Rick Santorum came within an astounding eight votes of winning the Iowa Republican Caucuses. Thankfully, Mitt Romney squeaked in ahead of him after a close night of seesawing results. But Santorum has truly defied expectations. This fringy, homophobic, zealously pro-life, socially conservative ideologue (please, take my word for it, no need to Google him) came a hair short of winning the first battle in the race to become the 2012 Republican nominee for President. This will be sure to inject some momentum into the campaign of a man long ago dismissed as an also-ran.
From my perspective, either one of his two main rivals in Iowa would be a better choice. Romney, just barely the evening’s victor, seemingly the only candidate to maintain respectable polling numbers for longer than five minutes, has consistently flip-flopped on everything from health care to abortion. Given the genuinely frightening nature of today’s Republican Party, his unprincipled willingness to change with the political winds is quite comforting.
Ron Paul, finishing a close third in the caucuses, is something else altogether. The proud libertarian opposes the War on Drugs and the Patriot Act, and is a sparkling example of that political rarity, the anti-war Republican. The entertainment value of his contending a Presidential election — in all his cranky-old-man glory — would also be a treat. But these positive points do not detract from the sad truth that he is, for lack of better terminology, certifiably batshit. He is hostile to the very existence of income taxes, the Federal Reserve, foreign aid, the United Nations, and, inexplicably, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Paul even expresses half-serious support for the idea of abolishing UNICEF. Despite a few redeeming qualities, a Ron Paul Presidency would be truly disastrous for the United States and the world. But at least he, unlike Santorum, seems disinclined to intrude into people’s bedrooms (except on abortion — what is it with Republicans?).
And what of the other candidates? Newt Gingrich, only recently considered a national frontrunner, has been relegated to a distant fourth place in Iowa. In effect, his campaign is likely over, which I think is too bad. He is in some ways the safest bet. As Ann Coulter notes, his rhetoric is abrasive and smacks of extremism — a feature likely to turn off many voters in a general election. But when it comes to substantive policy proposals, he leans towards the moderate end of his party’s spectrum (whatever that means). Coulter urges Republicans to vote against him for these reasons, but for a lefty like me, that makes him an ideal, win-win candidate. In fact, Coulter’s opposition only encourages me to put yet another mark in the pro-Gingrich column. (A general rule of thumb: whatever Ann Coulter says, do the opposite.)
So what will we see over the coming months as the caucuses and primaries go on? The whims of voters are notoriously fickle and hard to predict. It is fair to say that Romney — long assumed to be the “natural” frontrunner — has neither gained nor lost very much from Iowa’s mere fulfillment of prophecy. But Paul and Santorum have greatly improved their prospects — especially Santorum, which is precisely what worries me. So I beseech you, O Republican primary voter, please, in the name of our common humanity, against your better judgement, do the right thing:
Oh my God, did I just write that?
Update 19/01/2012: According to the newly released final tally, Santorum has now finished 34 votes ahead of Romney in Iowa. However, Republicans are not declaring an official winner on the grounds that some of the votes are missing. American democracy at its finest!