“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society.” –James Madison
Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses provided a clear storyline for the Republican primary. The problem is, everyone has a completely different clear storyline. Perhaps the most important one is that Iowa is a greatly over-hyped circus thanks to the media, which benefit from ratings and advertising.
To recap, Mitt Romney won but by just eight votes (of 122,255 cast) over Rick Santorum, who surged in the last week to capture a political, if not numeric, victory. Both had 24 percent of the vote. Ron Paul took third with 21 percent (almost double his 2008 result), Newt Gingrich finished a distant fourth with 13 percent, and Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann brought up the rear, with 10 percent and 5 percent respectively. Jon Huntsman took 1 percent, but had written off the state to focus on New Hampshire. From there, it’s all spin.
Bachmann dropped out Wednesday morning, seeing that there was no way forward for her. The Minnesota congresswoman and Iowa native won the Ames straw poll in August, but that was her high-water mark. Her last-place finish, in spite of having been the only candidate besides Santorum to visit all 99 Iowa counties and working tirelessly in the retail politics for which Iowa is famous, pretty well sums up her candidacy. In fact, she received only 7 percent of the votes in her home county. Look for her to endorse one of the “Not Romneys” in the coming weeks.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry at first said he was headed back to Austin to “reassess” his campaign, but he soon followed up with an announcement that he was moving on to South Carolina and would not be quitting just yet after all. He still has money in the bank, and it’s possible that he could still revive his campaign.
One word describes Gingrich after his precipitous fall in Iowa: angry. Newt led the polls in December by a significant margin, only to see massive amounts of negative ads from his opponents cut his numbers by almost two-thirds. Gingrich refused to congratulate Romney on his win, and signaled that he would be running no-holds-barred against the “Massachusetts Moderate,” who is rich. Oddly, he meant that as a contrast: “I’m not rich,” he said, despite his earning $1.6 million from Freddie Mac and having a six-figure line of credit at Tiffany’s. Class warfare isn’t becoming of a supposed conservative.
Ron Paul called his third-place finish “nothing to be ashamed of,” and says he’s “ready and raring to move on to the next stop, which is New Hampshire.” Indeed, Paul has millions in the bank — certainly enough to keep him going for some time. We’re quite fond of his defense of the Constitution and principled stands for Liberty, and we hope that voters come around to his views on most domestic policy. On the other hand, we reject the blame-America foundation for his foreign policy and, as a result, have a hard time seeing him as commander in chief (Treasury secretary, anyone?). That said, Paul’s views are not isolationist, and it’s intellectually lazy to call them such — a way to write him off without debate. For example, he supported military action against al-Qa’ida after 9/11, and he advocates free trade, among other examples that argue against the isolationist charge. Unfortunately for Dr. Paul, this perception, as well as blemishes like the incendiary newsletters published in his name two decades ago, means his ceiling is probably the 21 percent he garnered in Iowa, and he is arguably the least likely GOP candidate to beat Barack Obama.
“Game on,” said a triumphant Rick Santorum after taking a close second Tuesday. The former Pennsylvania senator ran the race as the tortoise, visiting every Iowa county and doing the all-important retail work. Many see Santorum’s showing as a big win for the underdog, though there are reasons to question this storyline. Santorum did nearly defeat Romney, but he also concentrated his entire candidacy on winning Iowa, taking months to earn the win, while Romney largely ignored the state until December. Then again, if Romney’s ceiling of 25 percent continues, Santorum could capitalize by unifying the other 75 percent. As a strong social conservative, Santorum has the same evangelical appeal Mike Huckabee had in 2008. His challenge will thus be to shed the all-too-appropriate label of “big government conservative” for his votes in Congress, particularly on spending, including earmarks, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Mitt Romney won the vote numbers, but he has a very real problem appealing to conservatives. He lost the Tea Party vote badly, and he will need it to beat Obama. That said, although it’s far from inevitable that Romney will be the nominee, the reality of it is looking more likely all the time. He will almost certainly win New Hampshire going away, and he will compete in South Carolina, Nevada and Florida. For six months, conservatives have had flings with all the other candidates save Huntsman and have found them lacking in some significant way. Given the field, Romney may win by default — not exactly a satisfying way to choose a presidential nominee in a year as important as this one.
Just remember, as much as I am an advocate for Newt Gingrich, anyone is better than Obama. Even Mitt Romney. Money sure does buy you a lot, in his case even the Republican nomination.