The Iowa Republicans’ indecision captures perfectly the existential struggle within the GOP nationally and within conservatism. They don’t know what they want — or even who they are. Are they Tea Partyers? Isolationists? Pro-business? Populists? Moralists? Worried workers? Do they want the corporate caretaker (Romney), the oddball isolationist (Paul) or the cultural warrior (Santorum)?
Tuesday night’s returns indicated that Iowans never did make up their mind, as the three men carved up the vote almost evenly. A poll of voters entering the caucuses found that nearly one in five said they hadn’t chosen a candidate until Tuesday.
In their internal conflicts, Iowans fulfilled perfectly their first-in-the-nation status, by faithfully acting out the Republican fissures. “The jumble at the top is very reflective of the Republican Party nationally,” argued David Yepsen, the longtime Register political writer now with Southern Illinois University. “It’s activists here reflecting activists all over the country: Who are we? What are we for?”