third fourth fifth time’s a charm. I am going to get this post on Iowa out.
Throughout the pre-primary season, the GOP field has been running against the inevitability of Mitt Romney as the standard bearer. Romney is well-funded, has name recognition, has experience running for president, and value from the standpoint of an electoral strategy with ties to swing-state Michigan (his father was once Governor) and a history of being governor of the liberal bastion of Massachusetts. (The likelihood of The Bay State actually being in play is low, but Romney, could force Obama to devote resources to defending it. Or Obama could ride Elizabeth Warren’s coattails.)
He’s had two problems, however. First, no one likes him because he has a demeanor akin to a cartoon depiction of a politician. Second, he’s Mormon, something that significant elements of the GOP base are less than comfortable with. And so began the revolving flavor of the week. Each of Romney’s opponents rose to the top before flaming out quite spectacularly. From Cain’s marital problems to Bachmann’s nuttery to Gingrich’s…well everything about him, to Perry’s blithering idiocy, each individual was fatally flawed and fell by the wayside. Even Ron Paul started a climb to prominence before someone dug out his racist newsletters. To quote Perry, “Oops.”
Gingrich was the last flavor of the week for collapse under the weight of his political and personal past and an onslaught of negative advertising from Romney’s SuperPAC (Thanks for that SCOTUS.) leaving room for the someone else to assume that role going into Iowa. That someone was Rick Santorum. (If you’re innocent enough to not know about his Google problem, please do not Google him. I cannot supply enough mind bleach to counter the effect and I assume no responsibility for the consequences.)
Until a few weeks ago, Santorum was a lowest tier candidate with no change of winning the nomination. Then Gingrich happened. Willing to forgive but not trust, a coalition of pastors rallied behind Santorum as an alternative to Gingrich. Read that as “a hard core conservative who is not a serial adulterer.”
Well, we all know what happened. Romney won Iowa by just 8 votes over Rick Santorum with Paul rounding out the top three. Of course, the big question is what this turn of events, if it is a turn of events, means going forward.
Well, the answer to that question lies in New Hampshire on Tuesday as Granite State voters head to the polls in the first primary contest of the 2012 Presidential Election. So what can we look for? First, Romney is going to “win”. That is he’s going to come away with the most votes and the most delegates. If he doesn’t he’s done and the GOP Primary will be thrown into chaos. (Believe it or not, is has not been in chaos yet. It’s been dynamic, but there’s been structure to the dynamic. ) At that point, all bets are off.
But that’s not going to happen. New Hampshire is Romney’s firewall. He’s the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, and he’s got appeal as the establishment Republican and the relative moderation that entails. Of course, that moderation is what hurts him further along the primary calendar.
That’s why New Hampshire is critical to his success. Iowa can be a throw away event. The caucus system does not draw the greatest breadth of the electorate, not like a primary. A caucus is very much about organization and passion. That’s why Ron Paul does well. He’s got passionate followers, and the caucuses allow him to leverage that passion. That’s the conventional wisdom, at any rate. The fact is, his libertarianism could appeal to independently minded New Hampshirites, so don’t be shocked to see him do all right on Tuesday. A strong finish in the top 3 or 4 should not make headlines for him.
So who do we watch? I think Gingrich is done. However, he seems to be ready to go all out to destroy Romney, and when Gingrich unleashes his venon, it’s a pretty formidable thing. Another question is where the Bachmann voters go, now that she’s out. The logical choice would be Santorum. We’ll get to him in a moment. For that matter, what about former Gingrich voters? Or Cain supporters? As far as I can tell, Santorum, Bachmann, Cain, Perry and Gingrich made up the “anti-Romney” core of the field. With Bachman and Cain gone and Perry running for VP, that leaves Gingrich and Santorum. So, do those voters split between Gingrich and Santorum? Will they gravitate toward one or the other, or throw theirs support elsewhere?
Elsewhere is one of three candidates at this point, Romney, Paul and Huntsman. Obviously, a move toward Romney expands on the inevitability factor. Huntsman, also a Mormon will run into the same distrust among evangelicals as Romney, although he doesn’t have the history of tailoring his positions to his audience that Romney does. He didn’t abandon that moderate sanity to run to the primary base like Romney did. He didn’t compete in Iowa and has been camped out in New Hampshire. Will it pay off? Maybe for a week or two, but he’ll be gone by Super Tuesday, and that’s being generous. It’s too bad, too. A Huntsman/Obama race would probably amount to a great dialogue about our nation.
Then there’s Ron Paul. He’s got the small government thing down, but he’s got it too small when it comes to things like marijuana, and he freaks out Wall Street. When it comes down to it, Paul is a libertarian extremist, and that may appeal to voters for a while, but if he gets serious coverage, his extremism will destroy him.
That leave’s Rick Santorum. I’ll get to him tomorrow, because he’s the one to watch.