I haven't blabbed on about politics in a while, but don't let that fool you into thinking that I haven't been following the sideshow like the hardcore junkie that I am.
I can't help but be obsessed/fascinated with the fact that most of the GOP primary/caucus field seems to hate Mitt Romney. The man has been out there campaigning for six years now, and he can't top 25%. And in Iowa, he is somewhere lower than that. His penchant for taking both sides of almost any issue has not served him well.
So, my going theory for a while now has been that the GOP nominee will likely be Anybody But Romney, despite the fact that Romney (and Jon Hunstman) easily have the best chance of any of the current crop of candidates to appeal to independent voters in the general election.
This theory means that when Rick Perry got into the race, I just kind of assumed that the GOP would jump for him, but then he couldn't debate his way out of a wet paper bag and, somewhere along the line, the bulk of that party thought, quite reasonably, that President Obama would make him look like a dope in a debate, and they ran elsewhere. But I never really believed that Bachmann, Cain or Gingrich could emerge as the new Not Romney. Bachmann can't stop saying stupid things -- like the HPV vaccine nonsense -- and Cain was never *really* running to win; it was all just a low-tech book tour for him. And I don't think Gingrich was on much more than a book tour either, a fact which has played out in recent weeks when his Iowa numbers have risen briefly only to tumble because he has neither the money nor the organization to seal the deal there.
I still think there is some ultra-remote chance of Jon Huntsman gaining a foothold in New Hampshire. Although where would he go from there, you have to wonder, but I am going to lay off the NH prediction for now. Let's wait to see what happens in Iowa, and, really, Huntsman is not even competing there at all -- an acknowledgment of his from the outset that he couldn't hope to win in such a socially conservative state. Huntsman is not even on the radar in Iowa.
So.... what will Iowa do? From here, it looks to me like Ron Paul is going to win there, or at least do very very well. The only hitch in that prediction is whether he can get his supporters to caucus for him, but if they do you can be damn sure they are not going to compromise once the "caucusing" gets going and end up throwing their support to someone else. The Paulistas are a loyal lot. Getting them to show up at a caucus -- this is no five-minute exercise in "voting"; it is a night of work -- is the only potential problem. But if his folks show up, Ron Paul will do very well in Iowa.
Where I think the candidate-switching, caucus-style, is going to occur is among the social conservatives. Right now, their votes are spread out among Perry, Bachmann, Gingrich and Santorum. When the chips are down, and none of them are pulling enough caucus support to get over the hump into credibility, alliances will change and re-shape. Given Bachmann's status as yesterday's news, Perry's inability to speak more than a few coherent sentences in a row under pressure, and Gingrich's plummeting numbers overall, I think Iowa may shock everyone and give big numbers to Rick Santorum. Big enough to beat Romney? Yeah. Big enough to beat Paul? That seems a little less clear. It depends on just how much horse-trading goes on when caucus night arrives. But, in the end, I see Paul and Santorum as the top two in Iowa, in one order or the other, with Romney struggling in third place.
And yes, I know that my thoughts on Santorum are somewhat biased. You may recall that a long time ago, I pegged him as the Repub that Dems ought to fear the most, not necessarily as the most electable, but as reasonably electable while simultaneously so far out to lunch on the crazy train of social conservatism that the prospect of his election as president ought to scare you. My only caveat at the time was his seemingly uncontrollable urge to turn *every* issue into a diatribe against abortion and/or gay marriage. If he couldn't get that nonsense under control and stress the economy over the bedroom issues, then his "electability" rating for the general election would plunge.
Put differently, Rick Santorum scares the crap out of me -- I have told you before that social conservatives freak me out -- and part of my long-ago post about him was driven by that fear. But, for whatever reason -- perhaps linked to that penchant he has for bringing up abortion and gay marriage at every turn -- he has been labeled "unelectable" in the press and has never caught on with the nationwide GOP. And, up until recently, despite making a second home out of Iowa, he has not caught on much there either. But that Iowa situation has been changing rapidly. Santorum has recently picked up social-conservative endorsements and, pretty obviously, that primary electorate is in a huge state of flux lately. The only thing they seem to be sure of is that they don't want Mitt Romney. Some of them like Ron Paul a lot, but then there is a whole block of social-conservative moralizing retrobots, eager to re-instill the "morals" of 1952 in us, whether we want it or not. It's *those* people I fear the most and who just may, on caucus night, band together, like they have in the past for Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson, and vote for the biggest moralizer of their bunch as their Not Romney of the evening-- Rick Santorum.
And now that I have said that, it puts me in a real spot when it comes to whom to root for on Iowa caucus night. Now that Gary Johnson has skipped town to run for the Libertarian Party nomination, the only one of these folks I genuinely respect is Huntsman. He has the gravitas, the smarts and the experience to be a good president, even if I disagree with him on some things (e.g., abortion rights). I would like to see him get the nomination. It would make for a fascinating/adult race with him running against the president. That is an unlikely scenario, and its only chance is if Huntsman does very well in NH. "Doing really well in NH" for Huntsman requires the winner of the Iowa caucuses to be: (a) not Mitt Romney (indeed, the worse Romney does in Iowa, the better for Huntsman's chances in NH), and (b) someone who can't carry that victory to NH and do anything with it. The "a" part of that scenario will take care of itself, I believe, and the "b" issue is well-served if Rick Santorum wins Iowa, because if there is a political candidate out there without a prayer of winning the NH primary, it is Rick Santorum. NH Republicans are famously pro-gun/pro-choice libertarians, and Santorum's moralizing-bedroom-monitor schtick simply does not sell there (file under: why I love NH).
But... gross.... That means I am not only predicting Rick Santorum to come in first or second in Iowa, but actually rooting for him to win there? Ugh. If that all comes true, you'll find me: (a) briefly spiking the football and shaking my moneymaker over my accurate prediction, and then (b) shuddering in fear. Because, really, no one in that field scares me like Rick Santorum.
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