Politico writes: “Conservatives and Republican elites in the state are divided over who to support for the GOP nomination, but they almost uniformly express concern over the prospect that Ron Paul and his army of activist supporters may capture the state’s 2012 nominating contest — an outcome many fear would do irreparable harm to the future role of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.”

Whether Paul wins or not, it seems a good idea to reconsider Iowa’s placement in the primary election calendar, especially if it insists on maintaining a caucus. Recall that Iowa justifies its preeminent position by asserting that it offers lesser-known candidates the chance to get into the race and winnows the field, getting it down to a manageable size for future contests.

But a caucus turns that on its head. It rewards candidates who have a narrow, but devoted following. The turnout is smaller than in an election. In 2008, for example, only 2 percent of eligible voters supported Mike Huckabee in the caucuses. The turnout is heavily male (perhaps the mothers stay home with the kids). In 2008, 56 percent of the caucus goers were male. The electorate for the Iowa caucuses is far more rural than in other states (69 percent of participants were from rural areas in 2008). It’s hardly a small “d” democratic process and doesn’t serve to screen out fringe, unelectable candidates; it actually empowers them.

Moreover, aside from 2004, Iowa has not gone Republican in the general presidential election since 1984. That’s a lot of pandering on ethanol for no good reason. Why not choose, for example, Indiana which is reliably Republican in presidential races and has a diverse population with both rural and urban areas? In fact there are any number of smaller states where broadcast rates are not exorbitant and the state will be more likely to vote Republican in the general election (Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia).

For Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to say that if Paul wins everyone will simply ignore the result and look to the second- and third-place finishers, is to say his state, as least with the current procedure it employs, isn’t up to the task of choosing wisely. If that’s the case, perhaps the Iowa caucuses have outlived their usefulness.