Direct from Ames: The GOP's Iowa Straw Men

Ames, Iowa

"Change begins in Iowa and change begins today!," exclaimed Republican presidential candidate and the presumed winner of Saturday's Iowa GOP Straw Poll, Mitt Romney (though we're still awaiting the official results as there's been a voting machine glitch!). The only other catch is that neither Romney nor any of the other major candidates participating in today's beauty contest could list any single substantive policy they would actually change.

Unless, that is, you count all eight participating candidates having endorsed some version or another of an even more regressive tax policy than that of George W. Bush. Maverick and semi-crank candidate Ron Paul wants a withdrawal from Iraq. But otherwise the entire pack of candidates agreed they are pro-life, anti-Roe V. Wade, pro-gun, pro-privatization of some portion or another of social security, in favor of building a wall across the Mexican border, and had nothing very different to say about Iraq than would any current sitting White House official.

Indeed, Romney, who spent some $2 million to sew up today's poll, stood out at the most "continuist" of all the candidates. He lauded President Bush for "keeping us safe for the last six years" and celebrated the administration's controversial interrogation methods of terror suspects. OK, l et's give Romney credit for one fresh idea: "I want to clean up the moral pollution on TV and the Internet," he thundered to the crowd at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames. "I want to enforce our obscenity laws... One strike and you're ours."

I guess I should also include on of the change-prescriptions dished out by Ron Paul. If the government hadn't have had the monopoly on aviation security, he asserted, 9/11 would have been averted by allowing guns on airplanes! why hadn't we thought of that before?

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, in an interview this morning, conceded that the current political environment was "very tough" for Republicans and agreed that "the cloud of Iraq" was fogging up the election. "Hopefully General Petraeus will ride us into victory," he said, conceding that if there's no measurable change in the status of the war, Republican hopes are dim.

The most logical way to divvy up the Republican field that appeared in today's poll, is light and optimistic in one bunch and dark and angry in the other. On the lighter side (you might say Bush Lite) we would count Romney, a Lauren-dressed mix of Ronald Reagan and Max Headroom; a buoyant preacher-like Mike Huckabee trying to inherit the compassionate conservative mantel; the pathetic and soon-to-be ex-candidate Tommy Thompson; the evangelical Sam Brownback; and the irrepressible "constitutionalist" Ron Paul whose sporadic whispers of common sense are often gusted away by the downdraft of black helicopters.

Xenophobe Tom Tancredo and cult militarist Duncan Hunter, meanwhile, are in stiff competition for the title of Prince of Darkness. Hunter comes off as a sort of constipated drill sergeant, claiming he will extend the current border wall from 59 miles long to nearly 900 within six months of taking the office he stands no real chance of winning. Tancredo, meanwhile, brought along his so-called "Tom's Army Against Amnesty" and spent his time at the podium railing against illegal immigrants and warning, finally, "This is our culture!" Tancredo also chided the Bush administration for allegedly being too soft on the war in terror, denouncing what he called the "multi-cultural rules of engagement" set by the Pentagon. "In a Tancredo administration," he exclaimed," there will be only one rule of engagement: We win - You lose!" Wild applause.

It cost $35 a head to cast a vote, eat the "free" BBQ pulled pork offered up by the campaigns and listen to the various rock and country bands that spread across the Iowa State University campus. A lot, if not a majority of the attendees, had their tickets purchased by one or another of the campaigns. Once on site they were ferried from the parking lot and to the "voting" booths by rented golf carts.

Kudos to Mike Huckabee for being the only candidate who offered some real change, at least in the menu. The ice-cold chunks of fresh watermelon he served up was the only relief from the otherwise monotonous fare--both gastronomical and rhetorical.

Cross posted at The Nation's Campaign Matters blog and at