Now that Ames is over, what does the GOP presidential field look like? NRO asked the experts.
The GOP presidential field is dynamic, but the list of serious contenders is starting to firm up.
Michele Bachmann has moved into the first tier of candidates, joining Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Tim Pawlenty has dropped out of the race, and it is becoming clear that Sarah Palin will be the base-driver-in-chief in 2012.
Any candidate who tries to run a general-election campaign prematurely will not be the GOP standard bearer in the fall of 2012. For instance, Romney can’t win South Carolina if he can’t win Iowa. Then again, Perry and Bachmann will not be able to put together a winning 50-state strategy if they can’t win in New Hampshire.
If any one of the top-tier candidates can win two of the first three states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina), quite naturally, he or she would be sitting pretty.
The resurgence of constitutional conservatism is real. The candidate who is best at uniting Republicans under this banner will be best positioned to unite all Americans and put us back on a path of moral clarity and prosperity.
— Ken Blackwell is senior fellow for family empowerment at the Family Research Council.
I wrote Tim Pawlenty off when he declared Chablis and brie treif at CPAC in February 2010. More than the demagogy or the stupidity, I hated the screechy tone, like high-school sopranos trying to sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” I tried calling him Velveeta Tim or V-Paw, but the nicknames wouldn’t stick. His political style stuck, though, through many repetitions — the Obamneycare insult he would not back up, the anti-Bachmann snarls. Ames rebuked him.
Michele Bachmann did what she had to do. No one has jumped directly from the House to the White House since James Garfield. But she has passed the first way station.
The jacquerie of wicked idiots had a good night. Rick Santorum finished fourth; he also finished fewer than 200 votes ahead of Herman Cain.
Welcome now to real life, Governor Perry. It’s so much easier being everybody’s dream boat. And welcome, former governor Palin, to your career as winger Oprah. You have chosen it with your eyes open.
And Mitt sits in the loneliness of the candidate who has written off Iowa, hoping that the months until the refreshing snows of New Hampshire will not drag unendurably.
— Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review.
Another playoff game is done. Bachmann advances. Pawlenty doesn’t. Despite sufficient money, time, organization, and exposure, Pawlenty couldn’t make the sale. Losing when they don’t know you is tough. Losing when they do know you extinguishes you.
But the real loser may still be Bachmann. Her victory may trap her in the Iowa State coliseum. Her instinct now will be to out-conservative Rick Perry, just like she out-conservatived Pawlenty. But Bachmann is already plenty conservative. Not even Ronald Reagan could get to her right. What she needs to prove now is that she can grow an economy and win independents in the fall. What she needs to prove is that she is not too extreme to beat Barack Obama. Otherwise, she will never be nominated. And this will be the day her campaign peaked.
— Alex Castellanos is a Republican media consultant residing in Alexandria, Va.
Fortunately, this weekend’s absurd spectacle in Ames will have little effect on the final outcome of the Republican nomination battle. Nevertheless, it is a stark reminder of how broken our presidential selection system is today.
Liberal, “New Politics” Democrats felt jilted after the 1968 nomination, believing that Hubert Humphrey was not the choice of the mass party electorate. They subsequently managed to gain control of the reform committee the party regulars had established as a sop to the lefties at the Chicago convention, and rammed through various proposals meant to democratize the nomination process.
As with so many other liberal reformers, the do-gooders on the “McGovern-Frasier Commission” badly miscalculated the effects of their efforts. They had hoped to create a more deliberative nomination process, but the final result was the bizarre carnival that we must endure every four years — one where big-money contributors, hack political consultants, biased journalists, ignorant pundits, and hardcore activists dominate the proceedings on both sides. The result is a process that favors the well-connected, the well-mobilized, and above all the most divisive elements among us.
Our nomination system is in desperate need of reform — and the proceedings in Ames this weekend demonstrate that fact as much as anything. I say: Let’s scrap the “democratic” system we have now and return to the good old-fashioned conventions. They were good enough to produce Lincoln, McKinley, and Eisenhower — how bad can they be?
— Jay Cost writes about the horserace for The Weekly Standard.
Before I comment on the results, let me stand with those who hope this is the last time anyone pays attention to the Ames Straw Poll. As David Broder used to say and Dan Balz repeats today, how many times should a single state — and an un-representative one at that — hog the nation’s attention and have the capacity to doom candidacies and dry up contributions? Ronald Reagan, I recall, lost Iowa. He recouped in New Hampshire, unearthed his campaign staff, and the rest, as they say is “history.”
Bachmann did what she had to, and in ways that humiliated Pawlenty and revealed flaws in the Romney operation. Santorum and Cain pulled respectable showings, given their shortage of funds. Santorum’s decent showing comes after he distinguished himself in debate, revealing for all to see the “flat-earth” side of the Ron Paul (Iran is not a threat) foreign policy. That Romney, who won the Ames Straw Poll the last time out, could place behind not only Santorum and Cain, but last-minute entry Rick Perry, suggests that his ties in the state have weakened. He will have to campaign there should he capture the GOP nomination. He needs to start now.
