With the Democrats in Iowa now promising to release "50% of the results by 5pm EST" – which sounds exactly like something you say to a teacher or editor when you're working on a deadline you will not meet – it is becoming clear that the dominant memory from this will not be who won but simply of what a mess it was.
Someone suggested to me that declaring victory with 0% results in was a smart thing for Buttigieg to do. My initial reaction was, that is ridiculous. The winner of the caucus will *eventually* be known, and declaring yourself the winner of something you might turn out not to win would be, if not instantly fatal to a campaign, at the very least a source of continuing embarrassment. It would go down with things like Dukakis in the tank or the "Dean Scream" in the annals of ways candidates have managed to humiliate themselves.
The more I think about it, though, there might be some defensible logic to it.
Buttigieg has bet *everything* on Iowa. Everything. He isn't polling well nationally and he isn't polling well in New Hampshire or South Carolina. He isn't making an especially strong showing anywhere except in his fund raising numbers, which are good albeit not stellar, and Iowa. So, the campaign's strategy has to boil down to: win Iowa and then use 'I won Iowa!' as a springboard to get some momentum going into the next few races. Maybe improve how well you do in NH and SC even if you don't win them (it's likely, in the view of the campaigns themselves, that Sanders and Biden have NH and SC, respectively, pretty well sewn up).
What does he really have to lose? Short of winning Iowa – again, a state he threw everything into – his campaign is kinda dead in the water anyway. So I guess the bold play is to use partial data that shows him in a narrow lead to declare victory and…hope it sticks, I guess? I mean it's not a brilliant strategy, but I'm not sure what a brilliant strategy would be given the position he's in. He's not doing particularly well overall – that is, aside from Iowa. And he has statistically zero support among black voters, which is not a real good omen for a Democratic candidate.
So, in short, I think if he ends up losing (finishing anything but first) he will be a laughingstock but so what? If he finishes anything but first his campaign's strategy didn't work and he's probably toast anyway. It's some crazy shit, but why not try some crazy shit when you probably won't improve your odds to win by behaving well and sticking to the traditional script.
"Bold move, let's see if it pays off for him."