The Iowa caucuses provide four big takeaways:
1) Mitt Romney’s ceiling is real.
2) Rick Santorum’s combination of family, focus, and shoe leather is a winning combination.
3) Rick Perry will drop out of the race before the “staff infection” that has ruined his campaign goes from toxic to fatal.
4) Newt (my client), who absorbed an avalanche of negative ads, will fight back with deeper, more direct contrasts and an exposé of distortions and flip-flops.
The night belongs to Santorum. The victory was richly deserved and it will be fun watching some journalists having to brush up on the Bible to cover so amiable a “Jesus freak.” He may be the first Italian to win the Iowa caucuses, which means both of our immigrant grandfathers are smiling.
But the big story ought to be Romney. He has all the king’s horses and all the king’s men supporting him, the print MSM and most segments on Fox News Channel in his favor, yet for the second time in four years, 75 percent of Iowa caucus-goers rejected him. Frontrunner? Sure. Electable? Maybe. Inevitable? Not so fast.
The race now will be fought in equal parts in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, and in Florida. The states are measurably different — in terms of demography and geography, education and unemployment rates, ideology and issues concerns. There will not be a sweep of these four early states so much as a struggle to coalesce conservatives and a scrum to prove which of the candidates is this millennium’s Ronald Reagan and this movement’s best hope to change Barack Obama’s day job.
— Kellyanne Conway is president of the polling company, inc. and a pollster/senior adviser to Newt 2012.
To continue my anti-Iowa-caucus “jihad,” as Jonah called it . . .
The Hawkeye State killed off the chances of a perfectly good candidate, Tim Pawlenty, in favor of his Minnesota rival Michele Bachmann, only to drop her like seventh-period Spanish by the time the actual caucuses rolled around. The caucuses weren’t even over when the Fox News Decision Desk could project, with confidence, that she would finish sixth out of six major candidates in the caucus. As of this writing, she is set to finish 5 percentage points ahead of Jon Huntsman, who effectively conceded the state. Put another way, she finished 6 percentage points ahead of you and me, and we didn’t even run.
With no seriously contested Democratic caucus to compete for the votes of independents, the caucus turned into yet another sales pitch for closed primaries. According to the entrance polls, 38 percent of caucus-goers had never voted in a GOP caucus before; of those, by far the largest share, 37 percent, voted for Ron Paul. Among the registered so-called independents who took part in the caucus, 48 percent voted for Ron Paul, way ahead of anyone else. Next highest was Romney with 16 percent.
Otherwise, it was a great night for Santorum, a slightly disappointing night for Romney (soon to be rendered moot by a big win in New Hampshire). The quality of the night for Ron Paul is hard to evaluate because he does not operate on the same laws of time and space as most on this earth. Tough night for Gingrich, really tough night for Perry, brutal night for Bachmann, and we’ll see if Huntsman has any life in him next week.
So . . . how about the Geraghty Plan to revise the order of the states in upcoming presidential cycles?
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot blog on NRO.
Steven F. Hayward
I don’t think we learned much Tuesday night that we didn’t already know. We saw the continuing weakness of Mitt Romney; and now the attention will turn to Rick Santorum. Good for him; it is his moment, and the next eight days will constitute one of the greatest opportunities in modern politics.
Regardless of how Santorum does in New Hampshire next week, I can only imagine how Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, John Thune, Sarah Palin, and even Jeb Bush must be kicking themselves for not getting in the race. Above all, Tim Pawlenty should never have gotten out; he would surely be in the hunt right now if he’d stayed in. And one other name comes to mind: Mike Huckabee, the 2008 winner in Iowa, might well be the frontrunner right now if he’d gotten in.
Romney remains the odds-on favorite, for the conventional reason that he’s got the money and organization for the long ground game of today’s nomination contest. I saw on the Corner Tuesday that Santorum’s camp believes they can ramp up quickly. It will be an astounding feat if he can pull it off, but if he can, it will be the strongest sign yet that he’s ready to be a strong president.
— Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Greatness: Reagan, Churchill and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders.
Six years ago Dennis Prager and I campaigned with Rick Santorum in the closing days of his last U.S. Senate campaign. He was far behind in the polling and there wasn’t much hope — actually next to none — but Dennis and I were not only happy to be there with him but proud to campaign beside him, because Rick Santorum is the very real deal: a man of deep faith and conservative conviction.
I believe the same is true of Mitt Romney, though many disagree with my belief that he is a real conservative. The policy differences between the two first-place finishers in Iowa — a dead heat is a dead heat — are very few if any. The debates ahead will explore those differences as well as their different temperaments.
It will be a fine campaign for the country to watch, and Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry may yet have key roles to play and perhaps resurgences to enjoy in South Carolina and other states on the campaign trail.