Now that Perry has declared his candidacy, all eyes will be on him as summer turns to fall. Whether he succeeds in making this a two-man race or goes the way of aspirants such as John Connally and Phil Gramm is every one’s guess. As of Saturday night, this is his nomination to win or lose.
— Alvin S. Felzenberg, author of The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game, is writing a book about NR founder William F. Buckley Jr.
Oh, gosh, I never thought I’d be pulling for Rep. Ron Paul, America’s cranky uncle. But I was. Despite Michele Bachmann’s many appealing traits, I didn’t want her to win. Of course, she was always going to. There was no suspense. Like the Iowa straw-poll voters, I love her fighting spirit and resonate to her intensity — who else has been “at the tip of the spear”? And who else would put it quite that way? But Tim Pawlenty (who came in a distant third) is right: She has no executive experience. Not sure we should try that again so soon. I am also troubled by Bachmann’s strange way with facts — e.g., there is just no way you can make John Quincy Adams a Founding Father, as Bachmann tried to do. This is not a minor historical factoid.
Before you call me a snob for carping on Bachmann’s historical — ahem — originality, let me hasten to declare my preference for Aggies over Ivies. In fact, I think it was aggie Rick Perry’s entry into the race on the same day and not Bachmann’s victory that will be remembered.
This could be wishful thinking on my part. But he was great today. The Texas governor had some great lines: “I will work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.” The White House will no doubt attribute Texas’s booming economy to the state’s natural resources. But we all know that, if Barack Obama were governor of Texas, Texas would be on the brink of recession. Perry, by the way, came in sixth in the Iowa straw poll, garnering 718 write-in votes, even though he was not on the ballot.
Sure, another Texan will drive the liberals mad. He may not scare them as much as Bachmann would, but it will still be fun. And Perry could win more independents than Bachmann. He has — after all — the heft of having run a state. Of course, I always get these things wrong. I thought Mike Huckabee, who came in second in the straw poll last time (Mitt Romney won), was a terrible candidate. But Huckabee would have been infinitely less intimidated by running against the formerly historic Obama than John McCain was.
— Charlotte Hays is a senior fellow at Independent Women’s Forum.
The most interesting development in Republican-party politics in Iowa is not Michele Bachmann’s straw-poll victory, or Rick Perry’s lame attempt to detract from the Republican straw poll with his own announcement, which seemed like a Saturday Night Live impersonation of George W. Bush. Rather, the real news is Ron Paul’s very close second-place showing and Tim Pawlenty’s distant and dismal third-place finish. Both Ron and Rand Paul have been saying a lot of commonsense things about adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and insisting that presidents can’t take military action unilaterally in places like Libya.
Ron Paul’s assertion that Congress must be involved in all future decisions to use military force probably seems “radical” to some of the neoconservative architects of the Iraq War. Notwithstanding neo-(non)-conservative bluster, there is a large, receptive audience for those who want to adhere to the Constitution. Ron Paul resonates with conservatives because he says what he believes, and it turns out that a lot of Republicans agree with him. At the end of the day, though, Ron Paul’s strong finish actually benefits Mitt Romney more than anyone else, in that there is no challenger out there who can mount a sustained, well-funded challenge.
— Phillip Henderson is chairman of the department of politics at the Catholic University of America.
This week’s events demonstrate a wide-open field. Michele Bachmann is for real, Rick Perry has gone all in, and Ron Paul is, well, Ron Paul. Tim Pawlenty has dropped out.
Right now, the top tier consists of Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry. Romney has wisely focused his criticisms on President Obama. As the campaign continues — and the candidates draw contrasts with each other — he may be forced to engage more directly, especially in future debates.
Until then, any of the top three can win the nomination. Jump ball!
— Doug Heye is former communications director for the Republican National Committee.
The tea-party movement has changed the political landscape across America and is continuing to shake up politics as we know it. While traditional political events such as the Iowa straw poll have been important in the past, this election will be won by the candidate who addresses forcefully and effectively the economic woes facing America.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has been attentive to the Tea Party and the fiscal issues that the movement has raised for the last two and a half years, and that is a big part of her rise in politics — she is the first woman and the first member of the House to ever win the Iowa straw poll. Congratulations to her on an impressive showing.
While this gives congresswoman Bachmann strong momentum for her campaign, not all of the major candidates participated in this straw poll, so the real test will come when voters are actually casting their ballots in the early caucus and primary states. The upcoming Tea Party Express national tour and debate on September 12 will be an important milestone in winning tea-party support, which will be necessary for any Republican who hopes to defeat Pres. Barack Obama.
— Amy Kremer is chairman of Tea Party Express.
At its core, Ames is more about the Iowa Republican party, the media, and a mock exercise in mobilization for campaigns than anything substantively political. If 30 years of political history have taught us anything, it’s that Ames isn’t determinative when it comes to indicating the party’s nominee.
Last week, it became increasingly clear that three candidates stood a decent chance of winning the straw poll. As it happens, these candidates in fact topped the results of that straw poll. As it also happens, these candidates have virtually no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination next year.
