Romney will win Republican race starting with Iowa

by Jonathan Todd

Mitt Romney has always been the frontrunner in the Republican presidential nomination race. There are, however, Republicans with doubts about Romney-care, his religion and his corporate background. Given such concerns, I had thought Rick Perry might usurp Romney by matching his strongest card, economic credibility, and having more appeal to the religious right.

That was before I realised Perry’s oratory makes George W Bush seem Cicero-like. Such a shambles can’t possibly have more ability than Romney to reach out to business people or even evangelicals sceptical of Mormonism. We live in an unpredictable, crazy world but it is surely now predictable that Perry as a presidential candidate is too crazy.

Romney’s other rivals, however, drift inexorably to the same status. Almost as if the whole thing has been orchestrated by Romney’s campaign, with the aim of securing their man victory and everyone else a laugh. The race has been characterised by Romney being the only consistently leading presence, periodically challenged for ascendency by the latest hyped candidate, before this hype dissipates, often in a blizzard of insanity.

Michele Bachmann is accurately captured by John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, now an MSNBC contributor, as “a poor man’s Sarah Palin” – a description which made for an awkward first on-air interview when McCain lined up with Bachmann. (Chelsea Clinton recently got an easier debut gig on NBC, as two political dynasties look to formation through the media). Herman Cain was a pizza manager, whose servings, it transpired, came with a thick crust of lechery. Newt Gingrich was a warrior against Washington DC and a crusader for traditional values, who got rich lobbying DC and is a serial adulterer. Even Donald Trump got in on the action at one stage, as if this is an episode of Ali G, not a process leading towards the election of the most powerful person in the world.

It’s obvious that grassroots Republicans, unlike their party’s establishment, are not sold on Romney. It’s equally obvious, given the hilariously inept efforts to date, that if a serious rival to Romney was going to emerge they would have emerged by now. So, how quickly will Romney be in a race with president Obama for the White House?

Let’s look at the first three contests: the Iowa caucus (3 January), the New Hampshire primary (10 January) and the South Carolina primary (21 January).

The Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee claimed to have started “a prairie fire” by winning the last Iowa caucus. The votes of social conservatives pushed Romney into second place. The presence of these voters in Iowa means that Romney can never have had solid hopes of winning here in 2012 either. But he will, at an absolute minimum, want to avoid the fate of Rudy Giuliani, who was an early frontrunner in 2008, but whose campaign never fully recovered momentum after he choose to put very little focus on Iowa and was punished with a derisory sixth place.

Momentum coming out of Iowa matters as much as outright victory. A Ron Paul victory in Iowa – thought most likely by the Spectator’s Jonathan Jones – isn’t awful news for Romney, as Paul shows limited potential for using such a victory to build out of his relatively small, but dedicated, core of libertarian supporters. And a Paul victory denies impetus to Gingrich, probably the candidate most able to take the momentum of an Iowa victory and convert it into a genuine threat to Romney.

A Romney win on the infertile Iowan terrain cannot be discounted for five reasons. First, the Gingrich bubble seems to be bursting – he once held a clear lead in Iowa but now seems to have slipped behind both Paul and Romney. His failure to make the ballot in Virginia also smacks of arrogance or incompetence or both. Second, there remains time for Paul to buckle in Iowa, as others have already done, under the extra scrutiny that comes with strong poll showings. And there is no shortage of reasons to have second thoughts about him. Third, a social conservative should win Iowa but Bachmann, Perry and the equally preposterous Rick Santorum are splitting this vote (although Santorum seems to be picking up support and many in Iowa remain undecided). Fourth, Romney and high-profile backers are now spending more time in Iowa. Fifth, apparently the weather might help him, according to Huckabee.

While these are reasons to think that Romney may pull off a surprise victory in Iowa, he appears to be pulling ahead in New Hampshire. This is a more moderate, less conservative state than Iowa, the kind of place that both Romney and former governor Jon Huntsman will be pinning their hopes upon. Despite appealing to independents and moving into third place in a New Hampshire poll, Huntsman has never quite been able to cut through into the front rank of candidates. Romney has tacked to the right, but there just doesn’t seem enough political space for him to be undercut by another centrist like Huntsman, though Huntsman appears a relative bastion of intelligence and good sense compared to the rest of the GOP field.

