Romney’s Going Big in Iowa
One wonders how much the rise of Newtmentum influenced this decision:
The answer to one of the great lingering questions about the Republican presidential race has suddenly turned up here along Ingersoll Avenue, where Mitt Romney’s Iowa campaign headquarters is opening for business.
Mr. Romney, who has been cautiously calibrating expectations about his chances in a state full of social conservatives, is now playing to win the Iowa caucuses. Television commercials are on the way, volunteers are arriving and a stealth operation is ready to burst into view in the weeks leading up to the caucuses, the first Republican nominating contest, on Jan. 3.
The escalation of his effort in Iowa, along with a more aggressive schedule in New Hampshire and an expanding presence in South Carolina, is the strongest indication yet that Mr. Romney is shifting from a defensive, make-no-mistakes crouch to an assertive offensive strategy. If he can take command in the three early-voting states, he could make the nominating battle a swift one.
“There is a lot of wisdom in trying to deliver a knockout punch,” said Matt Schultz, the Iowa secretary of state, who supported Mr. Romney four years ago but is unaligned now. “If he came and won Iowa and New Hampshire, it would be all over.”
Utter conjecture on my part, but I wonder if seeing the Not Mitt Romney championship recently handed down from Cain to Gingrich spooked Team Romney enough to inspire this high risk/reward move. What might and should have the Romneyites antsy is not the arrival of nominal frontrunner Newt Gingrich as a real threat to Romney’s winning the nomination. Rather, they might take Newt’s sudden, somewhat arbitrary, boomlet of popular support as proof that a significant chunk of GOP voters won’t make their peace with a nominee Romney until there’s truly nowhere left for them to go.
The operational assumption of most pundits and pols is that, eventually, this’ll happen; Romney’s skeptics will come into the flock. And, wary of conventional wisdom as I may usually be, I’m on-board with the consensus this time. But that doesn’t mean I think Romney’s position is an especially good one. The longer it takes for him to truly have the nomination as his, the better the odds that Mitt will have to mouth the kind of far-right platitudes that make middle-of-the-road voters uncomfortable — the feverish apocalypticisms of moral bankruptcy and societal decay that more fringe-friendly candidates and natural-born Cassandras like Michele Bachmann or Newt Gingrich can deliver in their sleep.
So it makes sense for the Romney folks to decide it’s time to put a stop to all the BS and to get this motley crew of voters united behind the Next In Line. If he can win Iowa, he’ll win himself months of being able to shift to the political center, focusing his campaign around attacking Obama’s record rather than defending his own. Yet because he’s now so clearly decided to try to win, losing in Iowa will be significantly more harmful to the campaign than it would have been otherwise. If he loses, voters and, more importantly, journalists will decide that Romney needs to prove himself capable of winning over the kind of Republicans more easily found in Iowa than New Hampshire.
And then Romney will find himself in that frustrating media dynamic in which his victories, no matter how decisive, are considered somehow less than relevant unless and until they come in a state where the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party — generally less than thrilled by the prospect of a candidate Romney — is the dominant power bloc. At that point, the locus of media attention will be on Romney’s failures, not his victories; every day, he’ll be playing defense in the press. But if he can win in Iowa, that all goes away before it’s even the chance to start. Better still, his best-case media narrative — Mitt Romney, the Inevitable Nominee — takes hold.
It’s a funny thing, really: Romney’s going for it in Iowa, but his decision is not about Iowa and it never was. As has been the case ever since Rick Perry turned out to be a tiger composed of the flimsiest, most delicate paper, Romney’s real audience is the media. He’s running in the Iowa caucus, yes; but the voters he really cares about can be found in the nation’s bylines — not its cornfields or county fairs.