"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iowa Caucus Ends the Myth of Romney’s Inevitability

Mitt Romney received more votes than any other candidate in last night’s Iowa Caucus, but for the establishment and media favorite to win the nomination, that’s not good enough. Romney is not an inspiring candidate, so he needed to win convincingly to prove he can appeal to more than just the moderate wing of the Republican Party. However, instead of emerging as the clear winner, he emerges bruised and weak. Romney’s win last night was so narrow that he will continue to face strong opposition in the weeks and months ahead.

The biggest story is of course Santorum’s stunning rise from relative obscurity to come within eight votes of Romney. One after another, other challengers have surged as the anti-Romney candidate, but they peaked too soon to see any benefit in the caucuses and primaries. Santorum, on the other hand, was right to praise God in his speech last night for his very providential surge on the eve of the first-in-the-nation contest in Iowa. 75% of votes last night were cast against Romney and the winner of that group was unquestionably Santorum.

Romney’s biggest problem is his lack of message. In his “victory” speech last night, Romney merely reiterated his standard nebulous bromides about American greatness and there was even a moment prior to the speech when his staff began setting up a teleprompter in front of his lectern before being hurried away when someone realized this might make for an unfavorable comparison to President Obama. By contrast, Santorum gave an emotional speech which was well calibrated with an appeal to social conservatives, working-class “Reagan Democrats,” and even a nod to the Tea Party.

The lack of a compelling message is a severe handicap for Romney. In the coverage last night on Fox News, Brett Baier stated that the Romney Campaign spent roughly $110 per vote while Santorum only spent about $1.50 per vote. Although the numbers are slightly different, data from BuzzFeed corroborates the vast difference between Romney and Santorum’s spending levels. Looking at it another way, Romney spent about 29% of the total money to win about 25% of the vote, while Santorum spent less than 1% of the total money to get almost exactly the same number of votes.

As a result, Romney’s performance in Iowa in 2012 was no better than his performance in 2008. Despite being the establishment favorite, outspending every other candidate except Rick Perry, higher overall turnout, his many advantages as a campaign veteran, and with better organization on the ground in Iowa than any candidate except possibly Ron Paul, Romney’s share of the vote remained virtually unchanged from where it was four years ago.

In the end, Romney won a costly and hollow victory in Iowa. Although he leads the polling in New Hampshire, the same was true in 2008 before John McCain’s upset there. Because of his perceived weakness, Romney will be the subject of withering all-out attacks from Newt Gingrich, Santorum, and Jon Huntsman in New Hampshire and South Carolina in the next few weeks. If Romney does somehow manage to win his party’s nomination, it will be a long and painful contest.

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