The Cable

Paulo Rubio and Ronald Trump: How the World Sees the Iowa Caucuses

A look at what a smattering of the world’s news gatherers have had to say about Iowa.

COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA - JANUARY 31: Members of the media watch GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump as he holds a campaign rally at the Gerald W. Kirn Middle School on January 31, 2016 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Trump and other presidential hopefuls are in Iowa trying to gain support and crucial votes for tomorrow's caucuses.
(Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA - JANUARY 31: Members of the media watch GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump as he holds a campaign rally at the Gerald W. Kirn Middle School on January 31, 2016 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Trump and other presidential hopefuls are in Iowa trying to gain support and crucial votes for tomorrow's caucuses. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Iowan caucusers on Monday can expect to encounter the usual scrums of media lookers-on, who come to peer at the state’s quadrennial moment of nationwide political pertinence.  

Coastal city slickers on rural midwestern sojourns are not the only demographic among these microphone-wielding anchorpersons and sundry roving correspondents. Media organizations around the world, especially in Europe and the Americas, watch U.S. politics far more closely than most U.S. media outlets watch similar topics abroad, because U.S. public affairs have an outsized propensity to affect matters elsewhere.

Here’s a look at what a smattering of the world’s news gatherers have had to say about Iowa.

“A vulgar billionaire and a gruff socialist have been pushing the boundaries of U.S. politics for months,” German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported. “Their unorthodox presidential campaigns face a real test for the first time: the good people of Iowa.”

“Before dropping out of the Republican presidential race, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is reputed to have learned two things campaigning in Iowa: You need to love Jesus and ethanol,” the report continued.

German magazine Der Spiegel recently ran a photo of Donald Trump on its cover.

“America today measures the strength of discontent with the elites,” Spanish newspaper El País reported. “[Iowa’s] area is slightly larger than that of England, but the population, about three million people, is 17-times smaller.”

French daily Le Monde evoked Iowa as a land of cinematic American panoramas. “Wind turbine blades slowly eviscerate the low clouds,” an article began, going on to describe “corn stubble struggling against the wind-driven snow.”

On Monday morning, Le Monde dedicated an entire section of its website to explaining how the American primary system works: “Caucus, delegates, Super Tuesday: Understand Everything About the American Primaries.”

The explainer broke the topic into categories: What’s the point of the primaries? Who can vote? What is a caucus? What is a superdelegate? And “Super Tuesday”?

A five-minute video accompanies the article. It begins with a historical explanation reaching back to 1876, before moving on to “House of Cards” clips. Throughout the presentation, the narrator says things like: “Okay, so now we all understand, right? No, not really.” He refers to GOP candidates as Paulo Rubio and Ronald Trump. The video represents superdelegates as super hero cartoons, replete with capes.

In the U.K., U.S. politics is a spectator sport. People even bet on it legally. “My friends in Britain think America has gone absolutely mad,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz wrote in the Telegraph.

Argentinian news site Infobae sought language to describe the U.S. electoral system. “This will be the starting point for a long, almost half-year process in which each party will elect, through primary elections or ‘caucuses’ — depending on the state — the number of delegates that each candidate will have, to later be nominated in the party convention,” the site reported. “That is to say, this is an indirect election…. With this panorama [of primaries], the United States has one of the most competitive electoral systems, which distances it from the majority of Western countries.”

Many Mexican outlets have featured criticism of the caucuses. “The demographic face of America has nothing to do with Iowa,” wrote J. Jaime Hernández, Washington correspondent for El Universal, a Mexican paper. “The spectacle of the primaries in Iowa… has become a problem that has only accentuated the serious crisis of representation in the United States.” He seems to use “los caucus” and “las primarias” interchangeably.

South Africa’s Mail & Guardian honed in on the role of music at campaign events, with warm-up bands, celebrity appearances, and references to the U.S. protests music tradition. “Vampire Weekend, who admitted that one of their earlier songs had an inappropriately ‘nihilistic’ theme, were joined on stage at the end of the night by [Bernie Sanders] and his wife Jane Sanders for a rousing finale of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land,” the paper reported.

In China, where U.S. political stories that don’t relate directly to China don’t typically get much play, state-run China Youth Daily took somewhat of an interest in the process, marking the grueling political performances candidates put on and the mammoth spending sprees they must undertake. China Radio International, also state-run, devoted some attention to Trump, reporting: “Not even the least-experienced political outsider believes what he’s saying is real.” Trump has called for a 45 percent tax on Chinese goods.

In Iran, reports have been even-keeled, with news stories tracking the latest polling numbers.

An article explaining the caucuses in Russia Today, which relies mostly on aggregated vidoes, ends with the admonition: “Still confused? Just remember, Republicans vote with their hands, Democrats vote with their feet.”

After the caucus tallies come in, world media won’t have much to do with Iowa until 2020. The state, with a population smaller than that of many cities, and with corn, tractors, meat of swine (fresh or chilled), and meat of swine (frozen) as its top-four exports, won’t have much to do with politics in Beijing, Moscow, or Paris. Four years hence, when the ritual comes back around, newspapers around the world will once again face the inelegant task of explaining U.S. democracy, for a rightfully confused audience, from square one.

Photo credit: Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @bsoloway

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