In a couple days, we Iowa Republicans will gather in churches, schools, and living rooms to elect representatives to our county conventions and county Republican Central Committees, propose planks for the Republican platform, and write a candidate’s name on a scrap of paper and drop it in a hat to select our candidate for President of the United States.
Iowa takes a lot of crap for being wholly unsuitable for the task of being first-in-the-nation to express its preference for candidates. We’re viewed as overall-wearing hayseeds, toothless meth-heads, and Bible-thumping religious nuts. In reality, only about 3% of our households are involved in farming. 70% of us live in urban areas, compared to 80% nationwide. Yes, we have three times more meth labs per 100,000 population than average, but the proportion of us who claim to be evangelical Christians (30%) is not much different than the national average (26%).
We’re whiter than the nation as a whole, but in 2008 Iowa white folks voted en masse for Obama, the nation’s first (half) black President. It might have helped that Obama’s color is only skin-deep. He had a whiter upbringing than I did — raised by his white mother and grandmother, he attended to the best private schools and graduated from Harvard. But here in the educated northern states, we don’t continue to hold the racial stereotypes our neighbors to the south cling to. We judge a man by the contents of his character, not the color of his skin. That’s why I had no problem voting against Obama in 2008, and to quote Ann Coulter, “I’d vote for Jeffrey Dahmer over Barack Obama” in 2012.
The winner of the straw poll held at the Iowa caucuses does not always go on to win the nomination. We gave Mike Huckabee the nod in 2008, and he went on to do little more than play bass in the Fox News Channel house band. But in five of the eight straw polls that have been held in Republican caucuses over the years, the winner in Iowa ended up being the nominee.
Despite doing better than the monkey score in predicting the nominee, I would argue that making the right guess at the final outcome is not our purpose. The reason for spreading the Republican primaries out over several months is to allow more candidates to affordably enter the race. Few of you have heard of Buddy Roemer, but he’s on the list of candidates being considered in Iowa. Guys like Buddy couldn’t run if they had to run a national campaign. By spreading the nominating process over a period of months, we allow underfunded candidates like Buddy (and Rick Santorum) to get a shot at the nomination.
Our job in Iowa is to thin the herd. After Iowa and New Hampshire, one or more candidates will drop out due to poorer than expected results. The remaining candidates will be able to focus their efforts and monetary contributions will be channeled to a smaller field.
You might think that having more candidates to choose from is a good thing, and that it’s unfair that residents of other states don’t have the same choice. But I’m not so sure. Sometimes more choice just means you throw up your hands and stay home on caucus night. Only 20% of registered Republicans in Iowa will show up Tuesday night for the caucus. When you consider that the ability to attend the caucus and vote in Republican primaries is the only reason to bother to register as a Republican, that number is startlingly low.
I could argue that going first is what isn’t fair. We spend a lot of time listening to candidates, taking their phone calls, and reading their flyers. We have to choose from a large number of (often similar) candidates. After carefully considering the options, we make a selection only to have our votes rendered moot when our winner fails to garner support in New Hampshire and beyond. You could argue that all our effort in 2008 was wasted when Huckabee dropped out. Going first isn’t everything it’s argued to be.
In the end, somebody has to go first. It doesn’t really matter if it’s Iowa or some other state. No state is “representative” of the entire country. Here in Iowa we take this responsibility (fairly) seriously (at least 20% of us do) and we set aside a cold winter night to gather with our neighbors at a poorly run party meeting to do party business.
All that having been said, here’s my take on the candidates.
Mitt Romney. Mitt is the de facto nominee. This is frankly disappointing. In 2008 we failed the country by nominating a Democrat-wannabe (McCain), giving voters very little on which to differentiate between the candidates. This year if all goes as predicted, we’re going to do it again. Romney can’t take Obama to task over healthcare, because he invented it. Romneycare in Massachusetts was, by everyone’s admission, the inspiration for Obamacare. Mitt’s been all over the map on abortion, immigration, and climate change, so he takes those issues off the table. Mitt’s been hanging out with another Republican-in-name-only, Chris Christie, and there are rumors of Christie being on the short list of VP possibilities for Romney. If Republicans put Romney/Christie on the ballot in November, there’s no reason for anyone to do anything but flip a coin in the voting booth. What a waste of an opportunity.
