Noted Expert Suggests That Iowa Caucuses Might Be Important, Somehow, In 2012

Previously on the Speculatron, we brought you word of this piece from John Ellis for Business Insider, a fine explanation of how the primary process works. The short version: the media budgets a certain amount of money to cover the election; by the time the early primaries are over, they've blown through it; Iowa and New Hampshire will always have a disproportionate importance; and so if candidates can claim to have done something significant in either of those states, their candidacies are dunzo.

Pretty basic, well-explained stuff. In fact, it's so basic and well-explained that, having basically explained it already, Ellis is sort of boxed in by his own knowledge today as he runs down the GOP hopefuls and offers up a bottom line on what they need to do to win the nomination. Appropriately, Ben Smith calls it a "gimlet-eyed take," but I think I can distill it into something that's more high-test.

Here's all you have to know about the GOP field:

--Mitt Romney must win New Hampshire
--Tim Pawlenty must win Iowa
--Newt Gingrich must win Iowa
--Mike Huckabee must win Iowa
--Mitch Daniels must win Iowa
--Jon Huntsman must win Iowa
--Rick Santorum must win Iowa (among "social conservatives")
--Sarah Palin must beat Huckabee in Iowa
--Haley Barbour must "somehow stay alive through Iowa and New Hampshire." (Not literally, we hope!)
--Michele Bachmann must "beat Palin somewhere" or, if no Palin, "beat Huckabee somewhere." (Like Guam? And what if neither Palin or Huckabee runs?)

Okay, Ellis includes some more nuanced variations on my distillation -- Gingrich can maybe make do with a win in South Carolina if he skips Iowa, Pawlenty can get by on just doing "surprisingly well" in Iowa -- but that's basically what the summa of 2012 speculation amounts to: Romney can safely skip Iowa, the rest of the field must fight each other to the death on frozen cornfields, Haley Barbour gets some lovely parting gifts if he's still drawing breath in March, the end.

(Remember all of this the day after the Iowa caucuses, by the way, when third, fourth and fifth place finishers are claiming the "Joementum" mantle, okay?)

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]