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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Post-Caucus Mopping Up

As I write this, the punditocracy will be settling in for their beauty sleep while their harried researchers and writers burn the midnight oil in search of the perfect tweak to the conventional wisdom that will set Beltway tongues wagging until next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. I don't envy these legions of researchers and writers their task, because boy oh boy is there ever a mess to wade through before the morning shows fire up their cameras!

On the Democratic side of the isle, Senator Barack Obama won a... surprising?... victory while former Senator John Edwards finished second in a statistical dead heat with Senator Hillary Clinton, who finished third. No other Democratic candidate earned more than 2% of caucus-goers' votes. On the Republican side, former Governor Mike Huckabee rode an insurgent social conservative wave to a convincing victory over ideologically ambiguous former Governor Mitt Romney, with former Senator Fred Thompson bringing up third. Senator John McCain and Representative Ron Paul both finished above 10% while former Mayor Rudy Giuliani finished at 4%.

There are a couple of obvious memes here on either side that I think we'll read, see or hear quite a bit about in the next few days. On the Democratic side, the story of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses begins and largely ends with the Obama campaign's ability to turn out first-time caucus-goers and young caucus-goers. Simply put, it's never happened before and after congratulating Senator Obama on this impressive feat, we all need to learn from it. My feeling is that John Edwards really needed a win — preferably a win by a few percentage points like the one Obama now takes to New Hampshire — in order to stay in the hunt as a top tier candidate with Obama and Clinton. The next few primaries and Nevada's lone caucus contest are not horserace ground for him. I feel he needed a solid win in Iowa to remain competitive through Super Tuesday. I freely admit that I am an Edwards backer and I hope I am wrong about him, but finishing second in his best chance for a victory isn't the kind of thing that's going to have him resting easy tonight. Speaking of Senator Clinton, let's move on to the next Democratic meme: Hillary Clinton's inevitability.

Our punditocracy, mildly-interested political dilettantes that they are, had decreed months ago that Hillary Clinton's nomination was in the bag. She had all the money. She had all the connections. She had the name. And hey, did you know her husband was President? Now, like the pack animals they are, the pundits will stampede en masse to the other end of the seesaw and use Obama's victory to decry that very same Clinton inevitability that they so proudly proclaimed not so many months ago. The truth of the matter is that I don't think Iowa did much to dent Senator Clinton's campaign. Before tonight's caucuses, she was polling a strong first in both Nevada and Florida and a respectable first in New Hampshire and South Carolina. We'll have to wait and see if Obama benefits from some momentum coming out of Iowa. If I'm in the Clinton campaign, I'm probably not going to start worrying until South Carolina. This is a campaign with deep pockets and deep traditional political connections. Unless the wheels come off in New Hampshire and South Carolina, they will definitely be in the thick of things come Super Tuesday regardless of the results between now and then.

On the Republican side, it's the Huck and Chuck Show. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney out behind the woodshed much like his celebrity shadow, actor Chuck Norris, put a whuppin' on many a bad guy as Walker, Texas Ranger. Romney's self-invested millions apparently couldn't do anything about his faith, his flip-flopping and his perception as being slick. Huckabee, on the other hand, shot over the heads of reporters while pheasant hunting and left a trail of Southern homilies a mile wide behind him as he rounded up social conservative support while on a shoestring budget. This leads us to what I think will be the most interesting meme to follow these next few weeks: The Divided House.

If you've followed the workings of the Republican Party for the last few years, you know that it's a roiling, unholy marriage of social conservatives, corporate conservatives, fiscal conservatives and moderate conservatives. The success of the Republican Party from 1994 on was delivered on the backs of the social conservatives. It was their organization, their money and their tireless work that delivered Congress and, eventually, the White House to the Republican Party. The social conservatives never enjoyed a true candidate for President since Pat Robertson, though. Presidential candidates have always come from the corporate conservative class and while like George W. Bush they could "talk the talk" to the social conservatives, they never truly walked the walk once in office. Bob Dole and George W. Bush both sounded like social conservatives but were quite clearly corporate conservatives when it counted.

In this current Republican field, there's no leading "blended" candidate like a George W. Bush or a Bob Dole. You've got a social conservative (Huckabee), two corporate conservatives (Romney and Giuliani), a guy who at least looks like a moderate conservative (McCain), a fringe Republitarian (Paul) and one blended conservative (Thompson). The problem with this field's one blended conservative is that he doesn't have a real active interest in campaigning. He would be fine with being handed the nomination, but otherwise he's kind of iffy. The social conservative base of the Republican Party turned out in Iowa and they made their voice heard from the corner office at The National Review all the way to the big desk at the Republican National Committee: We're going to get ours.

While our political reporting caste likes to constantly dissect Hillary's laugh and Edwards' haircuts and Obama's youth, we rarely see very much reporting on the non-trivial and very important divisions within the Republican Party. Now that Huckabee's Iowa win has laid those divisions wide open again, will we finally see some discussions of the civil war in the Republican Party? I am not optimistic. After all, what fun is there in reporting on a potential generational political shift when there's hair and inexperience and too much experience to twitter over?

Giuliani has staked his campaign on Florida and Romney and McCain are neck-and-neck in New Hampshire and my guess is Huckabee wins in South Carolina. He's shooting up the polling charts in Florida as well and I think it is entirely possible — even somewhat probable — that we will be looking at Mike Huckabee holding a commanding early lead going into Super Tuesday unless the powers-that-be in the Republican Party turn on Lee Atwater's vaunted firewall in South Carolina and filter Huckabee's packets the way they did to McCain in 2000.

Now that I've made a bad firewall joke, I think it's time for my beauty sleep (yes, yes, I know... I need more than one night's worth!). Iowa has set the table and given us lots to digest but whatever you do, leave room for more! We're not even done with the appetizers yet, folks.

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