Various of the campaigns and commentators are on edge tonight, and many are saying President Obama is the winner because the GOP is obviously divided among many candidates. But in 1980, George H. W. Bush collected 33,530 votes in the Iowa caucuses, and Ronald Reagan bagged 31,348. Reagan went on to win the New Hampshire primary, the Republican nomination, and 44 states in the fall wipeout of Jimmy Carter. I suspect you will hear that a lot from Team Romney this week.
From Rick Santorum you will continue to hear a full-throated defense of traditional conservatism and a demand for longstanding credentials in the conservative movement. He too will be fighting for the Ronald Reagan mantle.
Both will be arguing the case from 1980. As will Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry.
It is 1980 2.0 and there is every reason to believe that the result in November will look a lot like that of 32 years ago.
– Hugh Hewitt is host of The Hugh Hewitt Show and author of the 2007 book A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney is now the liberal alternative for the Republican nomination. Seventy-five percent of Iowa caucus voters — the conservative super-majority of the party — voted for someone else. A full third of those voted for Rick Santorum.
Santorum can increase his share of the conservative vote in coming primaries, take the Republican nomination, and defeat Obama in the fall. Here’s how he might do it:
1) Be a happy warrior. Santorum has a deeper and broader grasp of the issues than any other candidate except, perhaps, Gingrich. Whether the liberal press likes it or not, the public will now give him a chance to tell them where he stands. He should relax and tell them.
2) Exploit free media. Pundits will say over and over that Santorum needs to raise lots of money fast. But Santorum should now exploit his frontrunner status to leverage free media — especially by taking the debate directly to Obama by staging campaign events that dramatize the cynicism and profligacy of Obama’s presidency.
3) Emphasize smaller government. Along with Michele Bachmann, Santorum has been the most solid social conservative in the Republican field. He now needs to emphasize restoring constitutionally limited government and saving the nation from bankruptcy. These will be the central issues of the campaign.
— Terry Jeffrey is editor-in-chief of CNSNews.com.
Kathryn Jean Lopez
Rewind a month. Who would have put money on a three-way tie between Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum at 10 p.m. EST on Iowa caucus night?
That media folk would wind up worried about missing their early-morning flights to New Hampshire?
That it would be Wednesday morning before we knew if Rick Santorum beat Mitt Romney or not?
That the winner of the Iowa straw poll and the Texas governor who trampled on her victory with his entrance — the high point of his campaign — would be at the bottom of the pack when Iowans actually got to caucus?
This politics business isn’t a science. Nor is getting to nominee status. And this morning we still don’t know all that much, except that it’s still only the beginning and voters can still do what they do best in the coming states — surprise us.
That said, I’m delighted that my friend Rick Santorum did as well as he did. What it means is not entirely clear, but I think it has something to do with the fact that, with him, what you see is what you get. He’s a hard worker who knows how to get things done in Washington. And the latter isn’t always a bad thing.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
The only candidate for the Republican nomination who refused to put in writing a public commitment to oppose and veto any net tax hike was named Jon Huntsman. He received 1 percent of the vote in Iowa. One percent. Huntsman hopes to win in New Hampshire, the state that has its own state pledge for gubernatorial candidates to oppose a state income tax or broad-based income tax. Huntsman’s plan is to repeat the strategy and success of the John McCain 2008 campaign. He forgot the bit about being a war hero.
Ron Paul won 48 percent of voters between 19 and 29 years of age, according to the CNN polling. That tracks with other polls that show Paul with 10 percent of the Republican vote and 30 percent of those under 30 years of age. The Federal Election Commission reports have indicated that Ron Paul raised the most money from those in active military service. Barry Goldwater, Pat Robertson, the Tea Party, and now Ron Paul have each brought a wave of new activists into the modern Republican party.
The candidate who wins the GOP nomination and then the presidency will be signing bills passed by Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Leadership will flow from the Hill, not the White House. I feel better about that every day.
— Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Tuesday’s results show that Mitt Romney has still not made the sale, but remains the man to beat. He essentially held his vote from 2008, which presages a primary campaign where he will do well in metropolitan areas and poorly in rural ones. Rick Santorum showed that a conservative with a positive message can rally the base; and as other candidates competing with him for that base drop out he can expect to increase his standing there (assuming he holds up under the intense attention he will now garner).
Key good news for Romney, though — he beat Santorum among “somewhat conservative” voters by a margin of 33 percent to 18 percent. This group is the largest ideological faction in the GOP and has supported the winner in each of the last three open contested races. If Santorum wants to break through, he needs to persuade these voters that he is not just a man with good principles, but also a man of good judgment.
— Henry Olsen is a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute and the director of its National Research Initiative.