By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Iowa

Grumpy conservatives survey post-Iowa scene

Mitt Romney campaigning in Iowa — in 2007

This commentary is also online at the Huffington Post.

The conservative commentariat today is grumpy. And perhaps none is grumpier than Red State’s Erick Erickson, who’s unhappy not only with the Republicans’ eight-vote front-runner, Mitt Romney, but with his newly elevated conservative challenger, Rick Santorum.

Complaining that Santorum is a “big government conservative” in the tradition of George W. Bush, Erickson writes that the former Pennsylvania senator’s reputation as a retail politician is vastly overblown. “His campaign was not successful, it’s just all the others sucked so bad,” he says. Erickson’s improbable dream: a renewed effort by one-time Tea Party favorite Rick Perry, who’s gone home to Texas and who may be out of the race by the end of the day.

Aside from the impossibly thin margin separating Romney and Santorum, there was nothing about the Iowa caucuses that should have surprised anyone. For days it had been clear that Romney, Santorum and Ron Paul would be the three top finishers. And it remains Romney’s central dilemma that even though he seems the likely nominee, the conservatives who comprise the base of the Republican Party can’t stand him.

“He has all the king’s horses and all the king’s men supporting him, the print MSM and most segments on Fox News Channel in his favor, yet for the second time in four years, 75 percent of Iowa caucus-goers rejected him,” writes Kellyanne Conway at National Review. (Conway, a political consultant working for Newt Gingrich, nevertheless reserves her strongest praise for Santorum.)

Over at Slate, John Dickerson offers a startling statistic: According to entrance polls, Santorum beat Romney 36 percent to one percent among caucus-goers who wanted a true conservative. “Santorum is now the only Flavor of the Week candidate to actually win anything,” Dickerson says, “which makes him a genuine threat to Romney, at least for the moment.”

So what is a conservative to do? Daniel Larison’s response is to grouse. Writing at Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative, Larison mocks the notion that any of the Republicans who didn’t get into the race, like South Dakota senator John Thune or former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, could have stopped the Romney machine. Larison continues:

“It remains true that Romney shouldn’t be the nominee, and Republicans will regret nominating him, but it seems extremely unlikely at this stage that anything is going to prevent it from happening.”

At National Review, Jim Geraghty fingers the Ames Straw Poll as a principal source of conservative angst, since it prematurely ended the campaign of someone who might actually have beaten Romney:

“The Hawkeye State killed off the chances of a perfectly good candidate, Tim Pawlenty, in favor of his Minnesota rival Michele Bachmann, only to drop her like seventh-period Spanish by the time the actual caucuses rolled around.”

Yet if Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, really had that much potential, surely he should have been able to beat Bachmann, who is apparently headed for the exits as I write this. Maybe Pawlenty could have grown if he hadn’t been pushed out by a ridiculously early, meaningless test — or if, despite the Ames result, he’d kept working it, like Santorum, written off by everyone until just a few weeks ago. But in public, Pawlenty came off as being cut from the same cloth as Romney, a bit more conservative perhaps, but even less charismatic, if such a thing is possible.

At the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes predicts that conservatives will now coalesce around Santorum, creating a “one-on-one race” that “is exactly what Romney hoped to avoid at this stage.” And at the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan bizarrely (not to be redundant) proclaims that Romney emerges from Iowa a stronger candidate because he succeeded in vanquishing Gingrich, “a foe big enough that when you beat him it means something.”

The Pollyanna award goes to Ross Douthat of the New York Times, who thinks caucus-goers did themselves proud last night. “Presented with the weakest presidential field of any major party in a generation,” he writes, “they made the best of a bad situation, punching the three most deserving tickets without handing any of them a decisive victory.”

Which sounds like another way of saying — to echo Pat Caddell and John LeBoutillier on last night — that the big winner of the Iowa caucuses was Barack Obama.

Photo (cc) by and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

The speeches

Two quick observations about Barack Obama’s speech. First, he was far more uplifting and forward-looking than either John Edwards or Hillary Clinton was able to manage. Second, you could actually see quite a few people under 50 in the room. My only reservation was that he gave it the full Obama, when something a little more conversational and television-friendly might have been called for.

Clinton was fine, though she seemed exhausted, reminding people “I am so ready to lead” whenever she couldn’t think of something to say. It’s got to be a difficult moment for her — the way the calendar has been set up, she could find herself swept out of this very quickly.

As for Edwards … well, I suspect you can always get 30 percent of Democrats to go along with an old-fashioned, populist, pro-union message. But you’ll never get much more than that. It was interesting that he invoked Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. They’ve been out of office for some time now, haven’t they?

Mike Huckabee gave a good speech, but I can’t imagine him playing well in New Hampshire. Pat Robertson gave everyone a scare in Iowa in 1988, but didn’t go any farther. What’s inexplicable is that Mitt Romney apparently timed his speech to coincide with Huckabee’s so that he wouldn’t be on television. How is that a good idea?

Romney finds himself in the same position as Clinton. If John McCain is able to play his mediocre finish in Iowa into something approaching momentum (and the media are going to help him do that, which you could see in the coverage tonight), he might win New Hampshire and end Romney’s candidacy. Just like that.

It’s all like high school

Markos Moulitsas on a particularly snarky media tidbit about Hillary Clinton: “Did these reporters ever graduate high school, or do they think they’re now cool because they get to sniff at Hillary Clinton instead of doing their goddam jobs?”

Can’t say I disagree.

And it’s Obama

It looks like everyone is calling the Democratic caucuses for Barack Obama. Predictions are futile, of course, but that would seem to bode well for an Obama victory in New Hampshire. And if that happens, wouldn’t Clinton’s campaign be close to over? Especially if John McCain’s uninspiring finish in Iowa moves New Hampshire independents to pick up Democratic ballots next Tuesday? I know, I know. I’m getting away ahead of events here. But still.

Mapping the candidates

This map on is a hoot. Click on the candidate, and you get lines showing where he or she has been and a brief explanation of the campaign’s geographic strategy. But why so sparse? I’d have loaded in any previously published stories, photos and videos from those locations in order to turn this into something readers would stay with for a while. Still, it’s a good example of graphical journalism.

Here it comes

With slightly more than half the Democratic caucuses reporting, it looks like Obama is starting to pull out to a definable lead, with Edwards and Clinton virtually tied — but Edwards slightly ahead.

What Comcast hath wrought

According to this, C-SPAN is carrying the Democratic caucuses, and C-SPAN2 is hanging with the Republicans. So if you’re a Comcast customer — at least in my blighted suburb — you can watch the Democrats but not the Republicans. (Except online or if you pay extra for digital cable, of course.)

Funny, but I’ve never heard anyone accuse Comcast of liberal media bias.

Huckabee wins?

I just heard Keith Olbermann from the other room saying that NBC News has called the Republican caucuses for Mike Huckabee. A very bad night for Mitt Romney, although not as bad as it could have been if John McCain comes in fourth.

Democrats tied

Chris Matthews and company were very excited earlier tonight, claiming that Barack Obama was going to win, followed possibly by John Edwards, with Hillary Clinton coming in third. Not that anyone had actually voted.

Now, with nearly a quarter of the vote counted, Obama, Edwards and Clinton are virtually tied, with Edwards holding a slight edge — 32.62 percent to 32.2 percent apiece for Clinton and Obama. (The numbers are being continually updated, so they’ll have changed by the time you click.)

Mike Huckabee is beating Mitt Romney 36 percent to 23 percent at the moment. But John McCain may have a hard time claiming he’s the real winner if he comes in behind sleepy Fred Thompson.

WaPo TV is running live video from one of the Iowa caucus sites.

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