The Iowa caucuses are over. As usual, they haven’t defined who will win – but they appear to have narrowed the field considerably. Here’s five things other things Iowans clarified last night.
1. The GOP establishment is in trouble: The Republican Old Guard has rallied around Mitt Romney, pitching him as the “electable” candidate who is “inevitable.” They may not say as much, but they have to be worried. Their inevitable candidate has yet to blast through his glass ceiling of support, ending up with only 25% of last night’s vote. Or, to put it in terms they don’t want to hear, 75% of Republican rank-and-file aren’t buying into either the electability or inevitability of Romney – margins eerily similar to the polling prior to the caucus in both Iowa and the national party. They’ll continue to pour in their support (see: John McCain), but Romney is in for a much tougher fight than he or his establishment backers originally thought. A real sign of trouble will be if Romney can’t get past 40% in New Hampshire. If that happens, expect the establishment to really open up with a full barrage – and risk alienating their party’s base of support.
2. Tea Party Conservatives are coalescing: around Rick Santorum. This is the big story out of the caucuses, and already the left is going off a cliff at the idea of a legitimate Santorum candidacy. The real question is how far can Santorum go? He has limited funding and a skeleton operation. He finished strong in Iowa based on old-fashioned retail politicking, a method which is impossible in a nationwide primary. Still, with Michelle Bachmann now officially out and Rick Perry sounding like he is, Tea Partiers are waking to the realization it’s either Santorum or Gingrich for them – and most have an understandable aversion to Newt. Romney may think Santorum will be easy pickings, based on the latter’s lack of political organization. But, the existing Tea Party groups (such as Tea Party Express) may give Santorum all the organization he needs to compete. If they publicly endorse Santorum in the coming days, look for his campaign to take off.
3. Newt Gingrich is back in his comfort zone: Newt as the peacemaker never really fit his temperament or his history. Based on his statements leading up to last night’s vote and his remarks after, it sounds as if Newt is going to happily stick around for as long as he can, if just to make life miserable for Romney. Lord knows hell hath no fury like a Gingrich crossed and it looks as if Mitt is about to discover that first hand.
4. The real “flavor of the month” was Ron Paul: No candidate needed a win in Iowa more than Paul. Although he tallied 21% of the vote, the stark reality is that among registered Republicans he only garnered 14%. This comes less than a week after leading all candidates among Republicans in Iowa. It seems once they became familiar with some of his zanier ideas and positions, GOP voters decided a man from Venus wasn’t their best option. Yes, Paul did well in bringing Democrats and independents in to vote for him and the fervor among his disciples is reminiscent of Obama in 2008, but his candidacy is basically over. Look for him to do well in New Hampshire’s open primary, then bolt to challenge Gary Johnson for the Libertarian Party nomination after getting whitewashed in South Carolina.
5. The key to the race is still held by Rick Perry: Perry is still officially in the race, although he has gone back to Texas to reexamine his candidacy. Politicians rarely return from self-imposed exile to resume a campaign. However, Perry still has the second largest war chest of any candidate and several PAC’s that were supporting him. Assuming he drops out of the race, the question is: does he keep his money for a potential bid in 2016, or throw that financial might behind a Santorum candidacy? Buoyed by Perry’s finances, Santorum becomes much more formidable – a fact that Perry, who harbors as much (if not more) animosity towards Romney as Gingrich should be all too aware of.
UPDATED 1:02PM: No sooner did I hit publish on this than I read this article from AP, insinuating Perry is going to continue at least through South Carolina. If that is the case (no confirmation yet one way or the other), than point number 5 becomes moot.