We don’t really know who won in Iowa (the media treating Romney’s 8 vote margin over Santorum as a ‘win’ shows only that our media have no knowledge of what constitutes a margin of error. If there were a recount — as there certainly would be if this was a true election — there is a better than even chance the results would be reversed).
We do know who lost — Bachman for sure. Gingrich? Too early to tell. Paul — perhaps, because now more attention will be paid to some of his positions, which can only hurt him. Perry — down, but not yet out; if he does well in South Carolina he could regain momentum as the anti-Romney.
For me, what we really lost in Iowa was the sanity of our nomination process. The Republican field is the weak, confused, divided mess that it is precisely because the gauntlet of the nominating process only allows the extreme, the unknown, and the hyperflexible many-faced politician to succeed. The early caucuses draw disproportionately on the extremes of the extreme to participate. Look at the three candidates who did best: one is a social ultra-conservative (Santorum) whose positions on marriage and family are completely out of touch with the majority of Americans but appeals deeply to evangelical conservatives (about 10-15% of the broader electorate). Another is a true libertarian (Paul) who would destroy a century of U.S. foreign policy and eighty years of federal safety nets for the elderly, the unemployed, and the poor. A third (Romney) is a hyperflexible politician who is running hard away from the very acts that made him a successful governor in his only governing experience, in Massachusetts.
Looking back, the nominating process post-Nixon gave us an unknown from Georgia who produced what many see as a failed presidency (Carter); a hyperflexible Ronald Reagan (the anti-government hawk who raised taxes 11 times and offered Gorbachev a plan for nuclear disarmament); an experienced candidate in George Bush senior but with the risky Dan Quayle a heartbeat from the presidency; another near-unknown from the south whose presidency nearly ended in impeachment and dragged America through years of scandal only obscured by the fortune of a vigorous economic boom driven by the dot-com bubble (Clinton); an inexperienced but name-recognized governor who dragged American into two costly wars and rigged the tax system to bankrupt the government (W); and an inexperienced Senator (Obama) whose manipulation of the caucus system gave him the nomination over the more experienced Hilary Clinton despite the latter winning primaries in every major state (California, Pennsylvania, Illnois, Ohio, New York).
America, the world’s most powerful nation, now has a tax system that no rational person or government would ever adopt if offered today; and a system for choosing its most important leader that is a 19th century anachronism manipulated by media advertising and caucus extremism.
There is a simple cure for the latter — get rid of caucuses entirely, and have the nominee chosen by primaries, with minimal thresholds for votes cast as a percentage of eligible voters (say at least one-third) in order to count. That would force candidates to seek the votes of statewide majorities of eligible voters, rather than allow tiny numbers of voters (130,000 in Iowa, out of a state population of 3 million) to force events.
Which is more un-American — to require substantial numbers of popular voters to choose candidates, or to allow tiny minorities of the most-motivated to determine the candidates?
Abolish caucuses; the American people will recover their voice and I expect the results will be better.