The results from Iowa and New Hampshire bring good news and better news for the Republican Party and its prospects for November.
First, Mitt Romney’s success in both states all but guarantees that the GOP won’t need to endure a long, bitter, scorched-earth fight for the presidential nomination. Santorum and Gingrich both lack the funding to win in the multi-front battle ahead, especially since the surviving anti-Romney candidates are far more likely to take votes from each other than they are to peel away support from the frontrunner.
Most importantly, the substantial segment of the Republican electorate that wants above all to find the most electable contender to end Obama’s Reign of Error will recoil from strident debates on social issues—and that includes many (like me) who largely share Senator Santorum’s conservative values. Most right wingers understand that if the fall campaign focuses on jobs, economic insecurity, fiscal mismanagement and runaway spending, we win; if, on the other hand, the debate concentrates on potential repeal of gays-in-the-military, or criminalizing abortion even in cases of rape and incest, the president could win re-election in a walk.
In his excellent victory speech in Iowa, Senator Santorum effectively articulated themes of economic growth and enhanced opportunity, and spoke movingly about his own family’s pursuit of the American dream. But Santorum won’t be able to choose his own issues as the campaign moves forward—neither the president in the fall campaign, nor the mainstream media in televised debates and elsewhere, nor the cascade of Super-PAC negative advertising about to wash over the Pennsylvanian’s boyish head, will allow Santorum to avoid revisiting his own wildly controversial past statements on immigration, abortion, marriage, gay rights and much more. Every day that political argument concentrates on these cultural issues is another day that Barack Obama dodges responsibility for the dismal economic record that deserves to bring him down.
Some observers claim a protracted nomination fight would help energize the Republicans like the epic battle of Barack vs. Hillary energized Democrats four years ago. But both Obama and Clinton were well-known, well-liked candidates among the liberal base, while Romney and Santorum (not to mention the obviously unelectable, 77-year-old Ron Paul) lack that sort of broad following or affection among Republicans. What’s more, if the nomination remained undecided through the California Primary on June 6th, the waste of money (sure to run to hundreds of millions) would drain conservative resources that otherwise could help defeat Obama and Senate Democrats. Fortunately, the intra-party struggle will run out of steam long before a potential Golden State donnybrook, which gives Republicans enhanced opportunities for early unity and focus on the Obamanations of the current administration.
The even better news from a GOP (and American) viewpoint involves the little-noted religious message from the Iowa tally. In a state that’s 60 percent Protestant (with Republican voters estimated as more than 60 percent Protestant Evangelicals) the four NON-Protestant GOP contenders (Mormons Romney and Huntsman; Catholics Santorum and Gingrich) won a combined total of nearly two-thirds of the Republican votes. The two candidates who made the biggest point of stressing their own Evangelical Christian faith (Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann) won a combined total of less than 16 percent—in a state where their fellow Evangelicals famously dominate the GOP. This means that for all the media canards about the alleged narrow-mindedness of Born Again Christians in Iowa and elsewhere, the state’s most fervent believers understand that shared values matter more than common theology. They overwhelmingly voted for upstanding individuals like Santorum and Romney, despite the fact that some of their religious leaders still persist in viewing Catholics and Mormons with generalized suspicion.
Sure, this unheralded open-mindedness represents good news for Mitt and his minions, but it’s also good news for a consistently religious nation that continues to move beyond a sometimes bitter and bigoted past.