Iowa has fought long and hard to be relevant in presidential politics.
The state may lose all of that relevance in a few weeks.
Experts are saying that if Iowans choose Ron Paul as their Republican nominee, the result will be largely ignored – and the tradition of allowing Iowa to go first may become a thing of the past.
The reason is that few people outside of Iowa believe Paul has any chance of being the eventual GOP nominee – and that if he is, he will lose to President Obama next November.
Many Americans, not just Iowans, agree with the Texas congressman’s views that the federal government is toiling far outside the boundaries set for it by the Constitution. And while he comes off as more than a little eccentric, he’s whip-smart and more blunt and candid than about any other politician of his era.
Yet, his views on illegal drugs and foreign policy are extreme in the extreme. He has said he would end the war on drugs – presumably legalizing them – and pardon all nonviolent drug offenders in prison. And while we appreciate his anti-war sentiments, his views on intervention and national defense are isolationist and naive and maybe even dangerous. He’s made it clear, for example, he has little problem with Iran or its nuclear ambitions.
In short, although we applaud his strong core of passionate supporters for standing up for their beliefs, Paul’s extreme libertarian positions can’t help but make him a fringe candidate, even in a conservative Republican Party.
If he comes in first in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, as polls show he well might, it could do irreparable harm to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status, as well as the cherished caucus system itself – which will be seen as hopelessly antiquated and ineffective. The stakes are redwood-high: The current system has been an incredible boon to Iowa’s prestige and political infrastructure, and has exerted pressure on candidates not only to advertise heavily in the state but to meet voters in person. It’s become an expectation in some quarters, which is rather a quaint notion in these far-flung days.
The stakes are even bigger nationally: A Paul win might embolden him and encourage him to run a third-party candidacy next year, which surely would play havoc with Republican hopes of defeating President Obama.
“If we empower somebody who turns around and elects Obama, then that’s a major problem for the caucuses,” U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was quoted on Politico.com.
“People are going to look at who comes in second and who comes in third,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was quoted as saying about a potential Paul victory there.
Iowa may be in a no-win situation: If caucus-goers favor Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich Jan. 3, they may be admitting that their ability to shame candidates into spending time in Iowa is waning; neither Romney nor Gingrich played the “face-time” game, and indeed, ads and debates and other strategies have been deployed more in this campaign than in the past.
No offense to our friends in the Hawkeye State, but with a Ron Paul win, the question will be more burning: Why should anybody play the Iowa way if the state picks someone with almost no chance of being president?