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Media Punches Ticket Out Of Iowa, Leaves Storylines

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As a blogger who doesn't work on Fridays, I was prepared to spend my Thursday night doing two things that Mitt Romney cannot do--namely, enjoying the Iowa caucus results and boozing it up a little (Makers Mark: Make it your "agent of change" in 2008!). But then, I realized that my editor would probably like to hear about the "post-Iowa media narrative" and whatnot. So, here's a summation of the winners and losers of the Most Important Iowa Caucus in History.

Barack Obama: The biggest winner of the night, as far as anyone was concerned, even though Mike Huckabee's win was the more decisive one. Chris Matthews more-or-less swooned with reverent delight over the results, repeating his mantra that Obama was "of the world" and how his primary win would resonate throughout the globe. At one point, I think he also said that Matthews was going to be the President of Kenya, now, as well. I'm not sure THAT'S allowed! But anyway, "change" won, "hope" won, and I'm guessing that staging your post-vote speech in the round, so as to get actual supporters behind you instead of Madeleine Albright or Chuck Norris' impossibly white teeth, won as well.

Mitt Romney: The biggest loser of the night. Nobody had anything nice to say about him at all. Romney's thumping has already been widely depicted as a repudiation of the "establishment" -- that is, candidates who breeze into town waving thick stacks of green in the air and shaking their Ken Doll genderlessness about the town square.

Nevertheless, Romney's loss is a big win for denial. In his post-caucus speech, Romney marveled at "how far" he'd come and how he beat three "household names" in Giuliani, McCain and Thompson. Never mind that non-household name Mike Huckabee whipped him! Then he kept alluding to his Salt Lake City Olympics by suggesting that he had "won the silver." But Romney's silver medal desperately needs a Marie-Reine le Gougne, n'est-ce pas?

John Edwards: Loser! But winner! Edwards was quick to come out last night to lay claim to second place and make the caucus about a win for "change" and a "repudiation of the Hillary Clinton." And then, for a while during his speech, Clinton came perilously close to taking over second place, narrowing the delegate count between them to about four. Awkward!

He gave a speech that made the Jezebelles go weak in the knees but that everyone else is calling "angry." Again, I wonder: when did a passionate, insistent call to help people in need become "angry?" "Angry" to me is Zell Miller, road rage, the music of Steve Albini. Anyway, John Edwards got Chris Matthews hackles up for not "conceding," which didn't make much sense because he's still totally allowed to run for president and is not obliged to "concede" anything. The media just REALLY wants Edwards out of the race.

Hillary Clinton: Big loser! But, according to her, the Democrats in general were big winners and that's what was important. Her speech was a hollow, empty affair, where kisses were blown to Iowa voters even as you got the impression that the candidate was only too happy to kick the dust of that state off of her boots. Of her post-caucus event, Andrea Mitchell said: "This room was, until about five or six minutes ago, completely empty. This is a manufactured 'celebration.' It really felt more like a funeral as people started strolling in from upstairs where they had obviously been gathered. This is unlike anything that I've ever seen, a completely empty, dirge-like event." Of her speech, Matt Yglesias said: "Hillary Clinton, sapped of her aura of inevitability, doesn't seem to have very much to say. Her candidacy is fundamentally about a kind of brokerage transaction; she herself is the logical convergence point for a group of people associated with her husband's administration and she's a competent steward of that network of supporters. But that's not a fighting message, it doesn't leave you with much to fall back on when times look grim."

But she's got a plan! And a lot of money to spend on negative ads. Bring on the Obamocalypse!

Mike Huckabee: So, in the end, it wasn't recklessness that brought Huckabee to Leno the night before the caucus. It was cockiness! And it was well founded, as it turns out. His thumping of Romney takes on a new dimension when you consider how much ground Huckabee gives up to Romney in money and infrastructure.

Still...while it's a big win for the Huck, he hasn't exactly been able to drape the mantle of national inevitability around himself, has he? There are good reasons. First, that shortfall in money and operational ability isn't going away anytime soon. Second, there's a matter of equivalency--when you listen to Chris Matthews struggle to equate Huckabee's evangelical background with Obama's supposed "man of the third world" importance, it's clear that post-Iowa, Obama's going to be "the get" for a while. Obama's got a brand new story now, as well--does Huckabee? Third, this is a big loss for the kingmaking, ivory-tower conservative elites. The neocon crowd dislikes Huckabee almost as much as the anti-tax zealots do. And who's emerged as the realistic alternative to Huckabee? A candidate, who, as Pat Buchanan pointed out last night, is disliked by many conservatives. A man named...

John McCain: Yes. Somehow, a candidate who didn't even compete in Iowa and finished fourth behind Fred Thompson is a big winner from last night and the expected frontrunner in New Hampshire. Such is the mystery of American politics.

Fred Thompson: Funny thing: Even though Thompson finished at a more distant third in the GOP race than Clinton did on the Democratic side, you sort of have to call this a victory for Thompson. Thompson's campaign spent the last hours before the voting started beating back the story that he was going to drop out and endorse McCain, so third place seems like an unexpected, "dark horse" result.

Plus, we finally have a baseline for the sort of support Thompson CAN receive. He'll need to build on it as the primaries continue, but this result is the punched ticket out of Iowa that nobody expected.

Ron Paul: The rabid enthusiasm exhibited by Paul's supporters failed to heat up the Iowa tundra, but in a Pyrrhic victory, demonstrated that he's drawing the sort of support that should allow his inclusion in the Fox debate in New Hampshire.

Bill Richardson: Obviously, a huge loser, but if you like seeing Terry McAuliffe reel from an unexpected kick in the teeth, Bill Richardson is your man. When you think about it, Richardson's decision to kick his support to Obama should have been seen as a bellwether.

The Rest: Well, goodbye, Chris Dodd! We'll miss the ol' Talk-O-Meter! Joe Biden, thank you for your audition for the role of Secretary of State. We'll see you at callbacks. Dennis, it was a crime that they let Alan Keyes debate in Iowa and not you. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy...good luck with this whole "wait-and-watch-my-chances-ebb-away" strategy. Sure hope you haven't burned any bridges over at Giuliani Partners! And, to Mike Gravel, if I could award a Palme d'Or for political advertising, I would. But I can't. So I won't. On to New Hampshire!