Five Easy Pieces: Five Republican tickets punched coming out of Iowa

No. 1, Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum [The hardest play of the Five Easy Pieces].

Former two-term U. S. Senator Rick Santorum was the big winner in last night’s Iowa Republican Party Presidential caucus.   He lost the top spot to Mitt Romney by 8 votes, with each candidate garnering 25% of the vote.  Santorum was able to pull hard right votes from Bachmann and Perry, as he surged almost to the top in the last few days of the campaign.  The former Pennsylvania Senator has too much ground to make up  in New Hampshire in six days to win there, but he can continue to consolidate the anti-Romney vote in his column and if he does well in the two debates[(ABC--George and Diane) and (NBC--Meet the Press, David Gregory)] scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday, respectively,  Santorum may make  a respectable showing in the New Hampshire Primary.

Santorum also is positioned to do well in the socially conservative-populist primary states of South Carolina and Florida during the last two weeks of January.  Then, the Presidential Primary race hits pause, giving Santorum time to build his organization in February and giving him a plausible path to a primary victory.  Ron Paul had a solid 21% third place finish, but he had to be disappointed that his hopes to win a presidential primary were dashed again.   Newt Gingrich, who was polling in first place a few weeks ago, finished out of the money in 4th place with13% of the vote. Gingrich was bent, if not broken, by tens of millions of dollars in negative ads coming from his opponents and super pacs in large part controlled by Romney supporters.  Newt might soon realize his best bet is to team up with Santorum, in hopes of a VP or cabinet position in a Santorum Presidency.

Two term Texas former Governor Rick Perry, who at one point was leading the pack, tumbled to a 5th place 10% finish.  Perry will be returning to Texas today to reassess his prospects, i.e., to drop out of the race soon. Five term Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann finished in the cellar with 5% of the vote, and will also drop out, probably today [Bachmann announced she would “step aside,” as were going to press this morning] , so she can seek re-election to Congress or run for the U. S. Senate.

Turnout yesterday was about 120K votes,  which isn’t bad but fell way short of the high energy 140K  votes that the Iowa Republican Party had hoped  for.  In general, this was not an exciting group of candidates for Iowa’s Republican voters, who skew toward the evangelical/family values crowd.  At the end of the campaign, that crowd coalesced around Santorum, but even those who voted for Santorum had real doubts about whether he could make it across the finish line in November.

No. 2, Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney may have won Iowa by a scant eight votes, but even if he had won by a few thousand votes, he would have been No. 2 in terms of what he accomplished in the Iowa Caucus.  Nevertheless, Romney is a winner coming out of Iowa.  Santorum won the expectations game.  Moreover, Mitt would have preferred an outcome that kept Perry and Bachmann in the game a little longer, as a way of diffusing the power and reach of Santorum. However, Romney’s main goal was to downplay, publicly, the importance of Iowa, yet organize quietly to do well enough to be considered an overall front-runner in the Republican Presidential sweepstakes. From that perspective, mission accomplished.

Romney is in good shape as he heads toward New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.  Mitt is almost surely the winner  in two of the first four states, will do respectably in the  other two, and he has knocked Bachmann and Perry out of the game and Gingrich off his game.  In a Party that usually takes the next in line to be its nominee, Mitt is next in line to be the Republican nominee for President. Newt is on a downward spiral.  Perry and Bachmann will soon be out of the running.  Ron Paul, due to his flirtations with anti-Semitism and the small-time nature of his organization, will never be a serious candidate for President.  Huntsman came in too late, has no traction and has no idea where he wants to go. That leaves just Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt.  Another round or two of super Pac money trained on both Newt and Santorum could leave Romney as the default winner to face Obama.

3. The National Republican Party

The national Republican Party is a big winner because it comes out of Iowa with a viable candidate to beat President Obama, and perhaps two.  Romney has a credible national organization, has the money to run a viable national campaign, and has a coherent, if not exciting, message to focus on: curing the Obama deep recession, with its jobless recovery [Watch University of  Chicago Booth School of Business Professor John Cochrane discuss the problems with Keynesian/Obama approaches to dealing with the Obama recession]     , and the decline of American exceptionalism under Obama. Yes, Romney still has the Mormon problem—but he may be on the path to solving it. Yes, Romney still has an unexcited, conservative base to contend with, but he may yet figure out how to connect with it, while still attracting independents.  In short, Romney gives the Republicans a shot against Obama, given the continuing sluggish economy and recovery.  Mostly, the likely role of Santorum is to serve as Romney’s sparring partner.  Help warm him up for the main event against Obama.  However, if he can figure out how to build an organization quickly and raise major funds, it is possible Santorum could supplant Romney as the Republican’s best bet to beat Obama.

4. The Libertarian wing of the Republican Party

The Libertarian wing of the Republican Party is a winner because Ron Paul finished in the money, a fitting phrase for a gold bug.  But, it is a limited win, advancing Paul’s proposition that the American people (or Iowans) would like to see sharply curtailed involvement of the federal government in the domestic public policy arena. Ron Paul’s publishing of anti-Semitic newsletters and tracts back in the day and his current isolationism with respect to the dangers of an Iran with a nuclear, military capability  assures that Paul cannot successfully take his voters to a third party. If Ron Paul were to try to do that, the Republican establishment would make Ron Paul’s son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, pay for the nuttier positions of his father.  Most likely, the Republican establishment made Ron a tacit offer he couldn’t refuse. Ron Paul will play nice.

5. Newt Gingrich wins the Iowa Caucus consolation prize

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the man whose ideas and drive gave the Republicans the majority in the U. S. House in 1994, the first time in a half century, was a winner yesterday in the sense that his campaign survived the onslaught of Romney and Super-Pac negative ads to fight another day. That is, the smartest guy in the room gets to continue the fight in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.  It is a long shot, but it is a shot for Newt to get even with Romney, to fire at Romney in this weekend’s two debates (ABC and NBC’s Meet the Press) and to exploit his brainpower advantage.

Speaker Gingrich may end up making a deal to help and support his good friend, Senator Santorum.  Or, he may bounce back and become the Republican’s lead contender for the Presidency. You can never count Newt out until the Fat Lady sings.  That sliver of a chance to get the Republican nomination for President is about all Newt’s got left. But, as usual, Newt landed on his feet, yesterday, in this newly minted Catholic’s search for faith, hope and charity.


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