So at last it’s come - the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Tonight in Iowa, rank-and-file voters will finally have a say, making their picks for the Republican nominee for president.
We confess, election days often seem exciting and anticlimactic at the same time, and today is no different. For one thing, the caucuses won’t actually get underway until 8pm East Coast time tonight - meaning we still have roughly 10 more hours of breathless nonstop media coverage before anything actually happens.
And this year, that feeling of anticlimax is even stronger than usual, because, for all the media hoopla about Rick Santorum’s surge - and make no mistake, it is a real surge - we’re still pretty sure Mitt Romney’s got this “thing” (as he put it yesterday) in the bag.
Romney may not win Iowa outright - though the latest polls show he’s currently in the best position to do so of any of the candidates. But even if he loses Iowa to Santorum or Ron Paul, we just don’t see any conceivable way Romney’s going to lose the nomination in the long run.
Consider: Santorum has almost nothing in the way of money or organization. True, if he wins Iowa, he will get the famed “bump.” But what will that bring? A ton of media scrutiny and attacks from other candidates. Remember, New Hampshire doesn’t vote until January 10 - and these days, a week is a lifetime in politics. Santorum has a long record of votes to pick over, and the media has only begun to examine his more controversial statements (like seeming to equate homosexuality with bestiality - which led to his well-known “Google problem”) and actions (like bringing the dead body of his prematurely born child home from the hospital and allowing his other children to hold it).
Unlike Santorum, Ron Paul does have an organization. But we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: There is simply no way Paul will ever win the Republican nomination. Yes, he appeals to many conservatives on fiscal matters, with his vow to slash government spending, cut agencies, etc. But his views on foreign affairs - he is opposed to nearly all foreign intervention and says he would not have approved the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, or the drone attacks that have killed other Al Qaeda leaders - make him flat-out unelectable within the GOP.
Meanwhile, the only candidates who ever might have had a real shot at building the kind of top-tier mainstream campaign that could actually challenge Romney - Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry - have sunk like stones. They do have some money (Gingrich said he raised $9 million in the 4th quarter) and it’s possible they could still make things interesting. But assuming they finish fourth or worse tonight (as polls suggest they will), it’s hard to see how they actually get back into contention.
This doesn’t mean we necessarily think all the fun is over. Romney will likely encounter at least a few more bumps in the road on the way to the nomination. If he comes in third tonight, or even a weak second, that will induce lots of hand-wringing about whether he has a “ceiling” of support that simply can’t be cracked. But ultimately, it won’t matter: barring something extraordinary and unexpected, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. The only question is how long it takes.