COMMENTARY | There are many improbable elements to the Iowa Republican presidential straw poll. Any Iowan over the age of 18 can vote, which costs $30. The votes demonstrate political support, but the campaigns can pay the $30 themselves to recruit supporters.
The only thing more improbable than the poll is its results.
The winner, Michele Bachmann, beat Ron Paul by less than a percentage point. Unfortunately for the Republican Party, neither of them has much chance of being elected president, according to polls published by USA Today.
Tim Pawlenty had been trying to position himself as the responsible alternative to highly ideological candidates such as Bachmann and Paul. But the problem with trying to appear bland is that it’s destructively easy to do.
Despite having spent a million dollars in Iowa, Pawlenty appears to have accomplished nothing more than validating Bill Maher’s famous putdown: “You want to hear an interesting story about Tim Pawlenty? So would he.”
Because of Pawlenty’s third-place finish in this non-binding, completely symbolic, nothing-is-really-at-stake straw poll, he has already dropped out of the race, according to The Associated Press.
With the ultra-conservative Bachmann leading the field, we might wonder why the Republicans need another ultra-conservative — Texas Gov. Rick Perry — to enter the race. The answer is that the GOP is already beginning to worry that nominating a polarizing, three-term congresswoman from a Democratic state is the best way to get Barack Obama’s hand on a Bible for a second term.
Perry, however, has a significant problem. Voters know him, if they know him at all, as the first Southern governor since 1861 to argue for his state to secede from the Union. Americans will be asking whether a man who doesn’t believe in the concept of the United States should be elected President of the United States.
Perry polled 718 votes in the straw poll, placing sixth. His excuse is that he wasn’t campaigning in Iowa. Instead, he was in South Carolina, declaring his candidacy. Yes, South Carolina holds an important early primary. But it’s also one of the few states where being a secessionist has rarely been considered taboo.
The search for a responsible, grown-up candidate for the 2012 GOP nomination brings us — as it always must — to Mitt Romney. Despite changing his position on almost every leading issue, Romney has lasted this long as a politician because he has avoided saying anything outrageous.
This streak may have ended, however, in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, when Romney lost his temper and erupted at a voter, according to Raw Replay, “Corporations are people.”
The media were hard-pressed to find anybody who would agree with him, aside from five members of the Supreme Court.
Romney may have damaged himself irreversibly with the faux pas. Prior to this, the darkest thing about him was the mystery about his underwear. Commentators have long wondered whether a man who ostensibly believes he is protected by magic Mormon underwear should be handed the nuclear launch codes.
Now Romney has gotten himself into a ridiculous tangle. Incredibly, it has become politically relevant to ask him, “If a corporation is a person, what kind of underwear should it wear?”
None of the rest of the field was able to convince a couple of thousand Iowans to pay $30 each for a hot dog and a warm bottle of water at a straw poll. Let’s take a look at these candidates anyway.
We have Rick Santorum, whose campaign appears to be based solely on the notion that there can never be too many Christian fundamentalists running for president. But if a Christian fundamentalist can get only 9.8 percent of the vote in a straw poll that’s dominated by Christian fundamentalists, it’s hard to see how he can be elected mayor of Ames, Iowa, much less president of the United States.
We have Herman Cain, who believes he can run the United States because he once ran a pizza company. He has sworn on the holy altar of Ground Zero that he would never, ever, ever appoint Muslim jihadists to his cabinet — just to differentiate himself from all of those candidates who would. Only 8.6% in the straw poll were persuaded.
We have Newt Gingrich, who’s one of the few people from the Newt Gingrich campaign who hasn’t quit the Newt Gingrich campaign. Maybe his 385 votes in the straw poll will convince him to get out. Or maybe not. Gingrich, after all, is very committed to Gingrich.
We have Jon Huntsman, who polled 69 votes. He didn’t prove anything by coming in ninth, except that there are 69 people in America who have heard of him.
Barack Obama beat John McCain by nearly 10 points in Iowa in 2008. It’s hard to imagine any of the current Republican candidates doing better than McCain.