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.
Here we go again. In four days, the nation is going to let a state representing 7 electoral votes set the tone for the quadrennial Presidential Election process. This state is hardly representative of the nation as a whole, either. The residents of Iowa have more disposable income than the rest of us. Demographically, Iowa is less ethnically diverse, less educated and more rural than the country in general. The state’s largest city, Des Moines, is ranked 106th in total population and 98th in population density – making it more a large suburb than an actual city.
Why do we do this? Why do we allow 1.2% of the nation’s populace decide the fate of the Unites States for the next four years? I can’t think of a particularly good reason. But I can think of a particularly good way to end the charade. Have all primaries conducted on the same day.
To be clear, I am NOT advocating for federal administration of primary elections. The states have done a fine job running them. If they would rather have the circus atmosphere of a caucus than an election, fine. If they want restrictive and onerous ballot rules, okay. This is directed at the national parties, who are responsible for creating the primary schedule and have perpetrated the insanity of allowing a very non-representative portion of the population to determine their candidates for President. (After Iowa comes New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes and even less representative of the nation).
But a National Primary Day does several things to help end the confusion common to Presidential primaries. First, it effectively ends the candidacy of people with marginal appeal. Let’s face it, by focusing all of their energies on one small state, some pretty marginal people have been able to enter the national conversation based on one position – only to fade into political oblivion. Mike Huckabee won Iowa, only to become a talk show host. Pat Buchanan used Iowa to re-energize a fading career as a political pundit. Howard Dean made plenty of noise in Iowa, only to become a punch-line on late night television. This year, can anyone really imagine that the race baiting history of a Ron Paul wouldn’t be a political albatross in states with more than a 5% minority population? Or that single issue candidates Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum would be players on a national stage?
Second, having all Presidential primaries contested at the same time would require candidates to create a national political organization. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were surprised by their inability to get on the Virginia primary ballot. Yet the underlying reason is their inability to properly organize. Gingrich can be excused, in a sense; his campaign is underfunded and was largely seen as a joke until last month (although, residing in Virginia probably means he should have understood the rules better than any other candidate). Perry, however, has oodles of money – more than anyone in the race not named Romney – and his inability is due simply to a lack of campaign oversight. Seriously, do we want a President who can’t organize well enough to ensure he’s on every state ballot? Or hire someone to do that for him? Making speeches is one thing, but ensuring the basics are attended to is an essential leadership trait. The United States federal government is a much larger enterprise than any political campaign. A candidate who can’t assume the responsibilities of Chief Executive of a political campaign certainly can’t be trusted to be the Chief Executive of the United States.
Finally, a National Primary Day ensures that every primary vote carries the same weight. The essential element is this: by giving various states an initial say in the nominating process, the citizens voting later have less input. Odds are that by the time “Super Tuesday” rolls around, the parties have already settled on a presumptive nominee. By the time I get to cast a ballot in June, the nominee has been decided – voting becomes nothing more than a pro forma exercise in civic responsibility. The effect, of course, is suppressed turnout in those states, which has dramatic effects on down ballot candidates and initiatives.
It is time to end the madness. Allowing the voters in Iowa (or New Hampshire) to have more input than voters in California (or us poor New Jerseyans) is one 19th century idea whose time has passed.