’t just my story, it’s our story, it’s America’s story.
  • America isn’t special by accident; each generation sacrificed to make things better off; it’s our turn to do the same; when I’m elected, we will do our part
  • What history will say about us: we remembered who we were, confronted our problems, expanded the American dream, because we did what needed to be done. A new American century.
  • I’ll be back as our nominee.


The two candidates that felt like they actually cared about the substance of their campaigns were Sanders and Rubio. The others felt like they were just checking boxes by listing off hot-button issues that excite their supporters. Or they were just maintaining their existing overbearing, bombastic persona (Trump).

Assuming these distillations from the Iowa caucus speeches represent the priorities of each candidate accurately, I feel deeply torn about the visions of the future presented. Within the strange bundling of issues known as the left and the likewise weird concoction of issues known as the right are many excellent ideas. The critical importance of our founding document, the Constitution. The importance of mitigating what appears to be human-caused climate change. The dangers of a sprawling federal bureaucracy that consumes increasingly much of our economic output. The peril to social cohesion presented by extreme inequality of wealth and income. The vital contributions to our country made by immigrants, but the problems posed by our current disorderly immigration policy as well. These are all things I can get behind.

But my personal political platform as represented by this list is a hand-picked splice of select parts of numerous candidates’ platforms. There is no party that represents me. Not even close. To get the good things offered by either party would require me to accept their numerous unpalatable positions: the Republicans’ obsession with the military and irresponsibly bellicose foreign policy; Sanders’ disregard for the massive tax increases necessary to support his expanded social programs, and the distorting influence of single-payer health systems; Republicans’ deification of Ronald Reagan; both parties not caring enough about our $20 trillion debt to dare speak truth to the American people about it; xenophobia; pharisaic invocation of religion for what feel like purely political purposes; capture by the gun lobby; capture by the unions; capture by the business lobby. So much nonsense.

The anguish of the political independent is that nobody speaks for them. And yet we must decide, we must game out, we must estimate which of all the evils best represents our interests. At times it feels like an impossible task.






One response to “The Josh Hansen Review of 2016 Iowa Victory Speeches; or, Anguish of the Political Independent”

  1. Bruce Christensen Avatar
    Bruce Christensen

    Thanks for the analysis. As another independent, I agree with almost everything you wrote. I often wish that politics were more about the issues and making good decisions, and less about side-picking us-against-them games.

    Most of all, I wish that we could somehow fix the structural problems with our political system that force candidates to extremes to win elections (campaign finance, gerrymandering, etc.), but at this point I have little hope of that. Sigh.

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