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End the chaos in Washington, cry the Democrats. Stop the disruptive madness, they clamour. Restore institutions. More power to government.

And yet, they can’t even count votes. They can’t even run a small state election. As epic failures go, it’s hard to match the debacle of their first 2020 electoral test at the Iowa caucuses. A few hours delay in getting results counted, maybe. But all night, all the next morning and afternoon?

The degree of ineptitude was staggering and Donald Trump’s followers could hardly be blamed – can those guys even operate a pop stand? – for yukking it up. The U.S. President’s campaign manager Brad Parscale said, “They can’t even run a caucus, and they want to run the government.”

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Mr. Trump, who some were calling the winner of the Democratic primary, was gleefully harpooning his rivals, wondering if they were going to blame the Russians for what happened. The Democrats, of course, have been up in arms over foreign interference in elections and Mr. Trump’s alleged handiwork in trying to abet it. Then they hand him this gift.

A precinct secretary and volunteer conduct an initial headcount of caucusgoers at Drake University’s Knapp Center in Des Moines on Feb. 3, 2020.

JORDAN GALE/The New York Times News Service

More good news for the President was that Bernie Sanders, the socialist candidate Mr. Trump prefers to meet in November, had a very good night while Joe Biden, who polls suggest has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump, fared dismally. With 62 per cent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Biden was a distant fourth. Pete Buttigieg led narrowly in the delegate count, Mr. Sanders narrowly in the popular vote.

Mr. Buttigieg had been expected to do well in Iowa but is far behind Mr. Sanders in polling ahead of next week’s primary in New Hampshire, and trails him by a large margin in national polls as well.

Iowa is not a good state for Mr. Biden in that it is about 90 per cent white. But with his chances of doing well in New Hampshire not much better, the prospects for the long-time front runner – the guy who has cast himself as Mr. Normal – suddenly look grim.

Maybe Democrats don’t want normal. Maybe they want a disruptor on the left to take on the raging one on the right.

Moderate Buttigieg slashed into the Biden base, and Michael Bloomberg, another candidate of the middle, is prepped to cut further into the Biden support when he enters the contest on Super Tuesday, March 3.

Mr. Sanders faces no such crowding. He hasn’t eclipsed Elizabeth Warren, who stands third in Iowa at the moment but could sink her chances in the Granite State on Feb. 11 and have many of her supporters move to him for subsequent contests.

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What a phenom, what an odds-defier the insurgent Mr. Sanders continues to be. Barack Obama puts out word to stop him. That doesn’t seem to matter. Hillary Clinton publicly declares that nobody likes him. No matter. He’s 78 and has endured a heart attack during his campaign. No matter. Oftentimes he hasn’t even been a member of the Democratic Party. No matter. He’s considered way to the left of most Americans. No matter.

He’s the oldest candidate, and his appeal is strongest among the very young. Last week, I watched him at the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump. He was biting his nails much of the time, his face orange from passion as opposed to, in the case of Mr. Trump, spray tan. He looked Luciferian, ready to unleash another American upheaval.

The tenor of the times is anti-establishment and Mr. Sanders occupies the bash-the-elites dynamic more so than any Democrat. He is an outer party force as was Mr. Trump for the Republicans when he took over that party in the primaries of 2016.

Mr. Sanders will likely be slowed down, as will Mr. Buttigieg, in the South Carolina primary, as neither has much support among African-Americans, a very favourable demographic for Mr. Biden. But it’s questionable whether the former vice-president, who is short on money, will gather enough momentum there to move back to the forefront.

The party is faced with ideological and generational divides and now the embarrassment of Iowa. Mr. Trump, despite undergoing an impeachment trial, has a party rock-solid in its support. He won 97 per cent of the vote in Iowa.

As a force in the electoral process, the Hawkeye State has probably seen its last moment in the sun. That’s as it should be. But its last hurrah is not without significance. It was another blow to the status quo, to the elites of the day. The two who benefit most from that are the Trump and Sanders campaigns.

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