In Praise of Iowa Republicans

A long-time reader writes:

It is odd, and perhaps absurd, that 120,000 Iowa voters get to play such a large role in winnowing the Republican presidential field. Nonetheless, Iowa’s Republican caucus-goers did an excellent job of it this year. In my view, they correctly identified the two best candidates in the field, while dealing blows to four candidates who deserve to be winnowed. The only blemish was Ron Paul’s strong third place showing. But this appears to have been achieved with considerable help from independents, which is why I limit my praise to Iowa Republicans.

In Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Iowa Republicans elevated a pair of highly attractive, intelligent, and experienced candidates, both of whom espouse solidly conservative positions on foreign policy, economic, and social issues. Pragmatic conservative voters who place a high premium on electability will tend to favor Romney. Ideologically pure conservative voters will tilt towards Santorum. The former cohort can be reasonably confident that it’s supporting a Reaganite. The latter can be sure it’s not supporting a lightweight.

What about the rest of the field? Two of its members – Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul – are powerful advocates for their respective positions. And Bachmann’s positions are almost uniformly sound. But neither candidate has demonstrated either the administrative ability or the leadership qualities one should expect from a president.

The remainder of the field meets that standard, I believe. But for my money, Jon Huntsman is too much of a “come home, America” candidate. I don’t view him as Reaganite in spirit on foreign policy.

Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, strikes me as a strange mixture – part Reaganite, part flake. Moreover, as a vessel of Republican hopes, he is carrying far too much baggage.

Rick Perry is a Reagan conservative par excellence, and his record as governor of Texas is impressive, in my opinion. Unfortunately, his performances during several of the debates raise serious doubts that he can hold his own against Barack Obama. For many voters, Perry is already a laughingstock. For many more, he’s one more slip away from becoming one. As a vessel of Republican hopes, he is too leaky.

It took Iowa Republicans a long time, and multiple flirtations, to sort through this year’s field. But they seem to have gotten it right in the end.