About 120,000 voters will make national headlines with the choices they make in the Iowa caucuses. Those who turn up will be disproportionately white, conservative, affluent and old. Conservative evangelicals will turn out in significant numbers. Their influence has been exercised before they even go to the caucuses, for every Republican candidate now embraces an extreme right-wing agenda that would make Ronald Reagan look like a liberal.
For all the attack ads, on policy there is little substantive difference in the Republican candidates, with the exception of the more-libertarian Ron Paul. Let's focus on the front-runners -- Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry -- all of whom are peddling an agenda that offends both common sense and the opinions of the vast majority of Americans.
At a time of Gilded Age inequality and record budget deficits, every Republican candidate wants to LOWER taxes on the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations. Romney and the rest, for example, are for eliminating the inheritance tax that applies only to the wealthiest 0.3 percent of families. That would add about $1.3 trillion to projected deficits over the next decade, forcing deep cuts in basic services and in programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
With the U.S. having squandered an estimated $3 trillion on the misbegotten war in Iraq, Romney, Gingrich and Perry denounce Obama for removing U.S. troops (at the insistence of the elected government of Iraq). And all three promise war with Iran to keep that nation from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Romney and Perry call for increasing the military budget, which would require deeper cuts of basic domestic investments.
After Wall Street excesses blew up the world economy and the lobby power of the big banks blocked fundamental reform, every Republican candidate is committed to repealing the reforms that did pass, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau designed to protect consumers from being fleeced by predatory lenders.
With catastrophic climate change accelerating, Romney, Gingrich and Perry all scorn the existence of global warming, pledge to shackle the Environmental Protection Agency and embrace "Drill, baby, drill" policies that would drive America into greater dependence on carbon-based energy production. Who pays for the mess that Wall Street's excesses caused? The wealthiest Americans captured essentially all the rewards of growth under Bush, as most families lost ground. But Romney, Gingrich and Perry would send the bill to working families. They favor deep cuts in basic services, which have already begun with layoffs of teachers and police, hikes in transit fares, and even harsh reductions in home-heating assistance for the elderly.
This is the vision offered by Romney, Gingrich and Perry: An America entangled in wars abroad and impoverished at home, Wall Street free to gamble while seniors are left less secure, and a country of greater inequality and less opportunity.
No wonder Republicans have had a hard time warming to a candidate.