The outcome in Iowa has Ron Paul solidly established and in an ideal position to move forward with confidence. If you’re watching the race at all, you’ve noticed that the GOP establishment has brought out the long knives, with Gingrich calling Paul’s supporters ‘indecent’, and Santorum saying that Paul is ‘disgusting‘. Virtually every ‘news’ story referencing Paul includes a declaratory statement that Paul cannot be nominated, or ‘almost certainly’ cannot. TV talking heads such as Politico’s Roger Simon were at least honest about the shared intent of the media and the GOP establishment: ‘If Paul wins Iowa we’ll just take it out (of the picture)’. Iowa’s own governor downplayed the importance of his state’s caucus outcome, should Paul win – something no other governor has done in American history.
In spite of the relentless assault against him, Paul’s support held up well, with a result mirroring most of the polls leading up to the caucuses. His supporters can’t possibly be discouraged – Paul’s support grew steadily over the months, and he finished near his peak. Santorum’s turn as ‘flavor of the week’, coming right after voters got another look at Newt Gingrich, came at the perfect time, further fracturing the establishment vote.
The Iowa results boost Paul’s chances for long-term success for a number of reasons.
- A lot of the negative attention that was aimed at Paul will now be focused on Santorum. The media may give Arlen Specter’s most important political ally a break, for now, but his opponents won’t. To the media, Santorum is a perfect GOP candidate – one they can easily trash when the time comes. His current appeal is a mile wide and a millimeter deep; there’s nothing of substance driving it – no scheme like Cain’s ’9-9-9 plan’, no great legislative achievements, nothing aside from the perception that he’d be ‘tough on terror’, that he speaks in earnest, and that he’s not Gingrich or Romney. As long as Santorum is in it, Romney and Gingrich will remain in, they likely think that Santorum’s chances to actually secure the nomination are nil.
- Romney’s finish makes any ‘inevitability’ talk look ridiculous. He seems to have a ceiling of 25%-30% of GOP primary voters, with no noticeable crossover enthusiasm from democrats, and little appeal to independents. The undecided voters will continue to ping-pong between the other candidates, with some sticking to Paul with each bounce. It seems that no matter what Romney says, does, or spends, he can’t gain any broader traction. He isn’t trusted by most republicans, for far better reasons than the GOP establishment posits for opposing Paul. There’s little prospect that Romney can change that fact, but he’s still going to grind it out.
- There isn’t much the GOP establishment can do to derail Paul going forward. Ballot registration deadlines are passing, and the look of a real race means the appearance of a new entry (from a bench that is shallow and all-establishment) is less likely. The GOP has shown an interest in gaming the convention, but they have already deeply alienated many of Paul’s supporters, who will easily constitute the difference in the next election, whether Paul is on the ballot or not. The more the GOP does that seems designed to deny him a fair chance at the nomination, the more people they will alienate. The damage may already be done; it’s hard to find any Paul supporters who show any enthusiasm for any other candidates. They know that this actually isn’t just like every other election, a choice between two evils. Our country is in the grip of something awful which transcends Obama, and we’re approaching the event horizon. For millions there is one way out and one captain, everything else is a distraction from reality.
The cake may already be baked for the GOP. They’ve made support of something akin to our current foreign policy the new litmus-test for respectability in the GOP. The damage they’ve already done to their party, with their wholesale abandonment of the party’s long-held ’11th Commandment’: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any republican”, may be too much to undo. If they are not yet worried and introspective, they should be.
- All of the candidates except perhaps Bachmann and Perry will remain in the race. They all realize that 15%-20% of GOP primary voters are up for grabs in any given month, and Bachmann and Perry’s supporters would add 15% or so to that pool. Paul should hope that the establishment vote remains divided for as long as possible, as he steadily builds his support.