12 keys to the presidential race right now

2. Chris Christie is in better shape than you think. There was a widely-held assumption that Christie’s Jersey Guy persona wouldn’t play well in Iowa — that he is just too hot and too confrontational to get along with a bunch of nice Midwesterners. But it turns out a lot of Iowa Republicans actually like Christie, even if they’re not quite ready to support him. Christie connects with audiences in Iowa just like elsewhere in the country, and more importantly, Iowa Republicans really want someone to fight for them in the next campaign. Most felt Romney just wouldn’t take it to President Obama in 2012, so now Christie is OK with them as long as they believe he will give Democrats hell.

3. Foreign policy has become as important as social issues, and that means people will listen to John Bolton. One simple sentence explains the new prominence of foreign policy in the race: It’s a dangerous world. With the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Paris attacks, the troubling resilience of terror networks, worrisome developments in Russia, the challenge of China — when all of those are combined with the sense that the Obama administration either doesn’t know what is doing or is badly misguided, or even worse, Iowa conservatives have become deeply concerned about foreign policy. Then remember that the governors who are running have no foreign policy experience, and the senators are all recent arrivals on the national stage. Who knows enough about the world today to address those problems? Enter John Bolton, the former Bush administration United Nations ambassador who is deeply versed in foreign affairs. A number of conservatives would welcome Bolton’s presence in the GOP debates to raise the level of foreign policy discussion. Yes, they know he is pro-gay marriage, and they will never approve of that. But they will listen respectfully to what Bolton has to say.

4. Romney loyalists are deeply ambivalent about another run. A remarkable number of former Romney staff and supporters admire him tremendously and remain steadfastly loyal. They have told him as much on a number of occasions over the last few years. But now some worry that Romney has perhaps misinterpreted their heartfelt expressions of support as encouragement to run again in 2016. They still believe he would be a good president, but they do not think it will be possible for Romney to rid himself of 2012 baggage in order to get the clean start necessary to run a winning campaign.