Conservatives are seeing a bit of the same GOP primary train wreck that we have seen before: Conservative base voters flit between a number of non-viable candidates, judging harshly any deviance from conservative orthodoxy enough to sideline effective candidates, while the establishmentarians pick a non-conservative "next in line" guy, fund him, and get to work getting him nominated. If GOP history is any guide, the 'next in line' guy (Dole in 1996,McCain 2008, Romney 2012) gets the nomination.
The only time 'next in line' worked for conservatives was 1980, when Reagan came back from his near win in 1976.
Conservatives have known this time around it would be Romney or ... someone else, and for 12 months the GOP pre-primary was about finding the 'not Romney' conservative candidate to avoid the calamity of blowing our chance at getting a conservative in the White House, in a year when the Democrat incumbent is very vulnerable. We all have our favorites, but the real challenge has been to find a credible consistent conservative who can beat Obama. The polls have been volatile because voters are thinking - Trump? Palin? Perry? Bachmann? Cain? Santorum? - each were considered, boosted then put back. In August, Tex Gov Rick Perry joined the race and I felt he would be the 'it' candidate to bring executive experience and conservative credentials together and pull it off. His campaign got an initial boost, but withered.
Four years ago, I found the results in Iowa distressing - a big-government conservative called Huckabee won the state on the backs of Christian pandering, with a consequence that I corretly estimated would lead to a McCain nomination - a poor choice and a non-conservative. We should not be so disheartened at the results in Iowa yesterday. We saw a 3-way split of the GOP wings of the party: Santorum won the conservative vote, Ron Paul the libertarian votes, and Romney the establishment and moderate "lests just beat Obama" vote.
Lest we think Iowa disserved us here, we need to recognize the dynamics: We get the candidates we have, not the ones we wish. Iowa didnt have a perfect candidate to pick, but the electorate managed to find Santorum more compelling than Perry, Gingrich, Bachman and the rest.
In a fine late-night speech, Santorum gave a heartfelt and eloquent testimony to his heritage, his values and the vision he will bring as President. I heard a man more conservative and eloquent than George W Bush or McCain or GHWBush ... in fact more eloquent than any candidate since ... Reagan.
Advice to conservatives: We have 2 real choices here. Support Rick Santorum or settle on Mitt Romney. Any other choice would lead to Romney winning.
Can Santorum win? Is he conservative enough? Santorum's conservative credentials will be questioned, but don't fall prey to the fallacy of imperfection, as the question is not 'who is perfect?" its who is best? And Santorum is pretty awesome for a blue-state Republican. With an ACU rating in the 80s, He managed to be in the top 10 most conservative Senators while representing blue State Pennsylvania. His fiscal votes were the most conservative of any northeast Republican, and his prolife and pro-family convictions have caused him enough media grief to be a badge of honor ( a la Quayle).
As for his electability, let us remember that while Santorum lost in 2006 bloodbath year, Romney didnt even run for re-election, knowing he'd be beaten. And Newt never had to run in the kind of tough electorate Santorum has. Facing Obama, Romney will be tagged the Wall Street plutocrat, and it will stick. Yes, they will call Santorum an extremist, but they will call any Republican who properly opposes gay marriage and abortion on demand the same. Santorum, by winning, showed his electability.
Where does that leave the rest of the field? Be wary to consider Newt Gingrich as viable at this point because the real result of any restart in Newt's campaign. What gave newt his boost in the last 2 months was the recognition of him as the man with ideas. Well, he seems to have chucked that in the past week with his vengeful gloves-off comments vis a vis Romney. Perhaps newt is doing the conservative base a service doing this, but that is no way to get nominated. Newt going forward will split conservative votes and Newt's 'damaged goods' reputation due to his personal issues make it hard for him to recapture any momentum.
Ron Paul has been considered a self-limiting candidate who cannot win the nomination. Iowa didn't change that. It does however remind us that libertarian-oriented small-government folks need to be a part of our coalition, and we ignore and malign that part of the coalition at our peril.
It's over for Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman. Pack up and go home. This makes my prior hopes and predictions of Rick Perry success a nullity, but we need to get real: Perry's late and ineffective campaign was sunk by poor debate performances and lack of preparation and lack of a real conservative agenda that he could articulate. I'm sorry I didn't predict that just as Rick is sorry he didn't do better on stage. "Oops".
If 'next in line' moderate Romney wins the epitaph will be the same as on prior primaries: Conservatives lost this primary before it began because we needed to pick one credible, strong, electable, consistent conservative ... and get behind him or her 100%. We didnt so the choice went to someone else chosen by others. Maybe there is no such 100% conservative candidate in the race, but Iowa has made the choice a bit easier for us:
They chose Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.
Consider the GOP ballot be these two men now. The rest have been voted off the island. Who's your choice? In my view, the clear conservative preference should be Rick Santorum. Caterwauling, complaining, carping, backbiting or attempts to revive the corpses of dead campaigns will only prove that the conservative crack-up continues.