The situation is as simple as that.
Some lessons from the Iowa Republican caucuses:
• Your vote counts. As the tally stands as the Phoenix goes to press, only eight votes separate the "winner," onetime Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, from the number-two finisher, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Iowa may be a small state, and the caucuses there were hotly contested, but eight votes is a mighty slim margin. If you are not registered to vote, sign up today.
• Money counts. No matter how it's sliced, Romney came out on top. A year ago, he had no presence in Iowa and has made only 18 personal appearances in the state. Whether Santorum and the third-place finisher, libertarian Ron Paul, can continue to dog Romney is beside the point. So is the possibility of a Newt Gingrich resurgence. Romney's strong showing is a testimony to the power of anonymous corporate cash to buy an election by destroying an opponent, in this case Gingrich.
• Yet we shed no tears for Gingrich, the nastiest man in American politics. In fact, we revel in the delicious irony that his Iowa whumping was made possible by the infamous Citizens United US Supreme Court ruling. That 2010 decision nullified more than a generation of election reform by allowing unlimited corporate and union contributions to political campaigns. Gingrich thought that was just marvelous at the time.
• Secrecy is convenient. Nifty though it may be for special interests rolling in dough, Citizens United also allows these big contributors to operate from behind a shield of deniability. And that's just what Romney did. His super-PAC, Restore Our Future, outspent his campaign by a margin of two-to-one, buying 40 percent of all the political ads in Iowa. "His" is, of course, a relative term. Restore Our Future has no official ties to Romney, despite it being established by former aides and being funded by Romney supporters. So all the legal fictions have been observed. This allowed Romney to obliterate Gingrich with a sweeping negative-ad campaign. Like a mafia don who can order a hit but carry no responsibility for the blood on the floor, Mitt triumphed.
• The truth hurts. Romney's PAC-financed Gingrich assault did have the added benefit of being truthful. It portrayed Gingrich as an unstable and egotistical blowhard who was run out of Congress, in part, by his own party for being dishonest. Ouch.