The report confronts this problem by denying that it exists. While the authors want regional primaries and a truncated nominating process — so as to have an earlier nominating convention — they bow before what they call the “carve-out” states that have individual and early elections.
“It remains important to have an ‘on ramp’ of small states that hold unique primary days before the primary season turns into a multistate process with many states voting on one day,” the report says. “The idea of a little-known candidate having a fair chance remains important.”
In other words, New Hampshire and Iowa.
This would be nice and warmly traditional if these two states were representative of the Republican Party as a whole. But they are not. They are far to the right, and the candidates who do best there often
poorly thereafter. Presidential hopefuls spend months in those states and, because Iowa is the first contest, it gets a hugely disproportionate share of the news coverage — what seems like an event (debates, etc.) per week, starting with the preposterous Ames Straw Poll, won last time by the highly incompetent Michele Bachmann.
Rudy Giuliani, a moderate who thought in 2008 that he could bypass Iowa, found out the hard way that he could not. By Florida, where he had intended to make his stand, he was already an also-ran. In 2012, Mitt Romney, an erstwhile moderate, was not going to make that mistake. He jettisoned his positions and his principles somewhere around Keokuk. It worked. He (almost) won Iowa but, in the fall, lost the rest of the nation. Cohen’s Law goes like this: Republicans who win Iowa in January lose America in November.
The official winner of last year’s Iowa caucuses was Rick Santorum — by 34 votes. Santorum, not one to rest on his victory margin, is due back in the state next month. He will address two fundraisers, one for Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, a vociferous opponent of same-sex marriage and most things fun.
Santorum is almost certain to run in 2016. Given the nature of the Iowa GOP, he has to be considered the favorite there. In almost all his positions, he represents precisely what so alarms moderate Republicans. He’s a one-man band of losing issues.
The authors of the GOP report were aware of their Iowa-New Hampshire problem, but they are powerless to implement a remedy. The nominating calendar is set by the 168 members of the Republican National Committee. The authors were not powerless to offer recommendations — they made them galore — and yet they shied from disturbing the furiously conservative beast whose lairs are Iowa and New Hampshire. The base would have devoured them.
I am not now and never have been a Republican, so you might think it’s all right with me if the party keeps serving up lame candidates with lame ideas. But I rely on the GOP to keep the Democrats honest, to challenge some of their occasionally ludicrous ideas and, every once in a while, to come up with a candidate who gives me pause in the voting booth. For Republicans, Iowa and New Hampshire only look like the beginning. Really, they’re the end.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.