The most important event to date in the 2012 GOP nominating process occurred last weekend, and I believe it has already passed for most of the public with relatively little fanfare. That event was the announcement by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee that he would not be running for president. As the two runners-up from the Republicans’ last presidential nomination, and the two most consistently high in the polls, I was fairly certain that the race would come down to Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee if they both ran.
Now the race is essentially: “Is there anyone better than Mitt Romney? Please? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?”
Perhaps most importantly, Huckabee’s exit means that the race for Iowa (the first contest and one of the most important) is wide open. Huckabee surprised everyone by coming out of nowhere to win Iowa last time. His sincerity, populism, and religiosity played well among the heavily evangelical voters that represented around 60% of Republican caucus-goers in 2008 Iowa. Without the anointed Huckabee, however, these heartland evangelicals are now casting around for a Romney-alternative who can speak to their hearts and their guts.
Why is this such a big deal? Because almost every candidate besides Mitt Romney has only one path to the nomination, and it runs through Iowa.
Let me lay it out for you. There are three early contests that matter for Republicans: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina (sorry Nevada – no one cares). Historically, Iowa has voted for a candidate, then New Hampshire has said, “Screw Iowa,” and chosen a different one, and then South Carolina has decided between the two, with the rest of the country following suit. Since Romney has a pretty strong lockdown on New Hampshire, the other contenders are counting on Iowa to catapult them into the front of the pack. Furthermore, for the candidates without national name-recognition (pretty much all of them), Iowa is their last chance to gain the limelight, without which, they are just yesterday’s toast.
Obviously, the process doesn’t have to follow the expected script. A second-place winner in Iowa or New Hampshire could leverage that to unexpected wins over a still-undecided base, like Bill Clinton did in 1992, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Nominations for the Democratic Party tend to be much less predictable than for the Republicans.
So who has the best shot at snatching Iowa now? A flashy, socially-conservative populist who appeals to the base and doesn’t mind coming off as a dick to most rational people. Hey – is Donald Trump still in? No? Ok, basically I’d watch these four: Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich…. ok, ok, and Sarah Palin if she runs, but honestly I just don’t see it happening at this point. She would have to have at least the skeleton of a possible operation in Iowa, which does not seem to be the case.
As far as other candidates, don’t be surprised if Ron Paul does better than expected, considering that he was a libertarian before it was cool. That being said, his consistent principles pretty much guarantee that he’ll still go nowhere in the Republican primaries. I guess Tim Pawlenty still has a chance if the Republican Party spends months arguing about what flavor to choose before giving up and just going with vanilla. Wait, you don’t know who Tim Pawlenty is? Bummer, because he doesn’t even interest me enough to find a link to insert.
That leaves Jon Huntsman as the only other candidate worth mentioning. He’s a competent, reasonable, moderate Republican who accepted Obama’s offer to serve as ambassador to China. Sadly, the very things that make him (in my opinion) the most viable opponent against Obama are the same ones that will doom his chances in Iowa. I guess if he weren’t Mormon, he could at least make a good running mate for Romney.
And that, to be honest, is how I see the whole shindig at this point: tryouts for Mitt Romney’s running mate. Because as awful a candidate as Mitt Romney is, he’s all that the Republicans have got now that Huckabee’s out. So I wish all the no-name candidates good luck in their battle for Iowa. It probably won’t matter.
In other news, I was thinking about getting raptured today, but I used God’s name in vain earlier just to be sure I could finish this blog post. You’re welcome.