As political theater, the
But as for the predictive value of the nation's first presidential voting? Not much was decided Tuesday. Iowa may choose first, but the state's 100,000-plus caucus voters appear to have the same mixed feelings about the GOP choices as everyone else.
If you are Mr. Romney, this has got to be maddening. What does it take for the former Massachusetts governor to close the deal with conservatives? No doubt he'll produce a stronger showing in New Hampshire next week, but that will be discounted as his home turf. Perhaps South Carolina will seal the deal on Jan. 21, but probably not. There's always Florida 10 days later. Oh, well.
Mr. Santorum's recent rise to prominence in Iowa came as a bit of a surprise. He has neither the money nor organization of a Romney nor the cult-like following surrounding Mr. Paul nor the celebrity of a Gingrich. In a race that has seen its share of musical-chair polling, it was as if Mr. Santorum simply benefited from excellent timing — his candidacy largely ignored by competitors, he was the non-Romney of the moment.
We would leave it to the political junkies to sort through the peculiarities of the aftermath and predict the future for those remaining in the race. How the well-financed campaign of
But how many Americans woke up on Wednesday thinking Mr. Santorum will now go on to face President
Setting aside the peculiarities of one Midwestern state — Iowa caucus voters are more extremist in their views and more focused on
It's hardly a leap to suggest that conservatives don't trust the man whose approach to health care in Massachusetts provided the blueprint for Mr. Obama's own
This discomfort with Mr. Romney could fade away as the last of the alternatives rise and fall (with seemingly only former Utah Governor
Certainly, this looks to be a volatile political year, and it's only early January. Mr. Obama's own standings in the polls have improved much in the last two months, but he, too, could plummet if the U.S. economy appears to worsen — or even remain stagnant. And who knows what unexpected development may yet emerge as a key issue in the race?
But for now, the most interesting story arc of the 2012 election is the continuing conflict between Mr. Romney and the true-believers of this party. Will it be ideological purity or pragmatism for Republicans? Revolution or realism? Electability or excitement?