The Real Losers of the Iowa Caucuses and What It Means for the Race

Contrary to popular perception, there were no winners in the Iowa caucuses, but many losers.

Let’s dispense with the obvious losers first:

  • Michele Bachmann: Hometown girl did not make good. Bachmann made much of her Iowa roots on the campaign trail and won the Ames Straw poll, but in the end she won barely five percent of the vote. Part of the problem was that she was prone to gaffe and conspiracies. Her argument that vaccines cause autism didn’t wash. Her supporters are now politically homeless, though she might still have some residual effect on the presidential race. She has a choice to make now when it comes to endorsements. Expect her to wait though if she waits too long she risks becoming irrelevant.
  • Rick Perry: I’m not prepared to join John Carville in calling him the worse presidential candidate in history, but it’s pretty bad.  He placed fifth after spending over $300 per vote in TV ad buys. Conventional wisdom suggests that Perry made a tactical error in ignoring the power of the presidential debates which tuned off many voters. Perhaps. But his biggest error seems to have been waiting too long to join the presidential field. Between the dates of announcing for president on August 13, 2011 and the Iowa caucuses barely 144 days have passed, compared to say, nearly five years for Mitt Romney. Remember, Governor Perry is also governor of Texas at that same time. As it stands, with the exception of Ron Paul who isn’t running for election to the House, Perry is the only candidate running who has a day job other than running for president. He might have to return to it especially as he is costing the state of Texas some $400,000 a month in security costs. The Governor could argue that this is cheap advertising for the Texas economy, which he heralds wherever he goes, but that might not wash with Texans. Nevertheless, Perry can still make a stand, arguing that he is only credible limited government candidate left in the race. Look to South Carolina, which will be his Alamo. If he succeeds there, he could very well win the nomination, but he’ll have to stop running ads advertising himself and start advertising his opponent’s flaws. If Perry can secure the endorsement of Jim DeMint who has refused to endorse or some of the other conservative South Carolinians, it’s over for Romney and Gingrich.
  • Newt Gingrich: Grinch has allowed Mitt Romney to get his goat and distract him from his one talent: spinning off ideas. He bemoans the negative ads that Mitt Romney’s Super PAC is churning out against him, so much so that he has vowed that he will begin going after Mitt Romney. This isn’t Romney’s fault. Thanks to the inanities of campaign finance law, the Wall Street Journal editorial page points out that Romney is legally prohibited from admitting what everyone knows: his allies and former aides are behind the ads. He refused to congratulate Romney on his win and is running fourth in New Hampshire. He may well make a stand in South Carolina or Florida, where he is still the presumptive front runner, but then again he was the front runner of Iowa just two weeks ago.  Gingrich has vowed an alliance with Santorum to take out Romney, who has thus far been something of a teflon candidate, and for all Gingrich’s disapproval of Super PACs, he seems to have forgotten that he has one, too.
  • Jon Huntsman, Jr.: By refusing to debate in Iowa and by repeatedly insulting the Iowa electorate, there simply is no path to victory in Iowa that excludes New Hampshire. Governor Huntsman even suggested that nobody cares about the Iowa results. He presumably forgot that Iowans–who live in a swing state–do care.  That wouldn’t be so bad if he were leading in the New Hampshire primary, another swing state, but he isn’t despite effectively having moved there.
  • Ron Paul: Representative Paul expected to win Iowa, predicting that he would come in first or second. He came in third. This proves what I had been saying about Ron Paul and the problems of polling him.  Independents may like Paul, but they don’t vote for him enough to win. Fortunately, Paul was decisively in third place. The Paul fans would have assuredly seen foul play had he narrowly lost to Mitt Romney.
  • Rick Santorum: He should have outright won the Iowa caucuses, but lost it narrowly. If anything, the state is tailor-made for him: evangelical, white, working class, and post-industrial. He ought to have won it in a cake walk.  Sure, the evangelicals came too late in the game, but he ought to have had more appeal outside of their ranks. If Santorum can’t win decisively in Iowa, where he went door to door, where can he win? His big government credentials–he voted for the “Bridge to Nowhere”, supports anti-free trade legislation, voted for the new Prescription D Medicare entitlement–make it hard to see him winning in a post-Tea Party electorate. One of the lessons of the 2012 primary is that the voters seem to get over a candidate almost as quickly as they get to know him. Santorum was lucky. We didn’t get to know him before the Iowa caucus. The other candidates will see to it that we know him now. Santorum’s model of going door-to-door doesn’t scale well and unlike Huckabee, he is not a son of the South. It’s hard to see him hitting the pavement all throughout the country on Super Tuesday. He needs a cash infusion to be competitive, but it seems doubtful that he will get it fast enough.
  • Mitt Romney: Governor Romney got exactly the percentage of the vote he got in 2008. This ought to worry him. After all, he has been running for president for nearly five years. To be sure, there was a record turnout this time– 122, 255 votes cast– but Romney was unable to grow his coalition. Could it be that there is a ceiling of 25% in Iowa? David Axelrod, Obama’s strategist, seems to think so, calling Romney “Mr. 25 percent.” Romney spent a lot of money in 2008 in Iowa, only to lose it to Governor Huckabee. He spent a lot less in 2012 and parachuted in, narrowly beating Santorum who had campaigned in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Romney  seems assured to win New Hampshire where he owns a home and has spent a lot of time, but he will have a tough time in the South.

Of course the biggest loser of the 2012 election is the Tea Party. With the exception of Rick Perry, who seeks to make Washington as “inconsequential in your life as possible,” there is no credible limited government, pro-American defense candidate.

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