It was painful to watch. Not the returns themselves, but what passed for political analysis on the TV cable news and on Twitter last night. It was a festival of non sequiturs and irrelevant statistics. From here on out you should be wary of taking these people seriously. Here’s a handy guide to the worst of the punditry.
1. Mitt Romney lost because he didn’t get as many votes as last time. This is bizarre, actually. He came in second last time; he won this time. Last time he spent a fortune and weeks in Iowa. This time he essentially stayed away until the final 10 days or so. But more to the point, the race is about beating the current crop of candidates. None of them did as well as Mike Huckabee in 2008, so did they all lose?
2. Turnout was disappointing. This is just factually wrong. At about 122,000, the Iowa caucuses drew the most GOP voters ever.
3. Because President Obama turned out 25,000 in an uncontested race the momentum is with the Democrats. Iowa has voted consistently Democratic for over 25 years with the exception of 2004. In 2008, for example about 119,000 Republicans turned out. Over double that turned out on the Democratic side. This time the GOP hit a record, while the Democrats got 25,000 people to turn out. This says virtually nothing about the relative enthusiasm of the two parties.
4. Romney is weak because he barely won. Ronald Reagan lost Iowa in 1980. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lost Iowa in 2008. How can it be that Romney is weakened by winning a state that wasn’t essential to him? Again, the anti-Romney fervor has outstripped logic.
5. Someone else could still get into the race. This was plausible in October. It became silly in December. It’s now ridiculous. Anyone who entered at this point would be viewed as a spoiler who’d likely do more to assist Romney than anyone else. I see no non-candidates straining to get in.
6. Gosh, if Tim Pawlenty had only hung in there he’d have won this. Well, if he were a more forceful candidate, had a top-flight fundraising team and the nerve to go after Romney, I guess he could have done better. But he could just have likely divided the more moderate vote with Romney, enabling Rick Santorum or Ron Paul to win.
7. If Newt Gingrich had gone negative earlier on, he could have beaten Romney. He actually has been negative, attacking Romney on Romneycare and calling him out for being a capitalist. It hasn’t made Gingrich any more appealing. In fact, his own negatives have soared. Certainly, he could have run more ads or screamed even louder about Romney’s deviations of conservative orthodoxy, but as we saw with the ill-conceived Bain attack there is no way of telling whether that actually would have helped Gingrich.
Recall that virtually the entire punditocracy wrote off Romney a year ago and ignored Rick Santorum until a week ago. The chattering class didn’t improve last night. I suspect in the weeks ahead the pundits will serve up more unhelpful analysis. The good news: The voters ignore them.