It took an hour and a half for Shawn Sebastian to get hung up on in 10 seconds. And it unfolded on national television Monday, making the moment, in the words of some, “one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen on cable TV.”
On a night in which inconsistencies in reporting delayed results of the Iowa caucuses into Tuesday, Sebastian, a caucus secretary for Story County’s Precinct 1-1, had been on hold with the Iowa Democratic Party hoping to report his precinct’s results.
After posting his precinct’s results to Twitter and expressing frustration over the process, he agreed to talk with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the disorganization of Monday night.
Then, about a minute into chatting with Blitzer, the 37-year-old heard another voice on the call, one from the state’s Democratic Party, saying it was his turn to report the results from his precinct: two delegates each for Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“This is a real coincidence, Wolf,” Sebastian told the anchor around 10 p.m. “I just got off hold just now, so I gotta get off the phone to report the results.”
Blitzer asked if they could listen in on the call and Sebastian obliged. As this was happening, a woman on the other end of the line was heard saying, “Hello? Hello?”
“Hi, hello?” Sebastian asked the official.
But it was too late.
“They hung up on me,” he said to Blitzer, laughing to himself at what had just happened. “They hung up on me. OK, I’ve got to get back in line on hold.” Still in disbelief, he added, “They just hung up.”
Blitzer, who some online blamed for Sebastian getting hung up on, was just as surprised. “So frustrating, indeed,” replied Blitzer, who was trending on Twitter into early Tuesday.
Explaining afterward in a series of Twitter messages to The Washington Post, Sebastian said, “Of course, the moment that I’m like — ‘Who knows how long this will take? Might as well talk to Wolf Blitzer’ — that’s the exact moment I get off hold.”
It was a fluke that Sebastian, a senior strategist for the grassroots organizing network People’s Action, could not have envisioned playing out in front of millions of viewers.
“The whole experience was surreal and I guess I didn’t act quick enough,” he said to The Post. “Just had to shake my head, and get back on hold.”
He added, “I think tonight is the best argument there is to abolish the caucus.”
Before the “quality control delay,” as it was being called for much of Monday night, Sebastian said his day as caucus secretary in central Iowa had gone better than he could have imagined. Though he had caucused in 2004 and 2008, it was his first time as caucus secretary, a role, he said, he “was volun-told, because no one else wanted to do it.” The nervousness he felt at the start of the day evaporated once his caucus of 285 people started shortly after 7 p.m. in an elementary school gym.
“Everyone was polite, the numbers were posted for everyone to see, and there were no controversies,” Sebastian said. “It went about as smoothly as it could.”
That feeling didn’t last long. After he was told that a phone app created to enter the precinct results wasn’t working and had begun cleaning up the gym, Sebastian said he was told by officials to call the caucus hotline. He returned home and got on Twitter to offer a breakdown of the delegates in his precinct, all while he was on hold.
Soon, the whole thing went viral as a microcosm of the disorganization in Iowa. The video caught the attention of Matt Wolking, the deputy director of communications for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, who needled Sebastian for being “too busy chatting with Wolf Blitzer” to report the results.
Clare Malone, senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight, described the clip as “the best TV all night.” Others noted the comedic value of listening to an unlucky but avoidable situation.
“This might be the funniest thing I’ve ever watched,” one observer tweeted.
About an hour after he was hung up on, Sebastian got through again shortly after 11 p.m. Given the different types of caucus data he had to relay to the Iowa Democratic Party, it took almost 20 minutes to report the results. “Starting to understand why I was on hold for so long,” he tweeted.
Sebastian remained frustrated early Tuesday with how the reporting process played out, noting that he “was just following the rules and this is the outcome the rules got us.”
When asked of the chuckle he let out once he realized he had been hung up on, Sebastian said the reaction was all he could offer in a situation that had turned into “a mess.”
“You just have to laugh to stop from crying,” he admitted to The Post. “It’s just so absurd.”