Ames is about the ability to drive activists to a single highly attended and fun event on a single weekend day in the summertime. In order to win, candidates need one of three things: a highly motivated cadre of activists who are willing to do just about anything in order to get their candidate visibility (in this case, Ron Paul supporters); excited base members who are trying to catch lightning in a bottle (Bachmann supporters); or a professional team that can mobilize individuals for a seasoned, mainstream pol.
— Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty, a Washington, D.C.–based advocacy organization.
The Ames Straw Poll measures two factors: intensity of support on the part of voters and focus by the candidates. In Iowa. Those candidates do best who spend time and money on the straw-poll contest — which brings no delegates — and who have fervent supporters willing to spend time getting to and voting in the straw poll.
Bachmann, Ron Paul, Pawlenty, Santorum, and Herman Cain all put time and effort into the straw poll. The results are a good way to measure candidate focus and voter intensity of support. In Iowa. A candidate can, however, focus on the straw poll and still lack supporters willing to put up with a day spent voting.
One notes that Romney and Perry did not put in the time and money, and pulled 567 and 718 votes respectively, compared with Bachmann’s 4,823, Ron Paul’s 4,671, and Pawlenty’s 2,293.
Bachmann won the most votes, not just the most headlines. Ron Paul missed winning by a whisker (152 votes) and demonstrated that he has devoted followers and was not just a one-hit wonder in 2008. Pawlenty was 2,600 votes short of a “stunning upset” and arguably outperformed expectations. Or didn’t. Santorum and Cain had respectable votes but failed to “surprise” the media with stronger showings.
To sum up: The primary campaign is a marathon, not a dash. This was not checkmate, but the opening gambit. There are nine innings in a game. It’s not over till the fat lady sings. Not Armageddon or Appomattox but Bull Run. It is too early to tell. A week is a lifetime in politics. Everyone thought Lazarus had bought the farm. The tortoise beat the hare.
Okay. I do too know exactly what this means for the nomination and 2012 general election, but it is a secret.
— Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Of course, congratulations to Michele Bachmann, the first woman to ever win the Iowa straw poll. But Rick Perry’s official entry into the Republican presidential race is almost surely the more important political event. The Texas governor’s confident, muscular speech in South Carolina gives additional evidence that he will be a formidable rival for Mitt Romney.
While both Perry and Bachmann almost perfectly match the small-government, anti-Washington mood of the tea-party wing of the GOP, Perry’s economic record as chief executive of the Lone Star State gives him added heft. Governors ascend to the Oval Office, not House members.
But maybe the GOP field still isn’t set. With every economic report, Barack Obama looks ever more beatable. Another 15 months of 2 percent growth and 9 percent unemployment — fast becoming the consensus economic forecast — and it shouldn’t even be that close a race unless Republicans commit political malpractice. Like the Democrats who passed on challenging George Bush in 1992, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, and Sarah Palin might regret waiting. And maybe they or others are already reconsidering, given how terribly weak the president looks politically right now. The next Iowa straw poll, after all, might not come until 2020.
— James Pethokoukis is the Money & Politics columnist for Reuters Breakingviews.
John J. Pitney, Jr.
The Ames Straw Poll was not a random-sample survey, so it does not necessarily represent sentiment among Iowa Republicans. But it was a test of organizational strength. Bachmann passed, big time, so she is going to be around for a while. So will Ron Paul. Although there is little chance that he can win the nomination, he does have a passionate base, and he will probably do better than in 2008. Under a Democratic president, some Republicans are more comfortable with criticism of interventionist foreign policy. Moreover, changes in the Republican nominating processwill make it easier for those who place second or third in primaries to win some delegates.
And then there was the man who wasn’t there. Rick Perry’s announcement got a great deal of press attention, which bodes well for his candidacy. But one passage in his remarks could create controversy. He said: “We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.”
In order to change this situation, it would be necessary to raise taxes on millions of Americans, mostly poor, elderly, or middle class. To put it mildly, that could be a politically problematic position for a Republican.
— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.
There are two clear lessons from the Ames Straw Poll. One is that Tim Pawlenty’s increasingly shrill anti-Bachmann campaign failed. The other is that we’ve found a straw poll that Ron Paul couldn’t win. This suggests that the race remains wide open, and that Michele Bachmann remains in it. Everything else is still up for grabs.
— Glenn Reynolds is the one and only original Instapundit.
Michele Bachmann certainly posted a convincing win in the straw poll, but any impact it might have is blunted by Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement that he was entering the presidential race. Bachmann’s win may demonstrate she’s a serious candidate, but Perry is now the 900-pound gorilla, making everything that has happened up to this point, including the straw poll, moot. It’s now a whole new race.
— Peter Roff, a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report and a senior fellow at the Institute for Liberty, was once political director at GOPAC.
Bachmann and Paul got all the oxygen they need to stay through the early contests. Santorum and Cain will find, like Charlie Sheen, that surviving is not winning. Gingrich, Huntsman, and McCotter look like walking dead. Romney and Perry’s strengths are elsewhere, so they survive to fight another day. And Romney should learn from his meager Ames total that he’s nuts if he bothers to contest the Iowa caucuses.
— Larry J. Sabato is director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Editor’s note: This piece has been amended since its initial posting.