I feel its almost obligatory to post something regarding the Iowa caucuses last night, though I’m still struggling to make something of the results and am presently at work. So here’s what I’m concluding at the moment:
1. This is a huge win for Romney: Many commentators are focusing on Romney’s extremely narrow margin of victory over Rick Santorum, of all people, but the win itself really is a big deal. Romney is dominating the polls in New Hampshire, which means that by all appearances, Romney will be the winner of the first two primary contests. Much of the GOP base may seem to hate Romney, but it’s human nature to be fair weather fans, and this primary has shown that the GOP voters quickly attach to winners and quickly detach when it appears that they are falling, causing several sharp peaks in candidates’ poll figures. Maybe if Romney is a winner twice, Republicans will start to think more highly of him.
2. Romney is further helped by the lack of a single anti-Romney frontrunner: Though Santorum won a big second place finish in Iowa, his numbers nationwide are still at a measly 4-6%. Moreover, it appears that he owes much of his success to a lack of scrutiny (like all the former short-term frontrunners before him) so his success may quickly become a liability as the spotlight shines on him and he faces attacks from the Romney Hate Machine. Meanwhile, Gingrich is still popular in the South for the time being, though I can see Santorum stealing his votes away. However, for right now, it looks like Santorum and Gingrich may end up splitting votes in South Carolina to Romney’s benefit, much the same way that each and every candidate in Iowa (and even Herman Cain, who had 58 votes) helped Romney’s 8 vote win by splitting the anti-Romney vote. If Romney gets a third win in South Carolina, it’s game over.
3. BUT, Romney still has a lot of trouble getting his numbers above 25%: Even while winning in Iowa, Romney had less that a quarter of the vote, with just 24.6%. His average polling numbers have typically stayed a bit below that number, suggesting that he has a strong base of support around 15-25% of the GOP, but very little support beyond that. This fits with my general perception that Romney really is supported by Mormons and the business community, but has no strong support among ordinary dumb vote-against-interests Republicans. As the field narrows, that can be a problem for Romney. At some point, he will have to stop relying on his opponents’ incredible failures and start convincing more people that he is the one they want. In other words, he may need to develop a good southern drawl, hate on Muslims a bit, talk more about the bible, and frankly, start saying stupider things. Whether he can do that convincingly is a big question.
4. Bachmann’s votes are likely to help anti-Romney challenger: Michelle Bachmann also looks like she will drop out today, leaving her 6% for the others to fight over. It’s hard to say who these votes will go to, but chances are it won’t be Romney. Bachmann is the most batshit-crazy conservative possibly ever to serve in Congress, and I don’t think her voters will be going to the candidate mostly perceived as a moderate. However, I have noticed that she’s been more reserved in her attacks on Romney than on other candidates – could a strategic endorsement of Romney be in the works? Could we be looking at Secretary of State Bachmann in 2013? (shudder)
So I’m not yet ready to give up on my long-held theory that Romney cannot possibly win the nomination, but this win definitely puts some dings in it. I think the big question is whether the anti-Romney wing of the Republican party can get its shit together and pick a candidate before South Carolina votes on January 21.