There are other arguments proffered in favor of retaining the straw poll. Among the more novel comes from the media. It is argued that Ames occurs during a key moment in campaign-narrative construction — a news lull before the caucuses in which the mainstream media is already staffed up for full-bore election coverage but does not have much of anything to cover. In this environment, the fair-like (or is it carnival-like?) atmosphere of Ames is nothing short of a “Woodstock for politicos” and a respite for assignment editors in this cruel, cruel summer. You’ll forgive us if we are not moved by the exigencies and enthusiasms of the lot who quadrennially cover the Republican nomination process as an anthropological curiosity.
In fact, the spotlight is part of the problem. The media as much as anyone have imbued the story of Ames with an import that the reality of Ames has not justified — and cannot justify. And they help sell the fiction that the straw poll highlights the divergent preferences of the “grassroots” and the “establishment,” and not the divergent preferences of a hand-picked, bused-in sample and the Republican electorate nationwide. This fiction now infects the debate about Ames’s future, because the Ames we read about is not the non-predictive, distortive Ames of reality, but a mythic creature in a story. And like so many mythic creatures, this one needs slaying.