Sometimes we put too much stock in the Iowa Caucus. This caucus has its share of odd results after all, like Pat Robertson winning in 1988. Or we can ask Governors Huckabee and Dean how well their Iowa victories translated to national victory. But, this year will likely be different.
For the Paul campaign, a victory would be a boon to the libertarian strand of thought within American conservatism, and likely the crowning glory to a noble if undistinguished legislative career. But let us be frank: It won’t tell us—at least not directly—who the Republican nominee will be.
Still, this year the first primary caucus has the potential of ending the primary race. In my opinion, a narrow loss to Paul by Romney will assure him the nomination. Why? If Gingrich finishes third, he will not win the nomination.
Romney will win New Hampshire, at which point Gingrich’s status as the “Anti-Romney” will be in serious doubt. If Paul has as strong a claim to that label as Gingrich has had, it only helps Romney. Romney losing a few Southern primaries on Super Tuesday won’t matter unless he loses them all to the same person, or performs especially poorly.
He’s the one with the lowest bar to clear. He can say to the GOP electorate, “Everybody’s favorite had their day in the sun, but I’m still here. I may not be your favorite, but I’m good enough. Let’s go beat Obama!”
As much as I personally would enjoy Paul’s critique of the GOP and current American foreign policy, if he were to win the nomination, an uphill re-election battle for Obama would become a comfortable landslide in the mold of Johnson over Goldwater in 1964.
I hate to say that, but we all know the truth of it. Could the GOP recover its non-interventionist traditions at some point in the near future? Yes. But it won’t be now. The rise of Santorum amply proves this; he’s as committed a neoconservative as could be found, and it has cost him nothing. Social conservatism may not have the same pull as in earlier decades, but it is still stronger than GOP sentiment against foreign intervention.
If Gingrich wants the nomination, he needs a strong second-place finish tomorrow and in New Hampshire. He can then credibly claim that Iowa is fluky, and New Hampshire is biased, but that most Republicans are willing to back him. He’ll handily beat Romney in later contests, as long as Romney hasn’t made it all academic by then.
Santorum feels like the Mike Huckabee of this race. He may end up, strangely enough, the first choice of the GOP’s evangelical voters. (He’s a faithful Catholic.) But it seems unlikely that he can win the nomination.
At the end of tomorrow, I expect Bachmann and Perry to withdraw. Perry had a good chance, but his gaffes and debate performance remind a not insignificant portion of the general electorate of the 43rd president, and while that may come to be a compliment in the future, it isn’t now.
Romney sounds like a Democrat to me; he doesn’t seem to understand what makes his less cautious opponents or their voters tick. He says things he doesn’t have to say, at least not now.
Romney is a general election candidate in search of a general election.
Even so, it may be enough. Obama has misunderstood and destroyed his own winning coalition from roughly three years ago. He can only prevail against the most flawed of opponents now.
Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor to Open for Business.