Wednesday, January 4th 2012, 5:44 AM EST
It looks like Mitt Romney has won the Iowa Caucus, by just 8 votes. We knew it was over when the Telegraph’s Jon Swaine tweeted that Romney’s people were carrying crates of beer into the Hotel Fort Des Moines. Mitt himself won’t imbibe – he’s a good Mormon. But we can expect some well-earned hangovers among his jubilant staff.
Not that Romney should celebrate too soon. He won with only 25 percent of the vote in a heavily divided field. Seventy-five percent of Iowans rejected a man that many commentators consider to be the only electable Republican in the running. In contrast, the conservative movement has a new star: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Santorum’s second place was so close that I emailed a Telegraph editor at 7am to tell him he had won. Nine minutes later, Romney was the victor. On the basis of how messed up this election has been, I’ve decided to stop making predictions until at least two months after each vote has happened.
How did Santorum do it? Partly by bringing out a lot of religious conservatives, particularly evangelicals; Santorum made his pro-life credentials a big part of his pitch. But he also spoke about industrial decline and the need to create new jobs in the old manufacturing base. Put the themes of religion and economics together and you have the classic conservative populist alliance: God and jobs. It worked for Pat Buchanan in 1996 and Mike Huckabee in 2008. Think of it as a Tea Party for the born again. On top of this, Santorum got some good momentum out of what is happening in the Strait of Hormuz. Santorum has been bashing Iran all year, telling everyone that he’s the biggest neoconservative in town. His bluster contrasted well with libertarian candidate Ron Paul’s antiwar rhetoric.
Only problem is that Santorum’s overnight rise needs to be converted into a long-haul campaign – and the signs of that happening aren’t so good. He spent almost all his time in Iowa in 2011, sacrificing the chance to build an organisation in New Hampshire or South Carolina. Also, Santorum’s surge only went unstopped because the media didn’t have time to tear him apart. It began a little over a week before Iowa and when the media cycle had done reporting it, there wasn’t time left to examine his past statements on foreign policy, homosexuality, homeland security etc. Rick Santorum, even after his Iowa win, is still an untested candidate.
But he has earned the right to savour this moment. His Right-wing rivals must be seething. Ron Paul, in particular, needed a win or a second place finish in Iowa. He probably didn’t get it because his surge happened a little before Rick’s, giving the media just enough time to dig up some racist newsletters he wrote in the 1990s. Perhaps he also never quite overcame Republican resistance to his foreign policy views. His approach to liberty is admirably consistent: what cuts are good for the department of education, are good for the military. Yet it wasn’t going to play well at a time when Iran is rattling its sabre and tyrants everywhere are falling. Nor was a constituency of evangelicals – a group that often expresses deep spiritual kinship with the people of Israel – going to buy his hands off approach to the Middle East.
Click source to read FULL report from Tim Stanley