Leading article: The Republicans must prove their seriousness

Share
Related Topics

If they had their way, Republican elders would surely never have chosen Iowa as the starting point of the process to determine the party's presidential nominee. Small and overwhelmingly white, with a Republican electorate heavily dominated by social conservatives, the Midwestern and heavily agricultural state is distinctly unrepresentative of early 21st century America.

Nor, even more certainly, would party bosses have chosen the current selection of contenders to challenge President Obama in November. Many of the potentially strongest candidates – among them Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie, sitting governors of Indiana and New Jersey, respectively, as well as Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents – for differing reasons chose to take a pass on 2012.

Of those actually in the race, both published polls and the private opinions of most Republican strategists suggest that Mitt Romney has much the best chance of defeating Mr Obama in the general election – even though the former governor of Massachusetts has conspicuously failed to excite the party base. In politics, as in life, however, one must go with what one has. Only one in five of the state's registered Republicans may actually bother to participate in them, but tonight, as in every election since 1976, Iowa's caucuses formally kick off the contest to select the most powerful man on the planet. And with them will begin a winnowing of the field.

The first to go may be Michele Bachmann, the conservative Minnesota Congresswoman who has staked all on Iowa, but whose support now languishes in single digits. Barring a small miracle, John Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and US Ambassador to China, will follow her after next week's primary in New Hampshire.

The signs are that the result in Iowa will be close. Mr Romney is in a virtual tie with Ron Paul, the quirky libertarian Congressman from Texas. Rising fast in the polls is the improbable figure of Rick Santorum, the former two-term senator whose ringing Christian conservatism has led Iowans to forget that, in 2006, he was thrown out by Pennsylvania's voters by the largest margin they ever inflicted on an incumbent.

The other two candidates, the erstwhile House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, will probably do well enough to stay alive, in the hope of resurrecting their campaigns with strong performances in the remaining primaries in South Carolina and Florida later in the month.

In a contest marked above all by a deafening lack of enthusiasm for Mr Romney, and in which almost all his rivals have surged, only to fall quickly back to earth, any prediction is unwise. There are, however, two most likely scenarios. Should Mr Romney prevail in Iowa and follow up with a big win in New Hampshire, where he has long been far ahead in the polls, he could wrap up the nomination very quickly. But if Iowa's hitherto divided social conservatives rally behind a single candidate who emerges triumphant tonight, then a long and bruising battle is in prospect, and the prime beneficiary will probably be Barack Obama.

Either way, it will soon be clear whether the Republicans are serious about regaining the White House. Unlike 2008, this is an election the party can win. Personally, Mr Obama remains reasonably popular. But, as he struggles with the worst economy in decades, he has inevitably lost that magical aura of four years ago. His good fortune has been the quality of his opponents, above all in Congress, whose dysfunction is rightly blamed by voters on Republican intransigence. Thus far, events on the Republican campaign trail suggest that his luck continues to hold.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game