Iowa Results Show Romney’s Weakness Even Against GOP ‘Unelectables’

If Mitt Romney can’t beat Rick Santorum, he ought to find another party to run in. By Paul Begala

You gotta love a party in which Mitt Romney can do no better than virtually tie with the guy who compared gays to “man on dog” sex and thinks contraception is evil.

I would have never guessed Rick Santorum would be so happy about two men being tied up together. The former senator tangled with Romney atop the Iowa caucuses by following the Frank Finkel strategy. Finkel was the only man in George Custer’s C Company to survive the Battle of Little Bighorn. He survived not because he was especially crafty or brave. It was just that his horse couldn’t get him to the battle on time. Following the Finkel strategy, Santorum avoided the media crossfire, arriving at the battle too late to be killed. But fear not, dear reader, there are many battles to come.

So while the winner of Iowa in terms of expectations is Santorum, the story is the man he basically tied: Mitt Romney. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when you can’t beat the Man-on-Dog guy, who lost his home state by 18 percent, you stink. You really stink.

Perhaps Romney takes some solace in the fact that he barely edged out Ron Paul, the cranky septuagenarian who thinks the Federal Reserve is a greater threat than Iran. Ron Paul, who got just 10 percent of the vote in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, more than doubled his support this time around, despite news coverage of his racist newsletters.

Romney, who has to my knowledge never published any racist newsletters, did not show similar improvement. Four years ago, Romney received 25 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. Unencumbered by the need for gainful employment, Romney has been running nonstop ever since, and, along with a pro-Romney super PAC, spent at least $4 million in Iowa in 2012. Yet he garnered—wait for it—25 percent. I’m not a Harvard Business School grad like Mitt; in fact, I’ve never even laid anyone off, but it seems to me that spending $4 million to gain zero points is a bad return on investment. That is one expensive treadmill. I’ve seen Astroturf with stronger growth.

I don’t think Romney has accomplished the thing he most needs: humanizing. He began running in Iowa almost five years ago as a slick, phony robot; a heartless, bloodless, humorless CEO. After all those years and all those millions, well, you be the judge. Has he warmed up? Sure, he shifted from consultant-tested suits and ties to consultant-tested open-collar shirts. But that’s like switching from 2 percent milk to skim.

The Romney-inevitability stories will now be tempered by chin-stroking about the candidate’s weakness. He is basically tied with a guy who supports banning contraception and another guy who attacks the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If Mitt Romney can’t beat them, he ought to find another party to run in.

Yet even Romney’s weak opponents are dragging him further to the right. Romney’s full-throated endorsement of House budget chairman Paul Ryan’s budget could give the Obama campaign a gold mine of attacks: that Romney wants to essentially end Medicare, cut taxes on millionaires and billionaires, and slash everything from Pell grants and Medicaid to food stamps and housing assistance.

There is something that doesn’t love Mitt Romney. Right now that something is the GOP base. It would be ironic if Romney’s futile attempt to earn the love of Republican activists makes it impossible for him to win the affections of independents as well.