Santorum Soars, Romney Scrapes By
Four years ago in Iowa, Barack Obama had a terrific night in the Democratic caucuses. Four years later, he had another one in the Republican caucuses.
Mitt Romney had hoped to swoop into Iowa, fatally kneecap Newt Gingrich, initiate a clean sweep of the early Republican contests—and then start repositioning himself back toward the middle for a general-election battle with the president.
To quote Rick Perry, who suspended his campaign after a fifth-place finish yesterday: “Oops.”
Romney won Iowa, all right—by a grand total of eight votes. Rick Santorum, rising from the grave, led until most people fell asleep last night. Once it was done, Santorum delivered the most powerful and effective victory speech since Obama won Iowa in 2008. Blending family values with a passionate appeal to the working class, Santorum was frighteningly eloquent. He was gutty and real. He was speaking to the economic moment in America. He was, in other words, everything that Romney is not.
Santorum’s performance is stunning; no sane person would have predicted it two weeks ago. For Romney, Iowa provided bracing evidence that conservative Republicans are no more ready to accept him in 2012 than they were in 2008. And no one who listened to Romney’s awkward post-caucus speech, right on the heels of Santorum’s home-run address, could have any doubt that the onetime governor of Massachusetts was hopelessly outclassed.
Beyond the razor-thin race for first place, the other important contest in Iowa was for fourth—between Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry. One of them would emerge with enough votes to continue his campaign. Gingrich, with 13 percent to Perry’s 10, prevailed. Perry suspended his doomed campaign in his concession speech.
Gingrich, on the other hand, was scarily defiant on Tuesday night, clearly spoiling for a retributive fight against Romney—one that will surely do wonders for Santorum. Gingrich congratulated Santorum for “a great, positive campaign,” adding, “I wish I could say the same about all the candidates.” And while he declared that he wouldn’t run 30-second attacks on Romney, he added ominously, “But I do reserve the right to tell the truth.”
It won’t be pretty. It will be entertaining. And it will, till the bitter end, be a race that includes Ron Paul, who finished a strong third in Iowa.
The new guy in the mix, Santorum, is about to have his initiation into the presidential campaign. Every nasty statement he’s made, every corrupt dollar, every hint of hypocrisy in his congressional voting record, will now be scrutinized. This, too, will not be pretty.
Santorum will never again look as golden as he did on Tuesday night. His hatefulness and anti-democratic extremism will doom him in the end.
But he is now the official anti-Romney candidate. With Gingrich eagerly volunteering as his attack dog, Santorum just might end up giving Romney more holy hell than he ever bargained for. His almost-inevitable slog to the nomination may be long delayed.
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