January 2012 Iowa Caucus Roundup

What a night. First the Results: Mitt Romney wins Iowa Caucuses by 8 votes. A real nail biter, to be sure. Santorum comes in second, trailing Romney by 8 votes (obviously) and Paul finishes third with 21% of the vote going his way. The bottom three were Gingrich, who despite a massive surge that I predicted wouldn’t last right here on the Haberdasher, finished with a disappointing 13% (of course, he blamed it on the scorched earth type of politics that he himself popularized in the 1980’s and which helped him win the Speaker of the House role after 1994’s “Republican Revolution”), while Perry and Bachmann finished far back in the pack. Iowa’s first casualty, Perry, has gone back to Texas to reassess his chances for the future of his run (EDIT: It appears that Perry will be going on to SC after all.)

That’s the facts, Ma’am. Now let’s look at the analysis. The winner of the Iowa Caucus (and I can put that word out straight, without quotes, as in “winner”) wasn’t even working for Republican votes last night. The President of the United States was the real winner of the Iowa Republican Caucuses last night, regardless of what the television and the news paper and the blogs say. I don’t write that as a partisan: As a socialist, I resigned from the Party so I could vote for Obama and contribute to his campaign in 2008. I have since rejoined my Party and will very shortly be making my campaign donation to the SP’s candidate, Stewart Alexander, as well as renewing my dues in the SP for this year. I want to stress that Obama neither needs my vote, nor really demonstrates that he wants it, so I can with good conscience, return to my own Party and help them as I can. At any rate, I am not a cheerleader for Obama and I am not hyping him when I say he won last night.

What makes me say that he won the caucus last night? Well, the caucuses revealed that among the hard base, they still haven’t settled. I hear a lot of folks on television explaining that this is somehow a good thing, that Republicans are still making up their mind. And yet, it is obvious that few who are running on the right this year have the ability to attract a large enough coalition of voters to win in the General Election. Most of them have tried to out-right one another to the point that any move to the middle will seem disingenuous. What we have here then is the potential for a major crisis of rising expectations. Conservatives in the US, because all we have heard for the last few months are Republican Primary candidates on the television, are under the seductive spell that they are what is going on in this country. Even Democrats are talking about them. It gives them this idea that no matter what happens, Conservatism will win in the fall, and the only real questions is how conservative the President will be.

But the discussion itself is truncated in this fashion, and Obama is smart to hang out and let it happen. The more we only talk about the right in this country for the first half of the year, the further right these people try to place themselves. The result is a serious miscalculation of where the median voter is. The President, on the other hand, has the opportunity to let the Republicans have their discussion, to move their own median position as far away from that median voter and then capture the median voter himself, as well as a significant portion of the people to that median voter’s right. By the time the GOP realizes it, and tries to move back to the left, they will automatically shear off a huge chunk of their base who will immediately resent the fact that they, who were sure they were going to get their way because that is all we have been talking about for so long, will be forgotten as the candidate tries to move to the center. And that candidate will be squeezed between Obama, who will be running slightly right of center, and their far right base, who will not let them move any closer without threatening to bolt.

It’s a classic squeeze play taken right from the pages of Anthony Downs, which I am sure that Obama (or his strategists) have read, and the GOP is screwed. What is the evidence? Well, giving 13,000 + votes to Santorum and Santorum +8 to Romney. Romney may be closest to the median voter, and yet the Conservatives are bent on keeping that guy from becoming the nominee. They are guaranteeing the above scenario. And Obama and his crew, watching this scenario play out in the first contest of the year, have gotta be very happy. By September, they may not even have to try. They should simply say “Do you really want THIS guy (and it will be a guy, I predict… As I write this, I discover Bachmann will be suspending her campaign.) running the country? Really?” And only the deep south states who still think they are part of the Confederacy will vote for him, because everyone else lives in the real world. Contrary to what the GOP thinks, the median voter is not a conservative, but a real independent. Obama has to be pretty satisfied with the results there in Iowa.

As for the “winner” of the Iowa GOP Caucuses,

Mitt Romney did his part by declaring the caucuses, for the most part, to be a three way tie. He congratulated Santorum and Paul on their victories (his words) as well as himself last night. While some may read this as a victory of a group of people who most people think are conservative and one who people don’t really believe is a conservative, I read it as an acknowledgement of the victory for conservatives and an attempt by Romney to place himself in that group among the viewers. It is a code that needs to be deciphered more completely, but this is what I suspect is going on. Romney was wounded last night, because for a couple weeks, he has been under the impression that he had an opening there, and groups affiliated with his campaign (unofficially, of course…) have been blasting a path through for him in that state with millions of dollars of ad placement. And for all that, he finished with an 8 vote lead.

So Congratulations, Mitt. For all your money, you won by 8 votes, a spread that in a real election would have automatically triggered a recount and probably a raft of court challenges. I’m not trying to take anything away from the “win” in Iowa, which Romney earned. But the fact is: The case can easily be made that Romney bought those 8 votes, at the very least, because Romney’s Iowa’s totals reflect his standing nationally. Only a quarter of likely voters support him. When there are fewer options, maybe those numbers will increase, but all of the others running are seen as “conservatives” and he is not, so as they drop out, those votes go to the other “conservatives” and not to the person that conservatives don’t count as one of them.

