Super Tuesday was conceived by Southern Democrats after their devastating loss to Ronald Reagan in 1984. They never again wanted to see an ultra-liberal nominee take the party down to defeat. They had nominated the liberal vice president, Walter Mondale. Reagan carried every state in the union except Mondale’s home state of Minnesota.
The effort to remake the Democrats nominating process was led by a charismatic southern governor named Chuck Robb. He had other allies, including Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton. Their idea was to get southern states moved up earlier in the nominating process. This, they thought, would empower Democratic black voters and more moderate Southern whites. Of course, the southern governors knew that it would empower them as well. Perhaps they would have their own aspirations.
If Chuck Robb failed to win the Democratic nomination for himself, his buddy, Bill Clinton did and the first African American president, Barack Obama, won two terms.
Lots of experts are saying that in 2020 the Democrats are headed toward a brokered convention. A brokered convention is when no one, single candidate arrives at the national convention with enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. Each candidate will be forced to “broker” their delegates on each successive ballot until one gets a majority.
On the other hand, if you won it, there was no guarantee that it would work for you like it did for Jimmy Carter. Other successful politicians stumbled in Iowa, but that proved to not be fatal.
Jed called me back, he concluded that no one in New York thought he was going to make it through the Iowa Caucus. I countered, "Well I think he is beating Ambassador Bush."
"No, no, no," Mattes argued, "You don’t understand me. No one in New York thinks he is going to live through the Iowa Caucus. He is too old to be president."
So I wrote the only available biography of Ronald Reagan in 1980. It sold 400,000 books.
As it turned out, Reagan lost the Iowa Caucus in 1980 but went on to win the White House anyway.
Then I went to the bar and found Dorothy Bush, the vice president's daughter. She was stunned. She asked, "Is there any hope?" The story was that her dad, the vice president, was going to retire from politics and run the Purolator Company. I said, "There's still a chance in New Hampshire next week."
And so, George H.W. Bush won Iowa in 1980 but lost to Reagan for the nomination and lost Iowa in 1988 but won the presidency.
Iowa can mess with your mind.
For one final story. When I interviewed Eric Trump for my book "Inside Trump's White House" he told me a great story about the Iowa caucuses in 2016. The Trumps were new to politics. They knew the business world but the presidential game was at times baffling to them.
Eric was tapped as a surrogate speaker the night of the Caucus and was driven by staffers to a big gymnasium where he would have to talk about his father. On the way Eric blurted out, "Hey guys, what is a 'caucus'?"
I thought that was great. The Trump's loved their country and wanted to make a difference but they were certainly not lifelong politicians trying to get power.
It was all new. Eric’s question is a good one. What is a "caucus"?
When Trump demanded that NATO nations pay their delinquent dues, token amounts of money that they had agreed to pay to provide for their own defense, the American national media erupted. He was trying to weaken NATO, they claimed. He was a Russian spy. The media insisted this with a straight face.
Trump did not back down. “This has been going on for decades, by the way. Under many presidents,” he said. “But no other president has brought it up like I have.”
He was right.
In fact, within two years, the NATO secretary general insisted that Trump’s confrontational approach to member nations had made the organization stronger than it had ever been. The call for increased participation from allied nations was “having a real impact.” It was long overdue.
“Here is the ultimate example of American stupidity,” Trump told me. “We buy billions and billions of dollars’ worth of missiles. Then we give them away to our allies, our rich allies.
“So I challenge that. I say to the general, ‘Why are we doing that?’”
At this point in the conversation, Trump once again adopted the persona of a character in his story. He straightened up like a soldier and declared solemnly, speaking in the monotone, emotionless, staccato voice of his general, “Sir! They are our ally. They are our friends. Sir!”
Then Trump’s demeanor relaxed. “I say, ‘They are not our friends. They are ripping us off.’”
The president straightened up again, becoming the general. “‘Sir, they are our ally. Sir!’
“The worst part of this is the realization that the people who treat us worst are our allies.
With Trump as president, NATO nations that were the most flagrant abusers of their own agreement started coming into line. Trump’s action raised more than $40 billion for the United States—money that would have never come in without him. NATO nations added $100 billion toward their own defense. According to NATO’s secretary general, Jena Stoltenberg, the alliance was now stronger than ever.
*From the pages of Inside Trump's White House
The president waved a small handful of papers above his head, as if he were teasing a child with candy. “So, we’ve agreed to show you everything.”
He waved the papers. “Nobody’s seen this. My people don’t want me to give these to you. But I want you to read them. If you are going to do this book, you need to read this.
“These are private. These are the personal letters exchanged between me and Kim Jong-un. You can’t keep them, but I’m going to let you read them. These are amazing. This is history. I want to know what you think
Donald Trump had obviously signed on to the idea of this book, because without any prompting from me, or without a single question, he was now waving these letters—the crown jewels—before me.
“So, they don’t want me to let you see these letters, but I think you should,” he said. “I think you should. This is my personal correspondence with Kim Jong-un. I want you to read it.”
I didn’t know who he meant by “they,” the people who had told him not to show me the documents, but I assumed it wasn’t Bill or Sarah, the only others in the room. It was more likely NSA advisers, or State Department folks or intelligence experts. And they would all have good reasons to tell him not to let a writer see them. But that, of course, meant that my project was known to them, as well, and that it had been discussed.
“You can’t photograph these or copy them in anyway,” the president said. I imagined he was passing on protocols to which he had agreed.
And then he added, “Nobody will ever know how close we came to war.”
*From the pages of Inside Trump's White House
Doug Wead is a historian and New York Times bestselling author. He has served as an adviser to two American presidents, co-authored a book with one of them and served on senior staff at the White House.