Political Animal


December 28, 2011 11:02 AM Iowa CW

By Ed Kilgore

Speaking of Iowa…the caucuses are naturally the main topic in most of this week’s political news stories. And as always, the coverage tells us nearly as much as the “news” itself.

With Newt Gingrich having apparently lost about half his peak Iowa support after being pounded by Ron Paul and Mitt Romney’s Super-PAC, and since Perry, Bachmann and Santorum seem locked together in the low single digits, it’s increasingly likely Mitt Romney will either win the caucuses despite relatively tepid support, or will win the large consolation prize of watching Ron Paul earn an eminently ignorable victory.

This probability, which tops the early-morning page at Politico, is deeply satisfying to purveyors of political CW. Witness the supremely smug reaction of arch-purveyor Mark Halperin to the prospect of a Romney win:

Why would a Mitt-a-ganza in Iowa make the punditocracy so happy? Aside from the natural attraction of robo-analysts to a robo-pol, a Romney win, portending, it is assumed, a brisk Romney romp to the nomination, would confirm all sorts of hoary myths beloved in Beltway land. Let’s review a few.

1) The GOP is the “daddy party” whose stalwarts are “hierarchical” voters who always support the candidate “next in line” for the nomination. Mitt is the 2008 retread in the race, you see, so Republicans are dutifully opting for him because he’s paid his dues, and is “tempered” and experienced, doncha know. The fact that Republican voters have spent 2011 frantically searching for someone, anyone, other than Romney to nominate, and will turn to him, if they do, only because the alternatives are egregious disasters who have mainly succeeded in destroying each other, is apparently irrelevant.

2) Republicans are focused like a laser beam on beating Obama, and Romney’s obviously the most “electable” candidate. Romney’s superior “electability” may be true in the real world, but in the fever swamps inhabited by the conservative GOP “base,” anyone can beat Obama (unless, of course, ACORN comes back from the grave to steal the election), who is obviously the worst president since at least James Buchanan. Polls consistently show Republican voters ranking electability as a factor subordinate to “values” or ideology, and in any event, they largely think the most electable candidate is whoever they happen to be supporting for other reasons.

3) 2012 is “about” the economy, and Mitt owns that issue. Personally, I’ve never quite understood the assumption that Mitt Romney is some sort of expert on the economy; his main credential in that respect is his tenure with Bain Capital, which is going to be a rich source of material for the Obama campaign. His supposed “economic plan” is a hodge-podge of magical thinking and conservative policy pet rocks. But even if you buy that proposition, is it really true the nomination contest so far has been “about” the economy? If it’s been “about” anything, it’s almost certainly the question of whether this or that candidate is a true conservative, defined as meeting a variety of litmus tests on abortion, on radical changes in Social Security and Medicare, on ridding corporations of virtually all federal regulation, on permanent limitations on domestic spending, on the willingness to abolish major federal agencies, on slavish support for the more aggressively Likudnik policies of the current government of Israel, on brinksmanship towards Iran, and on and on. Romney has met enough of these litmus tests to become grudgingly acceptable to most rank-and-file conservatives and his rivals have flunked as many tests as he has. The economy is far down the list of factors feeding Romney’s success.

4) Romney is the “moderate” in the race, and Republicans are smart enough to want to “run to the center” in a presidential contest. This is the myth that makes me craziest. If there is one overriding reality of the current political environment, it’s that in 2009 the GOP made the extraordinarily unusual decision, after two consecutive debacles in 2006 and 2008, to move away from the political center as rapidly as possible, on the peculiar theory that Bush-era Republican lost because they “betrayed their conservative principles.” Compared to his profile in 2008, Mitt Romney has also moved significantly to the right, even though he was running four years ago as the “true conservative” alternative to Giuliani and McCain. That Romney is now perceived as a “moderate” is a testimony not to his party’s taste for “moderation,” but the very opposite.

I could go on and on, but as commenters have reminded me, I have a lot more posts to do today. Suffice it to say that the true meaning of Romney’s success in Iowa, if that’s how it transpires next Tuesday, will be completely lost on many who welcome it as a sign of the underlying order and reasonableness of our political system.

Ed Kilgore is managing editor of the Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.


Post a comment
  • eric on December 28, 2011 11:26 AM:

    political reporters are lazy. They don't like to do research. Mitt is a (so they think) known commodity, so there is little for them to do as far as hard work is concerned. They already have the Mitt stories written and now just have to write horse race stories that require no substantive knowledge whatsoever.

  • estamm on December 28, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Good post. Now, when is your next one???? HURRY!

  • T2 on December 28, 2011 11:37 AM:

    a Mitt win, or second to Paul, followed briskly by a Mitt win in NH will serve one good purpose: kill the incessant rumors about a "savior" making a late and triumphant entry into the race. Romney isn't likely to self-destruct so he'll just be his irritating self the rest of the way through the primaries, will little competition from whomever (if any) is left after Florida. BUT this will not make the GOP Big Daddies happy because the one thing they cannot do is un-Mormon-ize him. And for a huge chunk of the GOP base, this is a killer. Not in the "well I'm not crazy about him but he's sure better than another four years of the black guy",way, but in the "he's a cultist not a Christian" way. If those nuts stay home on voting day, Obama wins in a walk.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on December 28, 2011 11:41 AM:

    5) Romney is the candidate of the wealthy, funding wing of the republican party and our corporately owned media had damn well better be pimping him to the masses of the Amerikkkan Sheeple.

    Mittens is one of us. The effort and cost that it has taken to overcome the teabagger wings of the party has been frustrating, but they will toe the party line once the deal is sealed. As valuable a tool as the set of fools called the teabaggers are; there are times when the real wealthy owners of the republican party have regreted what we created in them.

    Craptcha does discriminate when there is a sub for Steve. It still sucks!

