You know the wagons are circling when Iowa's highest-profile Republicans stick up for the state's Democratic Party.
U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, did exactly that on Tuesday.
In the aftermath of the state Democratic Party's caucus disaster, the Republican trio, recognizing their party's own stake in the future of the first-in-the-nation event, emphasized its virtues and shrugged off the notion that the delay in reporting the results was a big deal.
"Iowa’s bipartisan first-in-the-nation status helped lead to the nomination of President Obama and has the full backing of President Trump," Grassley, Ernst and Reynolds said in a statement. "The process is not suffering because of a short delay in knowing the final results."
But Iowa is suffering. The case for the caucuses holding their leadoff spot has been dealt a huge blow.
The caucuses already were the subject of the usual criticisms, and now we can add to the list this one: The 2020 caucuses failed Monday night to provide the kind of order to the presidential race that is one of their primary reasons for being.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the party finally began reporting results. As of this writing, 62% of results were in. But the damage had already piled up as the nation waited. On social media, #iowacaucusdisaster was trending. On the TV networks, it was a PR disaster.
So, will the caucuses survive?
The early chatter is they won't.
David Plouffe, who ran Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, much of which was centered on Iowa, said on Monday, "We may be witnessing the last Iowa caucus."
David Yepsen, a former Des Moines Register reporter who has long been recognized as the dean of the state's political press corps, tweeted this late Monday: "RIP caucuses. And after the GOP fiasco of 2012, Iowa probably shouldn’t even try."
In the 2012 "GOP fiasco" he referred to, Mitt Romney was named the winner, only to have the Republican Party of Iowa reverse itself after an audit and declare Rick Santorum the victor.
Yet, Iowa survived that disaster.
Might it do so again?
Is it too early to definitively pull the sheet up over the caucuses?
Betting against Iowa generally has been a losing proposition. But this time, it feels different. The caucuses have too many enemies, especially in the Democratic Party. Many of them are in Iowa.
The complaints about disenfranchisement remain and grow louder. And it may be a longstanding criticism, but the argument that the state is too white resonates in a party where people of color are a vital part of putting together a winning coalition.
That's especially true in the age of Trump.
It's even more noticeable in a cycle in which candidates of color went by the wayside even before Monday night. (It's not fair to blame that on Iowa; the party's debate rules had an effect. So did the losing campaigns. But Iowa probably will shoulder some of the blame.)
The point is, the caucuses already have plenty stacked against them. Now the 2020 candidates have to wonder how much they'll get out of Iowa even if the belated verdict is good for them.
With the State of the Union last night and the Senate impeachment vote today taking up space on the news menu — not to mention the New Hampshire primary is less than a week away — Iowa's "bounce," if it even exists, surely will be limited.
That said, we would be remiss if we did not praise the tens of thousands of Iowans who showed up to caucus Monday night. Early estimates are that turnout was one of the highest in history, even if it appears it will not measure up to some expectations.
The accurate reporting of the results, the verification process the Iowa Democratic Party is going through, matters to the participation of each and every one of them.
Iowans showed their passion this campaign cycle, and they are to be commended for turning out in droves Monday night to take part in this unique part of democracy.