Slightly less “quotey”, Of the Republican “winners” of Iowa, perhaps the most consequential Republican victory in Iowa was Rick Santorum. But I can downplay this one: Santorum won, but it was unearned. It wasn’t anything he did or said or asserted. He got his vote result because 75% of Iowans don’t like Romney. It is true that he is the “anyone but Romney” candidate who happens to have risen at exactly the right time. And the benefit is a virtual tie with a person who outspent everyone else in Iowa and who has been campaigning there since 2007.

But I shouldn’t say it wasn’t anything he did. Santorum won in Iowa partly because 1) he is considered reliably conservative, and 2) there is a high probability that he met everyone, or at least someone that everyone knew, in the state of Iowa. Romney has been there for several years and couldn’t do much better than Santorum did in several months. And Santorum spent nothing in Iowa compared to Romney. Santorum did more with less, and his finish as a virtual tie in Iowa was that much more impressive.

But people talk about Romney’s ceiling. They say he consistently polls about 25% in the early states, and never gets much higher than that. Santorum has never ever been higher than the 25% he got in Iowa. That could be described as its peak: time will tell. As long as the conservative side remains as crowded as it is, with people who have VERY different (respectively) styles of “conservatism” all continuing to play in that field, it is possible that they will continue to cut one another up. Bachmann’s leaving the campaign may shake things up a little bit, and may boost Santorum a little. Bachmann after all was similar to Santorum, moreso than any of the other conservatives in the race, and it would not be hard for her true believer supporters to switch to Santorum. They were pretty much taking the exact same position, except Santorum has a Y chromosome. Many of those voters may also go to Gingrich, while Paul probably won’t benefit much.

So Santorum may get just the boost he needs to beat Romney, but it is also possible that winnowing the field strengthens Gingrich too. And as long as Paul remains in the race, the libertarians will not go to support some other candidate. So while Romney has a ceiling, so too do the other ones, and until someone leaves the race, nobody will get much more than like a quarter of the votes.

And yet: People in the US don’t really know Santorum. When they find out who he is, what he stands for, and what he will do, people will likely change their mind. The reason that Romney has a ceiling is that people know him. He has been around a while, and has already been vetted in 2008. People don’t know Santorum, but once he gets his share of the scrutiny, we may see his ceiling drop far below his showing in Iowa would suggest that it is at. And Gingrich will benefit then.

I won’t spend much time on Paul. He is an odd duck in this campaign, and is not a Republican. His policy statements are marginally in line with the Republican Party, and most Republicans think the guy is, as Bachmann said last night, “dangerous for the National Security of the United States.” And yet the segment of the electorate who supports him will support him, win or lose and will not abandon him despite poor showings in primary elections. And if he tries to use his nominees to help out a different Republican short of brokering a deal at the Convention, his supporters will likely reject that move. So his story still has yet to be told. And his influence will be that of king maker, not as a winner. And yet, he’ll also serve as the spoiler for many Republican hopes.

Finally, I want to talk a little about the Loser.

First, I am vindicated and that’s what it’s really all about, for me anyway. There was some fellow who wrote, as Gingrich was rising, that “You know: this somehow feels like more than the flavor of the month, ABR candidate. For some reason, Gingrich really has a chance.” My answer was, “No he doesn’t. Romney has the machine, Gingrich doesn’t.” And I was right. Romney’s machine eviscerated Gingrich, and Gingrich’s only response was to complain about how it wasn’t fair that Romney could run a smear campaign against Gingrich, while Gingrich was trying to keep it clean.

Let’s be clear here: Gingrich is known for his no-holds-barred, take no prisoners type of campaigning. He, and Republican Party operatives, engineered scorched earth as a campaign tactic. And he would have used it this election if he could have. But the fact is that he couldn’t. He didn’t have the machine ready to go. He never did. He didn’t have enough money to have a machine anything close to the size of Romney’s. And when Romney’s machine ramped up, Gingrich went on television to complain about how Romney was using his own tactics against him, while he was incapable of returning fire due to his lack of money and organization. Gingrich was an accidental frontrunner who was never electable. His frontrunner status was a function of conservatives’ dislike of Romney, and not of anything he did. In fact, he was the frontrunner IN SPITE of the things he did.

But now, he predicts (probably correctly) that Santorum will get a bunch of money, and so he has more or less vowed to seek personal revenge against Romney, whose only real crime was being better this year at Newt’s game than Newt was. Newt has volunteered to sink Romney, and has therefore tied his wagon to a seemingly viable alternative, Rick Santorum. The battle between Newt and Romney is now personal: Gingrich said so when he called Romney a liar. And so Newt knows there is no way he will win anymore, but he is going to do what he can to ensure that Romney doesn’t either. Defacto win for Santorum, as things shake out today, if he can hold it together throughout the next few races. Unless Paul pulls something at the convention.

And so: I return to my original point. Obama wins the Iowa Republican Caucuses.

And if the next few selection process turn out this way, Obama will win in November too. He will either have a battered and embittered Romney, who is hated by a significant portion of this party and enjoys the lukewarm support of the remainder of his Party, or Santorum, who is so far away from the position of the average American that there is no way in hell this guy will stand up to Obama in the fall after a brokered deal at the convention.

And as a leftist, that is fine with me.

PS. Stay tuned. Apparently Perry is not done, which may put a further cramp in Santorum’s style. Perry will be even easier for Obama who will run a clinic on him in the fall.