Goodbye Michele! And Other Lessons of the Iowa Caucuses

The Iowa caucuses change the Republican nomination dynamics.

Posted Jan 04, 2012

Last night's Republican caucuses in Iowa were entertaining, to say the least. 

In the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses, there was debate by the talking heads about whether "Iowa matters," and whether it was fair that Iowa gets to be the first state in the long road to the presidential nominations later this year.

Regardless of whether it is fair that Iowa goes first, there is no doubt that the results of last night's caucuses in Iowa "mattered." Iowa's Republicans made decisions last night that have changed the dynamics of the presidential race, and provided a number of insights for the road ahead.

1. Goodbye Michele! A big surprise was how poorly Michele Bachmann did in the Republican caucuses in Iowa, and now she has essentially dropped out of the race. Just a few months ago, Bachmann was doing well in Iowa, campaigning hard throughout the state, and with her Iowa roots she seemed destined to finish well in the caucuses. But Republican voters deserted her in Iowa, rejecting the message and the messenger. Bachmann's departure will make room for other conservatives in the race, most likely Rick Santorum.

2. The Clock Is Ticking, Rick! Another surprise last night was how poorly Rick Perry performed. Perry was also another high-flying candidate just months ago, but his support has fallen to the ground after a number of campaign gaffes and poor debate performances. Perry's concession speech last night, after his caucus defeat became clear, was downbeat; and the big question for Perry is whether he will follow Bachmann out the door and exit the Republican nomination race soon.

3. Why is Newt So Angry? One other candidate who has to be disappointed after the caucus results were finalized last night: Newt Gingrich. Just weeks ago Newt was basking in the glow of great poll results--but he finished fourth last night, barely ahead of Rick Perry. In his concession speech, Newt was clearly angry and upset. He seemed somewhat stunned by the results, and quite angry about what he kept describing as negative attacks on him and his campaign. The big question will be whether Newt can turn that anger into votes in the next few primaries, or whether it leads him to lash out at other candidates like Romney.   

4. Who is Rick Santorum? I suspect many Americans watching the caucus results were asking just that question. And I also guess that Santorum's victory speech last night--full of autobiographical talk and more references to his native Pennsylvania than to the Iowa voters who gave his campaign a big boost--was intended to introduce Santorum to more Americans. By putting Santorum into a virtual tie with Mitt Romney, Iowa's Republican caucus voters gave Santorum's candidacy huge momentum as the race shifts to South Carolina and New Hampshire.

5. Wither Mitt Romney? Romney's performance last night was just what he needed to have some momentum as the campaign shifts to other states. He did win the Iowa caucuses, though by only eight votes. His victory address last night was riddled with elements of his argument for why he thinks he is the Republican who can defeat Obama. But Iowa also produced some doubts about Romney--he didn't do much better in 2012 than he had four years earlier in Iowa, and he was only able to capture the support of about a quarter of Iowa's Republican voters. Clearly many Iowa Republicans are still looking for an alternative to Romney, which indicates that his support among his base may be quite weak.

The Iowa Republican caucuses have changed the dynamics of this nomination race, and gave us a lot to think about as the nomination race shifts quickly to the next few states.