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A weak frontrunner

If you take Iowa seriously, as the GOP candidates themselves did, the results there last night send a message. With the advantages of organization and money, Mitt Romney could only muster 25 percent of the caucus votes. It was enough to place him in first, 8 votes ahead of the late charging Rick Santorum. Herewith, as William F. Buckley used to say, a few observations:

1. Santorum had perfect timing. His moment as the non-Romney of the week arrived to put him at the head of the non-Romney pack that split up the rest of the non-Romney vote. You have to wonder if he has any more staying power than previous non-Romneys of the week.

2. Ron Paul is the non-Republican non-Romney. Let’s hope that he peaked in Iowa, where non-Republicans can show up to vote. For those Iowans who have missed the deep foreign policy thoughts of Charles Lindbergh circa 1941 in Des Moines, Ron Paul has provided a walk down memory lane.

3. Paulites, don’t be sad. You can still celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Lindbergh’s Des Moines speech this past September by listening to the audio of it here on YouTube.

4. You have to wonder where the rest of the non-Romney/non-Santorum vote would have gone. Would Romney have picked up more than a negligible number of these voters last night?

5. You have to wonder if Santorum can generate organization or money with which to take advantage of the result last night. Where does he go and what does he do now?

6. Mitt Romney now turns his attention to New Hampshire, where he is positioned to prevail over the non-Romneys, but his victory there is already discounted into present expectations. Is any candidate other than Romney prepared to contest the coming primaries with him until the nomination is secured?

7. Romney remains the frontrunner. Hey, he won last night, he’s going to win in New Hampshire, and he’s got the money and the organization to stay the course.

8. But if you take Iowa seriously, you have to conclude that Romney is a weak frontrunner. Devoting himself to the caucuses over the past week, he was unable to move the dial with the non-Romney supporters and undecideds. He could do better with them elsewhere, but there was substantial resistance to him among caucus goers. Today comes the coveted McCain endorsement. It may even mean something in New Hampshire, but I doubt it.

9. The candidates themselves took Iowa seriously, but should we? ABC has collected past winners here. They launched Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008, but I recall the time when Ronald Reagan lost the caucuses to George H.W. Bush in 1980 and listening to some liberal television newsman the morning after on Today declaring that Reagan’s career was over. The wish was father to the thought. Query for Steve Hayward: Who was that?

10. Let us not forget the previous non-Romneys of the week. Before settling on Rick Santorum last night, the non-Romney surge had previously touched Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. Indeed, it has passed over only Jon Huntsman. Huntsman hopes his time as the non-Romney of the week is around the corner. If only Tim Pawlenty had managed to hang in there. You have to wonder if his time as the conservative alternative to Romney wouldn’t have come around about now. Pawlenty had positioned his candidacy as the conservative alternative to Romney, but let us not forget Tim’s endorsement when he left the field. It might have put Romney over the top last night.

11. Having won the Iowa straw poll, Minnesota’s own Michele Bachmann placed dead last last night. As a Minnesotan, I wonder if Michele will get out of the race and dedicate herself to reelection in Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District, or whether she has lost interest in a mere House seat.

12. As a Power Line contributor, I wonder if John’s endorsement might have put Romney over the top in Iowa. Maybe!

NOTE: The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost captures my thoughts with a close analysis of the results last night.

UPDATE: Reader Roger Crawford comes through: “The answer to the question in #9 is Tom Pettit of NBC News.” On the morning after the Iowa caucuses in 1980, Pettit gleefully declared: “I would like to suggest that Ronald Reagan is politically dead.”

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