What happens AFTER Iowa?

December 30, 2011

What the hell’s gonna happen next Tuesday in Iowa? I’ll tell you what I think about that on Monday and challenge you to best my guess in exchange for some neat Iowa gifts from Cedar Ridge Distillery

But today, let’s talk about after Iowa. What happens if Mitt Romney wins? Or Ron Paul? Or even Rick Santorum? Maybe a bunch of Occupiers throw the caucuses for Jon Huntsman? (JK!)

Here are my thoughts, in alphabetical order by candidate name:

If Michelle Bachman wins Iowa -- hell will have frozen over. Her state campaign chairman defected to Paul two nights ago , evangelical pastors left and right are asking her to step aside, and her campaign is in tatters. 

Seriously, if Bachman wins this, it’s because Romney was caught with a 12 year-old boy in a men’s room and Santorum was videotaping. And, like I said, hell has frozen over. And maybe it’s the Rapture too. Can they both happen at once?

But if by some miracle she wins, I think you just have to give her the nomination. Obviously, God is on her side. But if she loses, she’s out: she has no money as is, and won’t get a dime more if she doesn’t score big here.

If Newt Gingrich wins Iowa -- it will be some sweet revenge, that’s for sure. But it’s not going to happen. Since his surge in early December, he’s been the target of three powerful war chests in Iowa -- Romney’s, Paul’s and Rick Perry’s -- and they wore away the former speaker’s carapace with their nasty ads to reveal the very naked little green creature underneath.  

But should Gingrich -- who has no ground game in Iowa -- somehow pull off an upset, the Republican race will be thrown wide open. Sure, Romney will still win New Hampshire, but momentum will carry Gingrich through South Carolina, where Romney has never done well or spent much time and money this political cycle. Gingrich currently leads Romney in South Carolina by 15 points. By the time the campaign moves to Florida, where Gingrich’s less fascist immigration stand will find favor and where he leads Romney by 20 points, it could be a dead heat. 

Right now, though Romney bests him by almost twice his 14 percent poll ranking in Iowa, Gingrich is within about 5 percent of him nationally. So an Iowa victory would be nuclear fuel to his campaign.

But if Gingrich doesn’t do well in Iowa -- and right now he’s expected to ring the bell at fourth at best and probably fifth -- South Carolina’s a tougher haul and both momentum and the nomination become more illusory. I’m not saying he can’t pull it out, but losing either South Carolina or Florida would be lethal to his campaign after an Iowa loss.

If Ron Paul wins in Iowa -- and he’s looking less likely to by the minute -- it will blow a lot of people’s minds. But, other than that, not much will happen. In fact, Paul winning Iowa is Romney’s second favorite outcome cuz that means that all the other electable candidates -- including Gingrich -- have been thrashed in the cornfields. 

The blown minds? Every establishment Republican, who will quickly be scheming to derail him. And every marijuana smoker, peacenik and white supremacist who won’t believe it actually happen. 

Wackily, in this election -- though Paul has zero chance of getting the Republican nomination because of tensions with his own party -- a victory or second place for Paul will mean the same thing to his campaign. They’ll just keep going. They have the money and the organization to keep this thing percolating like a crazy cult all the way through the California primary.

If Rick Perry wins Iowa -- it will be a resurrection akin to Lazarus’ and, believe me, he’ll play it that way. It won’t help him in New Hampshire, because evangelicals play a small role there, and evangelicals is the only way Perry will be victorious here. But it will certainly revive his candidacy nationally, and he’d likely be in a position to perhaps challenge in South Carolina and Florida. Right now, Perry isn’t in the top three in any poll for any of the first four primary states so it will be still be a heckuva an effort. 

If he doesn’t hit the top tier in Iowa, it’s hard to imagine how much longer Perry can go on. He’s running out of money as is. If he were smart, he’d pull out if he shows on the bottom of the card. But chances are any outcome other than 1-2-3 will be spun so he can try to come to life again at least in South Carolina. After that, he’s gone.

If Mitt Romney wins Iowa -- and he well might -- he’ll have made his way to Tampa a lot easier. He’s played Iowa better than anyone ever imagined: lowering expectations all season while quietly massaging those 30,000 caucusers he got in 2008. This weekend, he’s pulling out all the stops, visiting every pizza joint and church in Iowa. Momentum will be doubled with his assured win in New Hampshire and, frankly, the game will likely be over. If Romney wins here, the only way to slow him down would be for somebody to best him in New Hampshire, which ain’t gonna happen. 

In other words: A win for Romney in Iowa is the most killjoy of all outcomes.

He’ll still have to face Gingrich in South Carolina and Florida, but an Iowa win means a bloody Newt while a loss means an emboldened Newt. And an emboldened Newt could steal this thing right out from under him.

If Rick Santorum wins Iowa -- for Pete’s sake, don’t laugh! -- it would be one helluva victory. I honestly don’t care for the man’s policies one iota, but a Santorum win would have me tipping my hat at the guy. He’s been living here for two years. I’m pretty sure every Iowan has shared a meal with him by now. And the guy refuses to pander: he just keeps beating that same anti-gay pro-Jesus drum, no matter what else is going on in the world. 

Now, should he win -- and he’s got an internal poll from last night that says it’s possible -- it won’t really matter much other than to embarrass whomever comes in third and below. A Santorum victory would effectively end both Bachman’s and Perry’s campaigns but Santorum will only get a momentary lift. He’s polling in low single digits in New Hampshire, and in the low teens in South Carolina and Florida. Most importantly, Santorum has no organization outside of Iowa (he barely has one here), is running a shoestring operation and doesn’t have the time to employ his here-all-the-time-let’s-hang-out Iowa strategy anywhere else. If Santorum wins, he’s still out by Florida.

And if he loses -- well, the thing is, he really cant lose. If he does better than dead last, he’s already said he’ll consider it a victory and go on.

Which means that no matter what, we’ll get to think about this every time we say his name for at least one more month.