The 2012 Republican Iowa caucus had far less impact on the race than the 2004 and 2008 Democratic races which propelled John Kerry and Barack Obama to victories in their party. The biggest question is whether we are seeing a repeat of the 2008 Republican caucus, with Rick Santorum playing the part of Mike Huckabee. Santorum benefited from being the last non-Romney candidate standing, surging with too little time for media scrutiny to harm his campaign. His eight vote loss to Mitt Romney might be analogous to Mike Huckabee’s win if it turns out to be an isolated win for a social conservatives. There is an outside chance that Santorum might capitalize upon this win to become a strong enough anti-Romney candidate to pull an upset. If conservatism was really a small-government movement a supporter of big-government such as Santorum would have no chance, but deep down many Republicans must realize their small government rhetoric is all talk. Even the Tea Party members (who have always been dominated by social conservatives) gave Santorum support.
The biggest difference between 2008 and this year is the desire of conservatives to prevent a replay of 2008 and allow someone they see as more moderate win the nomination. Newt Gingrich now wants an anti-Romney alliance with Santorum, but this looks a lot like a losing candidate trying to remain relevant. Gingrich might destroy Romney, and in the process destroy the GOPs chances at winning the general election. It is about time Gingrich does something useful.
Meanwhile conservative leaders are meeting in Texas to attempt to find a consensus conservative candidate. Good luck finding someone who adheres to the conservative line on most issues and doesn’t come across as bat-shit crazy to moderate and independent voters in a general election.
The biggest loser was obviously Michele Bachmann who dropped out of the race. Rick Perry almost left the race. As he has been raising money better than he has been debating, he might as well remain in the race. As volatile as this race has been, he could still maintain hope of becoming the surviving anti-Romney candidate down the road.
If measuring against expectations, Ron Paul also turned out to be a loser. After appearing to have a chance to win, or at least come in a close second, his third place left him virtually forgotten behind the close Romney-Santorum battle. Besides, there are few states where Paul has a chance to pick up many votes in a Republican primary.
Overall it was an unimpressive night for Republicans, who suffered from low turn-out, and for Mitt Romney. Romney spent years and millions of dollars to show that he could not appeal to any more voters than four years ago. Derek Thompson calculated how much each candidate spent per vote. Rick Perry spent the most per vote at $478.40. Mitt Romney spent $154.90, Ron Paul $103.30, Newt Gingrich $89.84, Rick Santorum $20.50, and Michele Bachmann spent $3.95 per vote. Santorum clearly got the most for his money.
It seemed that there were far more people tweeting about the caucus last night than participating. Some say it is unfair that such a small number of people could potentially choose our president. That is no where as bad as the 2000 election when the election was decided by nine people on the Supreme Court.