A Terrible Night For The Republican Party, And America As A Whole

Let me preface this by saying I saw Rick Santorum’s “Game On” victory speech after the Iowa caucus returns showed him in a surprising tie with Mitt Romney atop the final standings, and it was quite good. Romney ultimately won the caucus by eight votes, but under the circumstances it’s immaterial who actually won. Iowa’s delegates will be proportionally allocated and there aren’t many of them in the first place.

Santorum’s the winner in Iowa. Romney, less so.

The losers? We’re the losers. The whole country, but particularly Republicans and conservatives specifically.

We now have a winnowing of the Republican field, as Rick Perry spent what looks like well over $300 per vote in Iowa and has decided he’ll go back to Texas and reassess his campaign. Nobody ever reassesses a campaign and decides to keep at it. And this morning Michele Bachmann has cancelled her South Carolina schedule and will hold a press conference to get out of the race.

So seven GOP candidates now becomes five. And that five includes John Huntsman, who’s wasting his time running for president, and a Newt Gingrich who looks mortally wounded at this point barring further developments.

And why?

Because 120,000 Iowans said so.

Apparently the turnout for the Iowa caucuses was less than 20 percent. It was half the turnout in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.

This is arguably the most consequential American election since 1860. The very existence of America as a constitutional Republic is at stake. Every Republican knows this. And yet Iowa, which prides itself on being first out of the gate in the presidential primary process, can’t turn out more than 20 percent of its GOP electorate for something so important?

Worse, the 20 percent who did show up gave us Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. This, apparently, is what’s left of the GOP field.

Erick Erickson at Redstate made a good point this morning in pointing out an opportunity which now exists…

For starters, the media would have you believe that the 123,000 people who turned out for the Hawkeye Caucii was a record. This is simply not true except superficially. If you take out the non-Republicans who came into the caucuses last night for Ron Paul, the Republican turn out was less than 2008 — even considering the ratio of independents to Republicans who turned out in 2008.

At its best, this turn out does not signal core enthusiasm with the field as it is presently constituted and perhaps signals that an alternative could still jump in. Considering “winner takes all” races do not come until April, someone coming out now could campaign and build momentum to the winner takes all states.

Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, Jim Demint – pick up the phone.

Is that a viable possibility? Could someone get in this late and win the nomination? Maybe. It’s a long shot, but maybe.

Ron Paul’s people will tell you he won Iowa. They can do that, as they are unbound by reality. They’ve always been so. Ron Paul didn’t win last night, he lost. The supposed surge of Democrats and Independents who would propel him to a first-place finish didn’t happen. Not only did Paul finish four points out of first, he finished behind Rick Santorum. Paul’s only chance to win was to finish ahead of whatever Non-Romney Du Jour existed on election day, and because he didn’t he failed to expand his base – without which his campaign has no chance at victory.

Newt Gingrich didn’t win Iowa, or even come close to doing it. He’s now playing second-fiddle to Santorum as the current Not Romney candidate, and his precipitous drop from runaway winner to distant fourth place in less than a month means he’s on life support. Gingrich at this point can’t run the positive, issue-oriented campaign he planned to run; that’s no longer possible when 45 percent of all the money spent on TV in Iowa was spent to attack him. Unfortunately for Gingrich, running a slash-and-burn campaign to get revenge on Romney is less of a possibility now than it was for financial reasons; he’s out of money and all that’s left for him to do is appearances on Fox News and CNN and local TV in New Hampshire and South Carolina wherein he’s going to gripe about what a jackass Romney is. And that’s not the way you want to do it – when you’re on TV you want to be the nice guy who never says anything ugly about anybody, and then your TV spots do the dirty work for you.

Which is the way Romney handles it. He never has any blood on his hands, and yet his Super PAC burns his political opponents at the stake.

Newt can’t fight fire with fire, and because of that all he can do at this point is play spoiler against Romney. And while it might be incredibly personally satisfying for him to do so, he won’t be benefiting his own campaign to do so; he’ll be playing the heavy for somebody else.

Namely, Santorum, whom Gingrich praised for running a positive campaign last night.

Of course, Santorum will now get the typical Not Romney beatdown Gingrich, Bachmann, Perry and Herman Cain got from Romney’s Super PAC goons and the mainstream media. He’s already received a taste, thanks to CBS News interpreting remarks he made and a flub in his speech as a racist statement over the weekend and Alan Colmes calling him insane for bringing home the body of his dead son so the rest of his kids could see him.

There will be a lot more where that came from. It turns out that Santorum’s 19-year old nephew penned a short piece at the Daily Caller explaining that his uncle is “another big-government politician who supports the status quo to run our country” – the kid is a Ron Paul supporter, naturally – and the Huffington Post is now attempting to reprise a hit piece they’d previously done about a mental health facility in Virginia on whose board Santorum formerly sat where allegations of sexual abuse have been made.

