If you are missing the TV coverage of the Iowa caucuses you are missing a whole bunch of inane commentary. “Romney didn’t get more than he got in 2008!” (So what?) “No one is going to hit 30 percent!” (Again, so what?) What matters is how the candidates do against the competition and the expectations they have helped to generate.

With about a quarter of the vote in, the spread among the top three is less than 200 votes, with Mitt Romney for now in the lead.

What we do know is that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) appears headed for sixth. She in all likelihood ends her race in her home state on Feb. 7. Texas Gov. Rick Perry may well wind up in fifth, even after spending $4 million, leaving a real question as to whether he should soldier on. Would he be anything more than a spoiler in South Carolina?

If Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) wins on the strength of independent voters who crashed the Iowa caucuses, there’s a good argument that his “win” is even less indicative of his strength over the long haul than a win based on GOP voters.

And if there is in essence a three-way tie? Well, New Hampshire becomes that much more important in setting the trajectory of the race.