So, it’s the day after the Iowa caucuses. The first votes in the 2012 presidential nominating contest have been cast, and we’ve seen some results that are surprising, some not. What do we now know, and what have we learned?
Well, at this point what we know is easy to see. Mitt Romney won the Republican caucuses by a mere eight votes, in a statistical tie with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania US Senator who will soon undoubtedly be dubbed “the Comeback Kid” by some blogosphere pundit somewhere. In an unexpectedly strong second place, Ron Paul more than doubled his 2008 caucus vote count and demonstrated his dominance in the constituencies of young and first-time caucus voters – groups that are far less likely to vote in big state primaries. So it is likely that the news media will continue to frame Paul as an iconoclastic also-ran with little chance of winning the nomination (as they still focus more attention on Newt Gingrich, who trailed in an embarrassing fourth place)… with the end result for public opinion that Paul will be an iconoclastic also-ran with little chance of winning the nomination.
The booby prize for the most precipitous fall from glory is a bit harder to determine: is it Michelle Bachmann, who went from Ames straw poll winner to near-last-place cellar dweller (beating only John Huntsman, who didn’t seriously compete, and two former candidates who are out of the running), who dropped out of the race today? Or is it Newt Gingrich, who saw his meteoric rise to front-runner status after the downfall of Herman Cain (prompting no small amount of front-runner braggadocio) melt away in the face of an attack ad blitzkrieg? In any event, less clear is how these results affect Rick Perry, who rapidly moved from “suspending the campaign” back to “here we come, South Carolina!” faster than the scrolling news ticker on the bottom of a cable TV news screen.
That’s what we know (and what we don’t). But what have we learned from Tuesday? As Alice observed, the GOP nominating contest becomes “curiouser and curiouser.” The lessons?