But to go with the inane and ridiculous, there will be substantive critiques made of Santorum.

This is, after all, a former senator who was beaten by an astonishing 59-41 margin in 2006, one of the worst repudiations of an incumbent in the history of the U.S. Senate. And that wasn’t some correction of a left-wing state ridding itself of an unwanted conservative; Pennsylvania elects Republicans often enough that mere ideology isn’t sufficient to explain it. No, Santorum’s ignominious defeat at Bob Casey’s hands has a more troubling genesis.

What cost Santorum his Senate seat in 2006 was a twofold failure. He first succumbed to voter anger at his abject failure to restrain federal spending. Santorum was a member of the GOP leadership team in the Senate which agreed to what was then considered out-of-control growth in federal spending (which only got worse once he was gone, though that is cold comfort), to such an extent that he was a “yes” vote for some $4 trillion in debt limit expansions. But worse, Santorum endorsed Arlen Specter in the 2004 GOP senate primary over Pat Toomey, and conservatives in that state screamed bloody murder at that betrayal of conservatism – and paid it back by sitting on their hands when Election Day came two years later.

A former senator abandoned by conservatives for cause just six years ago is now the only viable conservative candidate for president? We are to accept this as our best option? The mind boggles.

Which leaves us with Mitt Romney, who will claim his eight-vote victory as evidence of his inevitability as the GOP nominee. Romney claims virtually everything as evidence of his inevitability, which is galling to the 75 percent of the Republican electorate who don’t support him after six years of his running for president. That hubris will inevitably lead to nemesis, but since a consolidation of the conservative base behind a candidate with enough money, name recognition and narrative to actually win hasn’t happened and doesn’t seem likely now it’s increasingly likely Romney won’t get his comeuppance until the general election rolls around.

Romney is a bad frontrunner. His record is not conservative. His appeal isn’t conservative. He’s stiff and lacks charisma. He comes off as a blueblood, country-club Republican born with a silver spoon up his rear end. He’s a polished speaker who says nothing memorable. And he refuses to present an agenda the Republican base can get excited about – because he doesn’t think he has to.

In short, he’s the 2012 version of John McCain, who demands the loyalty of Republican voters on the basis of “where else are you gonna go?” Little surprise that McCain is endorsing Romney today.

Romney’s people point to polls which say he’s the GOP candidate who can beat Obama. He’s also the GOP candidate Obama’s goons are laying in wait for.

Does anybody really think this all-class-warfare-all-the-time campaign Obama is preparing to wage isn’t tailor-made for Romney as the opponent? It wasn’t idiocy on Obama’s part to embrace the reprobates of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was a Hail Mary pass, for sure, but with Romney as the opponent Obama will actually reap the benefit of it.

Romney, after all, won’t release his tax returns. Romney is the venture capitalist who bought companies and shook employees out onto the street. Romney is Wall Street, which is hated as much as Washington is. Romney is the 1 percent.

Will that work? Probably not. I’ve said all along that my dog could beat Obama. But then again my dog has more populist appeal than Romney does. And if Romney fails to make a credible appeal to Main Street, small-government conservatives and get them energized behind him, it’s entirely possible that it will work.

Establishment moderates have an abysmal record as Republican nominees for president. When they do manage to win they fail in the White House. And Romney has done nothing to position himself as anything else.

This is the most consequential election in our lives, and at this point it doesn’t look like the Republican Party is remotely close to stepping forward. It looks more today like Barack Obama will get four more years to wreck this country than at any time in this election cycle.

And that is unacceptable.

UPDATE: Apparently Perry is going to stay in and make a last stand in South Carolina. He might as well, though his odds are slim. He’d do well to heed Erickson’s advice…

If Rick Perry drops out of the race it will be the ultimate failure of the tea party movement to see the race come down to two or three big government conservatives. Romney and Santorum both hide behind compassionate conservatism to expand the state to suit their purposes. Only Rick Perry has run a campaign to make Washington “as inconsequential to our lives as possible.”

If I were Perry, I’d wake up tomorrow, say I refuse to surrender the Republican Party into the hands of big government conservatives after all the gains the tea party has made, and then announce I’m firing all my political staffers and communications staffers and ask South Carolina to help me reboot to victory. Make it an Alamo stand and, if like at the Alamo Perry goes down, perhaps there’ll at least be a rallying cry for small government conservatism left over.

That’s just me. Perry’s policy people have been phenomenal. The comms staff and political staff so badly bungled this that Rick Perry just suffered the first political loss of his career.

As awful as Iowa was, we’re talking about 120,000 votes total. That’s a city council race in a decent-sized burg. What Perry should have said last night when asked about his performance was “It’s IOWA, for crying out loud. Almost half these people voted for a guy whose own constituents blew him up by 18 points in his last election and another guy who thinks 9-11 was an inside job. You’re gonna judge me based on what a few of these hayseeds think?”

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