On Iowa

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 4, 2012

An eight vote margin of victory is about as razor thin as they come, but bearing in mind the fact that Rick Santorum ran for president of Iowa, and Mitt Romney basically came in at the last minute to campaign because he saw an opening, the night turned out very well for Romney. And truth be told, Romney was in a very enviable position; no one really expected him to win Iowa (the expectations for New Hampshire are much higher, of course), and neither Santorum, nor Ron Paul–who embarrassed himself with a third place finish–is going to go much further in this race. To be sure, Romney spent an awful lot of money in Iowa, but he was also competing for votes amongst a populace that wasn’t exactly primed to take to him; after all, Romney is a Mormon, not an evangelical, and there are questions about his conservative credentials. Having won Iowa–however barely–Romney is now primed to do very well in New Hampshire, and see the field winnow further as onetime serious competitors are gradually forced to drop out. The inevitability factor regarding his nomination just went up.

This is why I think it is so silly to continue obsessing over some kind of “ceiling” to Romney’s support within the Republican party. Whatever the ceiling, Romney got the most votes of a very crowded field last night, and his vote share is going to go up as other candidates drop out, and as the bandwagon effect takes over regarding Romney’s candidacy. It was especially amusing to witness various Democratic pundits salivate over the possibility that this might turn out to be a long, drawn out Republican nominating contest. To be sure, long nominating contests can harm candidates who go into a general election season weakened and bloodied–just ask Jimmy Carter about his experience in 1980–but if a nominating contest ends too quickly, the candidate’s team won’t be sufficiently battle-hardened for the fall campaign. And incidentally, did a long, drawn out contest for the Democratic presidential nomination four years ago keep Barack Obama from becoming president?

The results from Iowa have already had ramifications. Michele Bachmann has “suspended” her campaign, which is a convenient way for candidates to drop out of the race, while at the same time being able to raise money in order to pay staff, pay off expenses, and fund the winding down of the campaign. Rick Perry appeared to contemplate dropping out last night, but apparently has decided to go to South Carolina. Perry had a very disappointing experience in Iowa, and it is doubtful that he is going to be able to get it together in time to salvage his candidacy, but if any state–outside of Texas–might help him right his ship, it will be South Carolina.

Newt Gingrich’s “concession” speech last night was one of the worst I have ever seen. It was mean, it was grouchy, and it was fundamentally ungracious and indecent. It is one thing to be upset about attack ads aimed at your person, but if you fail to respond to those ads, the blame is yours and yours alone. Gingrich’s sullen temper tantrum makes one wonder whether he really has the temperament to be president; the unappealing parts of his personality were manifest in his speech, and as one who in the past was sympathetic to him, I must admit to being very disappointed in his lack of maturity.

Rick Santorum pulled off an impressive result, especially given the fact that he was languishing at the bottom of the polls for quite a while. Kudos, but it is difficult to see where he goes from here. I don’t expect his candidacy to last that much longer.

And finally, have I mentioned that despite all the talk about his vaunted organization, and his supposedly devoted following, Ron Paul only managed a third place finish? That has to be embarrassing to him.

  • Tung Yin

    I generally agree with what you’ve written, but I wonder about whether dropouts by other candidates necessarily benefit Romney. It’s hard to know where Bachman’s supporters will go, but one presumes that it won’t be to Romney, at least not right away. If they go to Perry, that doesn’t hurt Romney, but if they go to Santorum, it boosts Santorum in the short term. I suppose it all depends on how hardcore the “non-Romney” Republican vote is.

    Of course, if Santorum were somehow to get the nomination, this independent voter will definitely be voting for Obama. I like divided government as it is, and I expect the Republicans to take full control of Congress. The idea of President Santorum with a Republican Congress — yikes, it would make the Bush White House look restrained in spending, and it will have the excessive social conservatism . . . No thanks.

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