The headline clearly is that Bachmann received nearly 29% of the vote. No surprise there. Bachmann has narrative that clearly appeals to a demographic of social conservatives and Tea Party members. For months I argued that mobilizing this vocal and active segment of the part would make Bachmann a major force in Iowa. With a divided field she had captured a large bloc of voters and she used this appeal along with her Iowa connection and strategy to do well in that state. Her challenges of course will now be to move beyond Iowa, reach out to others beyond her base in the party across the country. Moreover, as the field of GOP contenders winnows (Pawlenty exists) and expands, will she pick up supporters or lose them? Bachmann is definitely the headline of the party but challenges persist.
Look beyond Bachmann. She received 28.6% of the vote, Paul 27.7%–together they accounted for 56% of the straw poll. These are two candidates who represent perhaps the most extreme agendas among the GOP field. Add to them Santorum who polled at 9.8% and one finds that nearly two-thirds of the straw poll went to what would appear to be non-mainstream candidates. Pawlenty, perhaps the most mainstream and establishment candidate who participated in the field, polled barely 14%. This is a party that has moved dramatically to the right of the one that picked Romney as the Iowa straw poll winner and McCain as their nominee in 08. The GOP had redefined itself. It is–as I have argued for months–no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. Sarah Palin successfully remade the party into one captured more firmly by the Tea party and owing much of its ideological allegiance to a blend of Barry Goldwater, Pat Robertson, and Ayn Rand. Paul and Bachmann represent different wings of this new party, but Bachmann is better poised to run within this new party because her rhetoric and narrative are less pedantic and more appealing that Paul’s cerebral musings about the gold standard.
Romney is in trouble. In theory the frontrunner, but he is the frontrunner in a GOP party that no longer exists. He is part of the old Reagan Republican Party (along with Pawlenty) now fading. As the Party has shifted look to see it be more difficult for him to maintain his lead. Bachmann represents the new center of the new Republican Party. She and Paul may not be the fringe, Romney and Pawlenty are.
No surprise he is dropping out. He never had a chance. He never had a narrative and he was a Reagan Republican running in a Palin Party. He tried to fake being more conservative than he was, coming off as inauthentic and phony. He made Iowa make or break and he broke. Bachmann helped seal the deal and yet again unended her Minnesota rival. But Pawlenty was doomed even without her–he just lacked appeal as a candidate and he never created a rationale for he presidency. It also does not help to have a non-existent legacy as governor besides bankrupting it.
Perry changes the equation for Bachmann. They will fight out for many of the same supporters and the challenge will be to see what happens. Perry is Bachmann but with executive experience. But Perry’s support demonstrates again how far to the right the GOP has moved.
But what does it all mean?
Commentators state the challenge is for Bachmann to capture swing or centrist voters within the party. She may not need to do this. First, her bloc approach may be enough to help her for a long time. Second, the moderate GOP voters may be leaving, going the route of while males who abandoned the Democratic Party in the 1970s and 80s. If the Reagan Revolution redefined the GOP and Democratic Party membership, then the Palin-Bachmann redefinition will do the same. Some will leave the Party, perhaps leaving it a much more conservative one that even before. Within a party of vanishing moderates, Bachmann can win.