The search for 'Not Romney' goes on
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Iowa Republicans have just two days to recover from last night's festivities before it is time to vote. For many, a stiff drink may ease the pain of having to choose from among the current field.
Most pundits expect the top three finishers in the caucuses Tuesday night will be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. The order is anyone's guess. The polls have been all over the place.
Rep. Paul has zero chance to win the nomination. His libertarian positions on economic issues are popular, but his anti-military, anti-Israel foreign policy views appeal mostly to crackpots.
Yet Rep. Paul may win in Iowa, because the field is large and the "frontrunners" are small. The one consistent theme in a highly volatile race is that roughly three-quarters of Republicans don't want Mr. Romney to be the nominee. He rarely is above -- and often is well below -- 25 percent in national polls.
Conservatives fret that Romneycare in Massachusetts was the model for Obamacare, and we're uncomfortable with a candidate who seems to change his positions nearly as often as he changes his underwear.
So we've searched desperately for someone else. One Not Romney after another has rocketed up in the polls, then plummeted when their flaws were exposed. First was Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; then Texas Gov. Rick Perry; then businessman Herman Cain.
Mr. Gingrich seems to be on the same trajectory. He had a big lead a month ago. Then he got hammered by negative ads, and by vitriolic criticism from prominent conservative pundits. His lead in Iowa is gone.
Mr. Romney is heavily favored in the New Hampshire primary a week from Tuesday, so -- despite the pronounced lack of enthusiasm for him -- he may be able to wrap up the nomination early if he wins in Iowa.
If Mr. Gingrich wins, the race will go on.
If Ron Paul wins, the big loser will be the Iowa caucuses. Few would ever take them seriously again.
What may matter most Tuesday is who finishes fourth. Ms. Bachmann, Gov. Perry, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum appear to be in a pretty even fight for that dubious distinction. The candidacies of two of the three will not survive Iowa.
I suspect Ms. Bachmann is done no matter what. She put all of her eggs in the Iowa basket, and she's out of money.
Gov. Perry had a big lead in national polls ... until he opened his mouth in debates. If he finishes close behind the top three, or breaks into it, Republicans may give him a second look. But once you've convinced so many that you're a moron, it's hard to come back.
The only Not Romney competing in Iowa who hasn't yet had a moment in the sun is Sen. Santorum. If he's first among the second tier, and Mr. Gingrich fades further, his turn may come.
I'm not for any of them, but I object least to Mr. Santorum. He's intelligent, articulate, a solid conservative. He has plenty of experience in government; his personal life is unsullied by scandal. The knock on Rick is that he got drubbed when he ran for re-election in 2006. That's not a small thing, but it seems trivial when compared to the flaws of the others.
I'm not alone in wanting another candidate. Quoting Thomas Paine about "summer soldiers and sunshine patriots," Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol again this week begged an A list conservative to enter the race. National Review editor Rich Lowry reported Monday on a conversation he'd had with "a pretty prominent conservative officeholder who's constantly been discussing with people around the country the possibility of a new entrant or a push to draft someone."
The candidate that "pretty prominent conservative officeholder" has in mind is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. The prospect thrills Quin Hillyer of the American Spectator, who's been beating that drum for months.
Trouble is, Gov. Jindal endorsed Gov. Perry early on, and is too honorable to become a candidate while Mr. Perry is still in the race. Gov. Jindal campaigned in Iowa with Gov. Perry, where he had to correct Gov. Perry on the details of Gov. Perry's tax plan.
I'm hoping for a result in Iowa that will keep faint hopes for a better candidate alive. I want someone other than Mitt Romney to finish first, and for Gov. Perry to finish last.
First Published January 1, 2012 12:00 am