The Inevitable Iowa Post-Mortem
Mitt Romney’s Iowa victory by a mere eight votes is still first place, though the difference between the Iowa event and a primary for, say, State Senate, is that winning such a race by eight votes gives one little more than shouting rights rather than a nomination.
In fact, it appears that the third place candidate, Ron Paul, may have actually won the most delegates, though at this stage, shouting rights are probably worth more than delegates.
Truth be told, there’s a strong argument to be made that Romney’s running third would also have been a victory, and arguably a bigger one; Romney has winnowed the GOP field almost exactly to his specifications. Third place to Rick Sanitarium (pun intended) and Ron Paul would only have rallied the GOP establishment to his side harder and faster by increasing their sense of panic.
John McCain probably likes Mitt Romney slightly less than he does the Hanoi Hilton, but his immediate post Iowa endorsement exemplifies the fact that the Republican elite's embrace of Romney is very much like being a dog strapped to the roof of a fast moving vehicle. You aren't really happy about where you are, but the alternatives are far scarier.
Reducing one’s alternatives to Santorum and Paul concentrates the mind in the manner of a prospective execution.
The big caveat to this is that the winnowing may have been a bit too successful, a bit too soon. With Bachman's 5% out of the picture, even accounting for some fall off and vote splitting, Santorum would have won, and by far more than eight votes.
As Newt Gingrich points out, add up the Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Bachman votes and you have a solid majority of the GOP voters choosing a candidate of the far right. Combine these votes and Romney would be toast.
Much is made of the fact that Ron Paul is a candidate with almost no distance between his floor and his ceiling. In any given contest, his task is to find his voters and pull them, but persuasion is largely out of the question.
But little is made of the fact that among the GOP electorate in any given state, much the same can be said about the ceiling and floor of Mitt Romney. Some right wing voters may be won over by the prospect that he looks most like a winner, but for a large portion of the GOP electorate, he is at best a lesser evil to Obama (and a Mormon). His ceiling may be higher in some states than in others, and if momentum builds, there is a point where it may not longer matter, but at this point right wing unity may yet stop the tide of Romney’s supposed inevitability.
Right now, rapid departures from the GOP Gong Show are what is seemingly inevitable, even if the candidates don’t know it yet. On paper, their continued candidacy only helps Romney. In actuality, this may be less so.
My guess is that Gingrich knows he’s toast and doesn’t care, while Rick Perry is just too thick to get it. It is hard to see that Perry’s remaining in helps anyone but Romney; by contrast, Gingrich sounds a lot like a follower of Osama Bin Laden aiming his jet straight for the tall tower called Mitt Romney. It would be wrong to say that Gingrich seems not to care less that he will also go down in the flames he will cause. Rather, Newt seems to be looking forward to the prospect with some glee (perhaps he’s thinking about partaking in the 72 virgins to follow).
The campaign next moves to what seems to be Romney’s advantage. Voting in New Hampshire’s primary does not require commitment of an entire evening listening to speeches. It is a quick in and out (no wonder Gingrich is staying in). Thus the intensity of one’s support matters far less, and Romney does not spark intensity.
In addition, Romney was a successful Governor of an adjoining state with a large overlapping media market. New Hampshire has a strong right wing element, but Christian conservatives are outnumbered by “Live Free or Die” (the State motto) types who surely prefer Ron Paul to Santorum, and of the two Paul is the lesser threat in the long run.
But there are liabilities as well. Rick Perry was not a New Hampshire sort of guy even when he was doing well; the votes he takes from Santorum may now number in the dozens (though even this would have made the difference in Iowa).
Perhaps more importantly, John Huntsman may not be polling much, but whatever fantasy scenario he has for victory requires the destruction of Mitt Romney, and New Hampshire is Huntsman’s do or die state. Regard him as the second jet headed toward the Romney tower.
Before I leave, I think I have to say something more about Ron Paul. I do not think I’ve portrayed him unfairly as the lunatic fringe candidate that he is. However, I do not think all of his supporters are lunatics; many of them are not.
But that only makes their support of Paul even crazier.
However, what troubles me is a tendency I see to treat Paul as a lunatic, but Santorum as more mainstream.
Santorum thinks states should have the right to outlaw birth control, saying “The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a constitutional right, the state has the right to pass whatever statues they have,” and seems to support such action, saying “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country,” the former Pennsylvania senator explained. “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Like most American Catholics, I have followed the recent sex scandals in the Church with profound sympathy for victims, revulsion over priests who prey on minors and frustration at the absence of hierarchical leadership. Unlike most, I have been visited by the gift of hope; for I see in this fall an opportunity for ecclesial rebirth and a new evangelization of America. This “new evangelization,” advocated strenuously by Pope John Paul II, has the potential for restoring confidence in the priesthood while empowering all American Catholics…
It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning “private” moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.
I cannot say that I find Rick Santorum any less of a lunatic fringe extremist than I do Ron Paul.
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