Iowa CW

Speaking of Iowa…the caucuses are naturally the main topic in most of this week’s political news stories. And as always, the coverage tells us nearly as much as the “news” itself.

With Newt Gingrich having apparently lost about half his peak Iowa support after being pounded by Ron Paul and Mitt Romney’s Super-PAC, and since Perry, Bachmann and Santorum seem locked together in the low single digits, it’s increasingly likely Mitt Romney will either win the caucuses despite relatively tepid support, or will win the large consolation prize of watching Ron Paul earn an eminently ignorable victory.

This probability, which tops the early-morning page at Politico, is deeply satisfying to purveyors of political CW. Witness the supremely smug reaction of arch-purveyor Mark Halperin to the prospect of a Romney win:

Why would a Mitt-a-ganza in Iowa make the punditocracy so happy? Aside from the natural attraction of robo-analysts to a robo-pol, a Romney win, portending, it is assumed, a brisk Romney romp to the nomination, would confirm all sorts of hoary myths beloved in Beltway land. Let’s review a few.

1) The GOP is the “daddy party” whose stalwarts are “hierarchical” voters who always support the candidate “next in line” for the nomination. Mitt is the 2008 retread in the race, you see, so Republicans are dutifully opting for him because he’s paid his dues, and is “tempered” and experienced, doncha know. The fact that Republican voters have spent 2011 frantically searching for someone, anyone, other than Romney to nominate, and will turn to him, if they do, only because the alternatives are egregious disasters who have mainly succeeded in destroying each other, is apparently irrelevant.

2) Republicans are focused like a laser beam on beating Obama, and Romney’s obviously the most “electable” candidate. Romney’s superior “electability” may be true in the real world, but in the fever swamps inhabited by the conservative GOP “base,” anyone can beat Obama (unless, of course, ACORN comes back from the grave to steal the election), who is obviously the worst president since at least James Buchanan. Polls consistently show Republican voters ranking electability as a factor subordinate to “values” or ideology, and in any event, they largely think the most electable candidate is whoever they happen to be supporting for other reasons.

3) 2012 is “about” the economy, and Mitt owns that issue. Personally, I’ve never quite understood the assumption that Mitt Romney is some sort of expert on the economy; his main credential in that respect is his tenure with Bain Capital, which is going to be a rich source of material for the Obama campaign. His supposed “economic plan” is a hodge-podge of magical thinking and conservative policy pet rocks. But even if you buy that proposition, is it really true the nomination contest so far has been “about” the economy? If it’s been “about” anything, it’s almost certainly the question of whether this or that candidate is a true conservative, defined as meeting a variety of litmus tests on abortion, on radical changes in Social Security and Medicare, on ridding corporations of virtually all federal regulation, on permanent limitations on domestic spending, on the willingness to abolish major federal agencies, on slavish support for the more aggressively Likudnik policies of the current government of Israel, on brinksmanship towards Iran, and on and on. Romney has met enough of these litmus tests to become grudgingly acceptable to most rank-and-file conservatives and his rivals have flunked as many tests as he has. The economy is far down the list of factors feeding Romney’s success.

4) Romney is the “moderate” in the race, and Republicans are smart enough to want to “run to the center” in a presidential contest. This is the myth that makes me craziest. If there is one overriding reality of the current political environment, it’s that in 2009 the GOP made the extraordinarily unusual decision, after two consecutive debacles in 2006 and 2008, to move away from the political center as rapidly as possible, on the peculiar theory that Bush-era Republican lost because they “betrayed their conservative principles.” Compared to his profile in 2008, Mitt Romney has also moved significantly to the right, even though he was running four years ago as the “true conservative” alternative to Giuliani and McCain. That Romney is now perceived as a “moderate” is a testimony not to his party’s taste for “moderation,” but the very opposite.

I could go on and on, but as commenters have reminded me, I have a lot more posts to do today. Suffice it to say that the true meaning of Romney’s success in Iowa, if that’s how it transpires next Tuesday, will be completely lost on many who welcome it as a sign of the underlying order and reasonableness of our political system.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.