Lewis Carroll Describes the Caucus Races

Tenniel, a Caucus race winner

Tenniel illus. of the Dodo presenting Alice with “an elegant thimble”


I was teaching Alice in Wonderland yesterday in my British Fantasy class and discovered that Lewis Carroll has a pretty good understanding of American electoral politics. Or at least, he manages to describe well some of the caucuses we have witnessed recently.

Here’s Vox describing what happened in Nevada’s GOP caucuses this past Tuesday:

Nevada’s GOP caucuses were a mess Tuesday night: long lines, loose ballots, voters directed to sites that didn’t exist, and volunteers taking ballots while wearing Donald Trump apparel.

At least it was better than four years ago:

In 2012, the Nevada Republican Party took three days to announce who actually won the caucus after only 33,000 people came to the polls.

In the Iowa caucuses, meanwhile, there were shenanigans from the Ted Cruz campaign. But again, it was better than four years ago when the wrong candidate was announced the winner. Mitt Romney was actually beaten by Rick Santorum but the count wasn’t corrected until it was too late for Santorum to take advantage of the fact:

And now here’s Carroll’s description of a caucus race. According to The Annotated Alice, he was describing what went on in America. The race is held so that the animals and Alice can dry off after having fallen in the pool of tears:

First [the Dodo] marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (‘the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no ‘One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out, ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

As it turns out, figuring out who won is sometimes no more easy in real life than in Carroll’s fantasy work. Marco Rubio declared himself a winner in Iowa, even though he came in third. He saw himself the winner in Nevada because he finished ahead of Ted Cruz, even while finishing well behind Trump.

And how about on the Democratic side, where Bernie Sanders was seen as having posted a significant victory by finishing a close second to Hillary in the Iowa caucuses?

All the spin is very much in the spirit of Carroll’s nonsense story:

This question [of who won] the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, ‘Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

With each second place victory, however, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see Rubio as a winner.

Maybe, like Alice, he should be presented with an “elegant thimble” as a consolation prize.

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