Rep. Michele Bachmann is for real in Iowa. Tim Pawlenty is on the ropes. Gov. Rick Perry joined the race with a pledge to make the government in Washington, D.C., “inconsequential.” And Rep. Ron Paul, who has been fighting for just such a government all his political life, has an unshakable base.
If Bachmann didn’t actually end Pawlenty’s candidacy, she wounded it grievously in the Ames Straw Poll by beating him 2-to-1. It was Bachmann 4,823 and Pawlenty in third place with 2,293. In between them in second — and very close to Bachmann — was Ron Paul with 4,671. The surprisingly strong showing came from Rick Santorum. He came in fourth with 1,657 votes, much closer to Pawlenty than Pawlenty was to Bachmann and Paul.
Turnout was high at 16,892, higher than four years ago but not a record. There is some energy in the GOP.
But Perry did what he wanted to do: He got at least as much coverage as the straw poll did and created what the cable anchors were calling a “split-screen day,” taking a bit away from Bachmann. Perry also got more write-in votes in Iowa than Mitt Romney, who was actually on the straw poll ballot.
So a good day for Perry, but that pledge of his to make Washington as “inconsequential” as possible in the lives of Americans will come back to haunt him. What does that word mean in relation to, say, Social Security, Medicare and student loans? Clearly the Republican Party has shifted rightward, so maybe it will go over well with the faithful. But it will raise eyebrows among voters in the middle.
And I can’t wait for the next debate. Perry and Bachmann are going for many of the same votes. One of them will be pushed aside. Will Bachmann do to Perry in that debate what she did to Pawlenty in their encounter earlier this week? And I suspect Mitt Romney is happy with Bachmann’s Ames showing. He wants her to make Perry’s life as difficult as possible.
UPDATE 8/14/11 12:05 pm: Tim Pawlenty obviously saw the Ames result the way many of the rest of us did. As Amy Gardner has reported in The Post, Pawlenty told his supporters of a conversation he had with his wife, Mary, in which the both concluded: “We cannot envision a path forward to victory, and so therefore we made a decision to end the campaign.”
I respect Pawlenty for not drawing this out and accepting that if he could not win a straw poll after such a large investment of his resources, he wasn’t going to win the Iowa caucuses, let alone the nomination.
I once thought Pawlenty had a path to the nomination as someone who could appeal to social conservatives but was sufficiently moderate (the word “moderate” is relative these days in the GOP), and that he could eventually appeal to a broader electorate. That second trait, I thought, might mark him for practically minded conservatives as someone who might win a general election.
But even relative moderation was too much moderation for Republicans this year — or to put it another way, Mitt Romney seems to have cornered most of those votes, at least so far, and there were not enough of them left for Pawlenty. The former Minnesota governor also campaigned rather hard to the right, which I think muddled his image. And in the straw poll, social conservatives gravitated to Bachmann as their most passionate advocate.
I hope we see a comeback of the old Pawlenty who had a feel for working-class Republicans and what the party owes them. Republicans could use a voice like that now, even if they’re not ready to nominate him.