Media narratives bore me. The latest, pondering the case of the also ran, but still running, second and third tier Republican candidates’ willingness to stay in a race they can’t win, I find dull. This is due to the simple truth that the answer to the question at hand is obvious enough than anyone with a passing knowledge of politics could sort it out.
So let us lay this issue to rest now, the exercise of which will save our friends in the media much faux hand wringing, and ourselves several ground teeth.
We begin with Iowa. Say the following out loud: No candidate with a dollar to their name, or fifty cents of open credit, will exit the race before the Iowa caucuses. There is simply no reason to. Campaigns can, and have been, pared to the barest of bones, leaving behind overheads that even a shoestring could suspend until the first of the primary adventures commences. And that, or course, is when things begin to become interesting.
For a fringe candidate, much can happen when the polls open. A breakout performance, as with Cain in the Florida straw poll, could be enjoyed, and no matter the result, every candidate’s stock rises following the voting. The reason for this is simple enough: as a candidate begins to make the slow march towards the exit, the frontrunner and every hound at their heels lusts after their endorsement. Therefore even an abject failure at the ballot box can drive a final media cycle for a failed candidacy: ‘who will they endorse? What does it mean!’ To cement the point, ask yourself who loves a free turn of the television crank more than a politician.
The debate cycle that we have now enjoyed for months is also pushing candidates to stay the course, in hopes that a ceiling will open and opportunity drop through like a stone onto their heads. Just as Bachmann, Perry, and Cain have thus far enjoyed. Gingrich, obviously, is next.
But this is only part of the story. To continue, as it is the more functionally socially conservative candidates that are suffering in the polls (Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, and Cain to an extent), there is a massive vacuum in Iowa as to who the ‘values’ voters will select as their eventual non-nominee. Romney is going to win the final nomination, we’ve known that for months, but to whom this one slice of the Religious Right will toss their burdens is not clear.
For the moment, the cage match is Romney against Gingrich. But just as the media buried Gingrich once this year (not even looking to the historical record for prior examples), it shall do so again. It built him up, feeding on his critiques of themselves. The next day it used the light that it brought onto his back to bring back the lights to his past. That alone is sufficient ballast to sink the Hindenburg of hot air that Newt is, but their laser (read: uncreative) focus will only add gravity to a slipping situation.
Iowa. It all comes down to Iowa. Anyone can say that they are viable, and that the elections remain weeks away, but not after that frightful caucus, when a terrifying minority of reactionaries claim to tell the rest of us who the best candidate is for the coming election. We usually ignore them, only agreeing when they make an accident, but the event itself matters to the political cycle. Once it happens, and many carts hit the speed bump on empty, scattering across the media racetrack as the press pack speeds them by, the game will be up for the pretenders. Unless they still have cash, of course, but those reserves will be a rent balloon one the influx dries completely.
With misplaced hopes still clinging to fragments of potential, and debates spotting the horizon, why would anyone quit the race? Every moment on television, and every column inch in print only boosts one’s stature, leading to book deals, and perhaps, yes perhaps, another chance at the apple.
For someone like Huntsman, who is running simply to lay the groundwork for a victory in 2016, after Romney has been dissembled by Obama, this matters hardly at all. Iowa to him is merely a step towards gracefully exiting with manageable debt and a chance to endorse, warmly, the eventual nominee.
For the rest of the class of dunces, this is quite likely it. The soufflé that was Bachmann, to channel Hitch, is now forever flat. Gingrich, after teasing for years, has finally used his trap card and run for the office that he knows he cannot have. And the rest, the rest, knew that they never had a chance. Perry was possibly self-deluded, it could be argued. If that was the case, you can’t blame the man, as, after all, such confusion appears to be his normal state.
Don’t listen to the media drone on, as they will, in the coming weeks about the odd fates of the zombie campaigns and their undead captains. It’s moot. Iowa will sort the wheat, such as it is, from the very obvious chaff. Until then, it’s simply too damn hopeful, fun, and profitable to keep running.
Now, make some popcorn, the debates are on next.