Romney has recently picked up the endorsement of South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and may go into this contest with two wins behind him. If he were to also win in South Carolina, would he be unstoppable?

I’m not sure how unprecedented it would be for Romney to not become the candidate in such circumstances, but sooner or later – and my guess is sooner – a former community organiser will face off against a former Bain CEO in a presidential contest that will be largely determined by perceptions of economic competence.

Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist

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3 Responses to “Romney will win Republican race starting with Iowa”

  1. David Talbot says:

    Excellent analysis.

    If Romney wins in the first two states, and New Hampshire seems like an absolute banker, than as you say he’ll be well-positioned to utilise his significant financial and organisational advantages in the rest of the country. The press would anoint him as the ‘inevitable nominee’ and he would move inexorably toward the Republican crown, perhaps much quicker than expected, despite the elongated nomination calendar.

    As the primary season begins the polls are essentially back where they started in January 2011: Romney as the strong favorite to be the nominee despite the many doubts the GOP base clearly have about him. The weakness of the other candidates in an underwhelming field, their ability to self-implode as well as Romney’s considerable advantages in money, organisation and establishment support have all contributed to this landscape.

    The polls in Iowa are tight, and even if Paul or Gringrich do pull off victory (and the latter has sizable leads in South Carolina and Florida according to the RealClearPolitics website) neither has the ability or the appeal to stay the course.

    I think you’re right Jonathan; Romney v Obama in November – and it could be a lot closer than we think.

  2. LD_Law says:

    Well Jonathan, until you are Dan Hodges making the prediction I can’t believe you.

  3. LD_Law – There’s nothing, for better or worse, I can do about not being Dan…

    David – Thank you.

    The most significant development in the latest Iowa polls is the growth in support for Santorum. This growth might encourage other social conservatives in Iowa to desert Perry, Gingrich and Bachmann and fall in with Santorum as the man to stop Romney. If this happens and results in a strong performance by Santorum in Iowa (at least top three) then this may have three kinds of impact:

    First, it must mean that Perry and Bachmann perform very poorly in Iowa, which must bring into question their viability as candidates, though Perry has a lot of money and will scrap any barrel and push any envelope in using it (recent TV ad: “As President I will stop President Obama’s war on religion”).

    Second, it means that the top three finishers in Iowa are likely to be Romney, Paul and Santorum. If there really are only three tickets out of Iowa, would this mean that these three have them? But, even if Paul or Santorum were to actually win Iowa, can any of these three ticket holders other than Romney be taken seriously as a presidential candidate? If we assume that Iowa is followed by a Romney victory in New Hampshire, how credible does Gingrich look by South Carolina? How much of a threat, given the expected Romney victory in New Hampshire, to the Gingrich campaign is not finishing in the top three in Iowa? If significantly because of the weakness of Paul and Santorum, likely holders of tickets out of Iowa, then I think Gingrich lives to fight another day beyond Iowa but he is set for another blow in New Hampshire and may be dead in the water, along with everyone else, if Romney beats him in South Carolina.

    Third, Huntsman is going to try to enter race in New Hampshire but to a significant extent everyone else is going to skip New Hampshire, try to downplay the significance of New Hampshire and fight South Carolina. Can Santorum go anywhere in South Carolina and other states with a strong, even winning, performance in Iowa? I think, in this circumstance, he potentially gets financial backers and voters who might otherwise have gone to Gingrich, which might mean that after Tuesday we really are living in a world where only the three holders of tickets out of Iowa (Romney, Paul and Santorum) can be the Republican candidate, but probably only so much as to cancel each other out and further clear the way for Romney. Santorum can only threaten Romney if support outside of Iowa, particularly in South Carolina, peals away from candidates like Gingrich and Perry (where does his money go if he’s not in the game after Iowa?) to Santorum to a dramatic extent over a relatively short period time, which is hard to see happening to the extent and at the speed that Santorum would need to be the presidential candidate, not least as Santorum has yet to face any intense scrutiny from the media and other candidates (negative ads, etc), which could very easily undermine him.

    It’s all fun and games but the real deal is going to be a presidential election between Obama and Romney that will be all about economic management.

    Best, Jonathan

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