Newt Gingrich. I’d love to be able to vote for Newt. I’m not sure I can, though. He’s about 50 IQ points above Obama, but this causes him to say stuff that people don’t understand. It’s not that they’re incapable of understanding what he’s saying, but rather why he’s saying it. You have to listen to Newt for a whole paragraph, but the media expects short phrases. But even if you listen to him long enough to get his point, you’re left wondering about some really dumb choices he’s made over the years. In the end I think Newt had his run in the 90’s and he brings too much baggage to the campaign to be an effective option to Obama.
Ron Paul. I love what I know about Ron Paul, but I worry about what I don’t know. I’m with him 100% on domestic issues (again, at least to the extent that I know where he stands) and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on some of his foreign policy, but I’m concerned that I’m experiencing some cognitive dissonance. That is, I think I’m giving him some leeway on foreign policy because I like his domestic policy so much. Sometimes I hear him say things about Iran and I think, “What the…?” Given the options, though, there’s a good chance I’ll vote for Ron Paul and let New Hampshire do the hard work of knocking him out of the race.
Rick Santorum. Rick is benefiting from being the last of the conservative candidates to “surge”. The pattern to date has been for one candidate (generally the latest to announce) to surge in the polls, then fall out of favor once the media and the other candidates have a chance to bring their past foibles into the light of public scrutiny. As a result, Rick is going into caucus night on the rise. We won’t find out anything negative about him until next week. But as I look at his history I see a lot of disturbing news there. Rick has vulnerabilities in the area of earmarks and has some shady dealings with respect to where he was living vs. where he claimed to live when it came to getting a tuition deal for his kids in a private school. One of the things that is really odd is that he is a favorite of evangelical Christians, but he’s Catholic. As an evangelical Christian myself, I can tell you we don’t believe what Catholics believe on most days of the year. It’s odd that we set that aside on Caucus Tuesday. And religion wouldn’t matter at all (note that I didn’t point out that Romney is a Mormon) except that the reason we say we like Rick is because he holds to our positions on social issues, which are motivated by our religious beliefs. That having been said, Rick is either #1 or #2 on my list for Tuesday. He’s more conservative than Romney or Gingrich, and less scary than Paul.
Rick Perry. I bet Rick Perry is a great guy. I’d like to hang out with him at a Texas BBQ. But his deer-in-the-headlights reactions in the debates so far will kill him against Obama. I don’t care if he’s God’s Gift to America, if he folds under pressure in a debate, Obama will eat him alive. On top of that I don’t think he understands how strongly conservatives feel about illegal immigration.
Michelle Bachman. Michelle spews campaign slogans in a debate context. Of all the candidates, she comes across as more of a politician than I want to send to Washington this year.
Jon Huntsman. Jon didn’t campaign in Iowa. Any candidate who says they don’t care enough about my vote to make any effort to obtain it is not worth my consideration. He didn’t even run a TV ad here. I feel the same way about Jon as I did Rudy Giuliani in 2008: If you want my vote you have to ask for it. You didn’t ask. You don’t get it.
It is disappointing that we had the opportunity this year to really change things in Washington DC and take back our country. Our failure to nominate a truly conservative alternative to Marxist Barack Obama seals our fate. The United States is on its way to European socialism and the economic and political bankruptcy that goes with it. America as envisioned by the Founders is gone and there’s no way back to it. Even the America that I grew up in, as flawed as it was, is gone. When 50% of my fellow Americans can vote for a Marxist with a clear conscience, and when the other 50% are on the verge of nominating a good-looking socialist to run against him, I don’t see any possibility of a silver lining.
That having been said, we’ll give it a shot on Tuesday night and try to send you in the Other Forty Nine some options other than Mitt Romney.