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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss