Republicans are aflame with urgency about removing Barack Obama from the White House, but they just can't seem to get enthused about any of the available replacements.
Some 123,000 Iowans came out to caucus Tuesday evening, which is barely more than did so in 2008, despite the fact that, without a Democratic race, this year's GOP contest attracted far more independents and even Democrats. In fact, if you take away the additional 15,000 votes Ron Paul pulled in this time — mostly from young independents who have never caucused before— the clear conclusion is that fewer rank-and-file Republicans in Iowa decided to take part in the selection of a challenger to the great Kenyan socialist liberty-killer.
That is in part because of the lukewarm attitude of Republicans toward their likely nominee, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and in part because of the glaring inadequacy of every alternative.
In the end, a quarter of those Iowa caucus-goers gave their vote to Romney, while an almost identical number chose as the alternative the candidate about whom they knew the least bad things: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Santorum "surged" in the final week of the campaign, by virtue of being the only guy left who hadn't yet had the spotlight long enough for his flaws to be seen. That will soon be corrected. (Go to thePhoenix.com/GOP2012 to follow our real-time coverage this week from New Hampshire.)
Romney also benefited from a lapse of critical attention, as the other candidates, so concerned with battling one another for anti-Romney status, never bothered to train their fire on him.
That too will now change, in a very big way, and not only because it's come time for chosen challenger Santorum to go after the front-runner.
Nevertheless, it was a happy result for Romney. His campaign was only afraid of Gingrich and Rick Perry. Gingrich is effectively eliminated and is only running for vengeance now, and Perry, after finishing a disappointing fifth, sounded like he was taking himself out of the race.
That leaves Paul — whose extensive history of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and conspiratorial ravings could earn him only third place Tuesday in what will likely be the peak of his strange political career — and Santorum. Romney should now be able to torpedo Santorum, earning himself another nemesis on his way to winning the nomination in a series of low-turnout, lackluster primaries.