    3rd try at the Craptcha.

  • zeitgeist on December 28, 2011 11:45 AM:

    the CW over the years has been that there are 3 tickets out of Iowa. Romney and Paul will get two of those, but let me go out on a limb as someone in Iowa and pick an upset special for the 3rd spot: Santorum.

    the impact of that will be that Bachmann and likely Perry will for all practical purposes be done, and Gingrich will be seriously wounded (he'll need a first or second in NH or SC to even keep it interesting at that point). i heard various pundits yesterday saying everyone will continue no matter what happens in Iowa, but I think Iowa could actually knock Bachmann out. she was born here, is from the neighboring state, won the Ames straw poll. if she finishes sixth here, in what should be her best state, who would write any checks going forward?

  • c u n d gulag on December 28, 2011 11:48 AM:

    The only thing Halperin knows is what Republican talking points tell him to know.
    And if you're not looking for conventional Republican talking points, than Halperin is about as useful as mammaries on a male bovine.

    And I went to Politco to look at the photo - which I never do. But this time it was worth it.
    It's of Romney in blue jeans, speaking.
    Mitt in his crisp, ironed, jeans, looks like the first guy kicked out in the audition for the Marlboro Man, because he looks like to big a pansy to ever have been a cowboy - and couldn't even play one on TV, or an ad. And wouldn't know one end of a horse from the other, except that the horses ass looks like someone he once saw in the mirror.

    I do, as I said earlier, enjoy watching the candidates try to out red-meat one another in the Republican caucuses.

    It's a lot more fun, now that we have that rare Democratic incumbent, than watching candidate try to out-nice, and at the same time, out-tough, the other ones in Democratic caucuses.

    To me, at least, a feeding frenzy to the death among fools, is far more entertaining than a scout jamboree with a contentious pie-eating contest at the end.

    Of course, if one of those fools wins the general, it won’t be pie any of the rest of us will be eating…

    And Ed, you're doing great!

  • Daddy Love on December 28, 2011 11:52 AM:

    You can discount the "next in line" thing all you want, but save for GW Bush in 2000, who locked up ALL the money race and basically owned it, that has been the GOP SOP in every open race for decades.

    This time around Romney is "next in line" AND he locked up the bulk of the money. Paul has money but no real prospects. The others were just picked up to look over one at a time and have each been found to be substantially wanting. It's Romney, myths or no myths.

  • June on December 28, 2011 11:59 AM:

    "4) Romney is the “moderate” in the race, and Republicans are smart enough to want to “run to the center” in a presidential contest. This is the myth that makes me craziest."

    Amen! All one has to do is take a look at the teabagger responses in the comments section for the NYT piece, "Whose Tea Party is It?" --

    -- to see the kind of mainstream Republican extremism that spouts gibberish and delusional beliefs as though it's the God's honest truth, and rejects anything and anyone who doesn't indulge their right-wing fantasies. From Mitch McConnell to Eric Cantor to the rank-and-file dittoheads, Republicans have long been running to the fringe, not the center.

  • kindness on December 28, 2011 12:12 PM:

    Why are you linking to Politico or even using them to gauge ANYTHING? They are media whores and can not be trusted to tell the time of day correctly.

    The quicker they become yesterday's news, the better. Don't feed them.

  • DonBoy on December 28, 2011 12:14 PM:

    In the meantime, other equally-cynical people will assure that "the pundits" want a long campaign because it's more interesting.

  • JimB on December 28, 2011 12:59 PM:

    Welcome Ed! Can you set you posts to show the full text in the RSS feed similar to how Steve does?

  • RalfW on December 28, 2011 2:25 PM:

    I'll rarely do this, but I'm recalling David Brooks' reaction in September 2008 to Romney's St. Paul, MN convention speech: "He drifted so far right, I’m sort of, my mind is boggling."

    brooks went on to suggest that the speech wasn’t genuine, just a strategic choice.

    In other words, Romney lurched right sensing the crazy clown car direction, and has ridden that every mile of 3+ years.

    I wish him well (OK, I don't) in convincing general election voters that he's moderate. There will be plenty of us who can remember longer than 2 or 3 weeks.

  • majun on December 28, 2011 4:05 PM:

    A Romney candidacy would be a national disaster, not so much because he would be a serious challenger to Obama (he wouldn't), but for precisely the reasons given in item #4. The hardcore party faithful are convinced that they lost control in 2006 and 2008 based on an abandonment of their core conservative principles. The mid-term results of 2010 seemed to confirm that theory (just so long as you ignore Sharron Angle, Christine O'Connell and NY 23), so if Romney runs and loses, the country will be even more divided than now as tens of millions of right wing wackadoodles will convince themselves that the problem was running a "moderate" and if they had stuck to their guns they would have whupped Obama easily.

    No, give me a Bachmann candidacy or even a Perry campaign. Best of all, Santorum. They need to run someone that nobody with any sense of rational reality could ever mistake for a too moderate candidate, and they need to lose like McGovern in 1972. Anything less and this country is in for another bumpy four years at best, or utter disaster (assuming someone like Romney did actually win) if the GOP manages to consolidate power again.

  • flubber on December 28, 2011 6:00 PM:

    Mr. Kilgore said: "slavish support for the more aggressively Likudnik policies of the current government of Israel, on brinksmanship towards Iran"

    Now that's different - when that statement popped out, I wondered if I was still reading WashingtonMonthly. Definitely not something Mr. Benen would write. He's more the "supporting wars against Muslims" type - though he generally avoids foreign policy discussions all together (except to occasionally assert that whatever Obama is doing is the best of all possible worlds, or to pass along unquestioningly the propaganda about Muslim-countries-that-need-to-be-bombed.

    I could get used to reading a less TNR-lite Washington Monthly.