Now that the first votes have been cast in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, let’s take a quick look at where the seven candidates stand. We’ll go in order of finish on Tuesday.
Mitt Romney was the official winner on Tuesday, but he was more like a co-winner. He didn’t originally intend to make Iowa important to his campaign this year, but he did end up putting effort into the state when it became obvious that he could win with a last-minute push. The investment paid off and he’s now off to New Hampshire, where he should be a big winner. Grade: A
Rick Santorum has now become the latest conservative flavor of the month. He gained the most from Iowa, because he came within a few votes of winning the state, which brought him (at least for now) out of the pack and made him into a major contender. The question now is whether conservatives are going to line up behind this strong social conservative as the “anti-Romney.” I don’t think he’s a serious threat to Romney yet, although he has a chance to do well among religious conservatives in southern states. Grade: A+
Ron Paul was touted in the last couple of weeks as having a chance to win Iowa. His surprisingly strong poll numbers made him a serious candidate — probably for the first time ever — but also brought out more serious questions that probably hurt him. Since Iowa doesn’t have that many delegates, perception is more important than delegates in the state. The perception about Paul is that he had a shot at breaking through — and he couldn’t do it. Religious conservatives don’t generally like him and more establishment Republicans don’t like him for different reasons. Other than his rabid libertarian base, I see no place for him to pick up support. He will pick up enough delegates along the way to have some influence on the party platform, but he has no chance. Grade: B-
Newt Gingrich was the GOP flavor of the week about a month ago. Or has it been that long? It’s hard to keep track. It’s hard to see his campaign as anything except dead in the water. Surely everybody other than Gingrich knows that. In a space of mere weeks, he lost roughly half of his Republican support in Iowa. The better voters got to know him, the less they were inclined to vote for him. If he stays in the race much longer, it will only be because of his monstrous ego. Grade: D-
Rick Perry is a failed candidate. When he entered the race, I thought he had the look and feel of someone to challenge for the lead, but his dreadful performances in the candidate debates showed him to be a third-rate politician who wasn’t ready for the national stage. He acts like a man who’s accustomed to being a success — and is shocked that he’s not succeeding. I honestly think he expected to do well, and I suspect he’s puzzled that people don’t like him. He looks personally hurt about it to me. I expect him to quit and head back to Texas soon, where he has some oddly strange people who like the man. Grade: F
Michele Bachmann was always a joke of a candidate to me. Anyone who took her seriously as a candidate was either delusional or a member of her family. (Or both.) She appeals to a small segment of the socially conservative Christian vote, but there’s no evidence that anybody outside of that narrow slice knows her as anything other than a punchline to political jokes. She had nothing to offer politically. She was delusional and egotistical to think she even belonged in the race. Grade: F
I said earlier this year that I’m not a psychic, so I don’t necessarily like to predict election results this far in advance. But I’m ready to make at least a preliminary prediction. Unless something completely unexpected happens, Romney is going to win the nomination. If he does, he will defeat Barack Obama and be the next president. I’m not sure whether it’s more accurate to say that he will be the second term of Obama or the fourth term of George W. Bush. Neither is a compliment in my book.
So the long national nightmare called Campaign 2012 continues. The first chapter is closed and the road looks a lot more clear now. It will settle into a race between Romney and whatever candidate conservatives choose to coalesce around. There’s a slight chance it could still be Gingrich, but I don’t think so. (Gingrich is probably going to stick around and see how he does in South Carolina and Florida.) It’s more likely that social conservatives will rally around Santorum, especially in southern states. Bachmann has already dropped out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Perry drop out any day now, too.
Paul will continue to the end. He’ll pick up some delegates and the eventual winner will court his supporters, probably even throwing him a bone or two at platform time. But in the end, his candidacy will achieve nothing, in my view. About 10 percent of the country is generally libertarian. Paul will get their support, but nothing more. I’ll be shocked if he finishes the race with more than 10 percent of the vote — at most.
So I predict the fall will bring us a Romney vs. Obama matchup. Now that we’ve seen the first votes, what’s your prediction? If you share a prediction in the comments, please explain why you believe a candidate is going to win. Don’t just advocate for the one you personally prefer.