Some scattered thoughts on Iowa…
1. I can’t shake the sense that last night was a very bad one for the conservative movement. And that — not the Romney campaign — is what this is really about. Think about it: The three candidates who would split our movement and our party in November are ascendant. Those are Governor Huckabee, who offends fiscal and national-security conservatives; Senator McCain, who’s spent the last decade annoying as many conservatives as possible; and Mayor Giuliani, who powerfully alienates social conservatives. Worse yet, our most-formidable general-election opponent, Senator Obama, also had a good night. I don’t know about you all, but I would rather have the Republican candidate — whoever he is — face the Democratic candidate whom half of America already dislikes, not the eminently likable guy who’s even more leftist.
2. Perhaps the bitterest pill to swallow — for a prideful sinner like me — is that Iowans didn’t just choose Governor Huckabee over Governor Romney. They decisively rejected EFM’s message that values, not theological particulars, are what matters in a presidential election. The polling numbers are clear. Something like 40 percent of Iowa Republicans said it was very important to them that their candidate share their religious beliefs; Governor Huckabee beat Governor Romney among such voters by a 5-1 ratio. It’s also obvious that huge numbers of evangelicals came out and voted for the guy who said he was one of them — sixty percent of the GOP caucusgoers were self-described evangelicals or born-agains, and Governor Huckabee beat Governor Romney 2-1 there. My sense is that our brothers and sisters in, say, South Carolina won’t necessarily behave this way — see Jim Geraghty for the details — but still, it is humbling that so many of our fellow evangelicals apparently voted on the basis of what church a given candidate attends.
3. There’s no mistaking that last night was not a good one for Governor Romney. However, I did detect one fairly hilarious pattern watching the pundits afterwards. Pretty much all of them apologized profusely for totally underestimating Governor Huckabee — since most of them spent much of 2007 saying he would never win. And then, in the same breath, they pretty much said Governor Romney is done for. Look, as I said, last night’s result was not what he wanted. But I hope you’ll forgive me for not taking those same pundits’ words about him — after they were proven so utterly wrong about Governor Huckabee — as the gospel truth. We’ll see what happens in New Hampshire and the other states first.
4. Beyond faith, the other major undercurrent in Iowa — in both parties — seems to be class warfare, described more nicely by the media as populism. Governor Huckabee’s rhetoric against CEOs, against Governor Romney’s wealth, and against free trade was an obvious winner. And don’t forget Senator Edwards. He’ll be eminently forgettable again very soon, but last night he beat Senator Clinton — and he did so on the basis of more class warfare. Watching his vicious pseudo-concession speech, I, like Mark Hemingway, immediately needed an airsickness bag. It is immensely dispiriting to see — thanks to Governor Huckabee’s rise — leading candidates in both parties abandoning fiscal conservatism. This kind of rhetoric strikes me as nothing more than covetousness on a massive scale — and how strange that it’s being led by a former pastor. I also strongly agree with Quin Hillyer’s words:
It also shows that the American people have no idea how good their lives are. The strong response to economic grievance-mongering shows that people who are incredibly wealthy by every historical standard are somehow convinced they are barely making ends meet — barely making ends meet while their families have two cars, three TVs, four cell phones, and untold numbers of other gadgets in homes they themselves own. There is a word for this: spoiled. Huckabee and Obama are smart enough to appeal to the spoiled Americans who have no idea what real hardship is.
5. Regarding Senator Obama, I agree 10,000 percent with Rick Brookhiser:
Yes, it’s early, yes, a lot could happen. But a man who could not have used certain restrooms forty years ago is in the center ring, not as a freak in the manner of Alberto Fujimori or Sonia Gandhi, nor even as a faction fighter in the style of Jesse Jackson, but as a real player. One of our great national sins is being obliterated, as the years pass, by the virtues of our national system. I don’t agree with Obama and I don’t particularly like him, but I am proud of this moment.