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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock, whose expression was coveted by Alex Salmond as a young man  

Leonard Nimroy: Why Spock was the blackest person on the Enterprise

Bonnie Greer
 

Leonard Nimroy: Spock made me feel like it was good to be the weird kid

Matthew James
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?