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Iowa Republican caucuses: Reaction from US media

As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum finish in a virtual tie in Iowa, here is the reaction from US media about what the result means for the Republican nomination.


The Iowa caucuses, in which a nation awaits the verdict of a handful of some of its least representative citizens, are not going to settle the race for the Republican nomination for president. But they did put on display the choice the Republicans present to voters: right, far right or the far, far right.

The caucuses Tuesday night were headed to an astonishing draw between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, followed by Ron Paul. More than anything, the tight finish suggested that Mr Romney has had a hard time selling his recently minted conservatism to hard-core Republican conservatives; two-thirds of caucusgoers identified themselves as Tea Party supporters.

The Republican caucuses only do a middling job of predicting who will win the presidency in November. But, this year, perhaps more than others, they were an important event to watch for any American voter.

The errors, absurd misstatements and unrelenting extremism were not the result of some “gotcha” moment in which a candidate was cornered in an interview or debate by a tricky (or maybe not so tricky) question. The Republicans have had months, millions of dollars and the advantage of there being no competing Democratic contest, to present the images of their own choosing — and they are dark and disturbing.


Dana Milbank writes:

Just a few hours before the Iowa caucuses opened, Don Acheson, a general contractor from West Des Moines, remained as he had been for months: wracked by indecision.

First, he had been for Rick Perry, then Newt Gingrich. When I caught up with him, he was preparing to give Rick Santorum a hard look, but Mitt Romney was “not far behind” in Acheson's esteem.

“This late in the game I’ve never been undecided before,” he lamented. “A lot of people are going to walk into the caucus and say, ‘I’m not sure’ and just pick one. This probably is the most bizarre caucus I’ve been to.”

His drift is typical, and revealing. In a Des Moines Register poll published three days before the vote, fully 49 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers said they had not firmly made up their minds. This is what caused the extraordinary volatility in the polls and a parade of seven different front-runners, culminating in Tuesday’s virtual tie between Santorum and Romney, with Ron Paul just behind them.

Much of the political world has come to regard Iowans as a bit flaky. The prospect that the indecisiveness could allow a gadfly such as Paul to win prompted many commentators to write Iowa obituaries: It could “do irreparable harm” (Politico), “discredit the Iowa caucuses” (Fox’s Chris Wallace) and perhaps bring about “the demise of Iowa” (handicapper Stuart Rothenberg).


Bill Schneider writes:

Welcome to the War of 2012. Carl von Clausewitz, the 19th-century Prussian military theorist, had it backward when he wrote, “War is politics by other means.” He should have said: “Politics is war by other means.”

This year’s presidential campaign will be a war of total annihilation. Look at what just happened to Newt Gingrich. He got totally annihilated by the most fearsome weapon of war in the history of American politics: the super PAC.

In any war, when an army gets a new and powerful weapon, it won’t hesitate to use it. Like the atomic bomb. This year’s new weapon is the super PAC. Super PACs can collect contributions in unlimited amounts and spend them any way they want — as long as their activities are uncoordinated with any campaign.


Before Tuesday's Iowa Republican caucuses, predictions were that the top three finishers would be clumped together. So it proved, and the race stands essentially where it did before the balloting: Mitt Romney remains the candidate to beat, but he continues to encounter skepticism from conservatives; Rick Santorum is emerging from the ranks of alternatives to Romney; and Ron Paul commands an intense loyalty but is almost certainly too unconventional (to put it mildly) to win the nomination. Tuesday's clear loser: Newt Gingrich, the latest object of conservative flirtation to rise and then fall from favor with stunning speed.

Each of the successful candidates had his strengths: Romney benefited from his business background, supposedly superior electability in November and a barrage of negative advertising directed at Gingrich. Paul rallied on young people attracted either by his libertarian economics or his isolationist foreign policy (or, perhaps, by his support for legalizing marijuana). And Santorum, once the longest of long shots, owes his success to dogged retail campaigning and the ability to broaden his message beyond abortion. The former senator from Pennsylvania also managed the feat of pointing to his experience in Congress while portraying himself as a conviction conservative who would shake up the Washington establishment. Clearly Santorum's rivals — and the media — underestimated him.

Santorum's showing means that he will be under increased scrutiny from his opponents and the news media. He may lack the necessary staying power. But even if he doesn't consolidate his position as the anti-Romney, he has postponed the anointment of the former Massachusetts governor. That's a reassuring thought for those who would like to see the Republican race continue and not be aborted after Iowa and next week's New Hampshire primary. A smaller field may help produce a more meaningful debate, where a rush to Romney would squelch it.


Mollie Reilly writes:

On Tuesday evening, all eyes are on Iowa as a competitive start to the GOP race comes to a close. But with more battles just around the corner, the Republican candidates will waste no time before moving on to the next early selection states.

As New Hampshire Republicans gear up to cast their ballots in the first-in-the-nation primary on January 10, candidates have less than a week to make their final appeals to voters. With the exception of Jon Huntsman, who decided to forgo campaigning in Iowa and instead focus his efforts on New Hampshire, candidates have spent the past several weeks campaigning nearly nonstop in the Hawkeye State.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will follow the electoral calendar and begin stumping in New Hampshire almost immediately after the Iowa caucus results roll in. All three will host town hall meetings across the state on Wednesday. Ron Paul has yet to announce events in the state, but has been polling in second place behind Romney and will likely follow suit.