With the votes being split in a multi-candidate field, there is a very real chance Rep. Ron Paul could win the Iowa caucuses. He appears to have two very important things going for him: Passionate supporters and a good organization. Often, these two things are mutually exclusive.
When a candidate has both of these things, he becomes very dangerous. Ron Paul is very dangerous; He could win Iowa.
But what happens if he does?
My guess is it would do little to actually help Paul become the GOP nominee. Mainstream Republicans who are skeptical of Paul won’t suddenly jump on the bandwagon. Instead, they will seek to dismiss the results as a fluke (like Rocky beating Apollo in the first movie).
(To be sure, a win would make Paul’s already enthusiastic supporters giddy — but my guess is it would do very little to sway Republican regulars. There is no way Republicans will ever nominate Ron Paul as president.)
This is not to say that a Paul victory wouldn’t have major implications; It would be huge … for Mitt Romney.
I begin with the caveat that nobody knows what’s going to happen. There are too many factors — too many moving parts — for any of us to claim we know how things would play out. Having said that, it occurs to me that there are only a few candidates in the race with the experience — and the potential fundraising prowess — to prevent Romney from becoming the nominee.
If Paul wins Iowa, it means he has deprived Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry — two of the candidates whom I would argue could potentially pose a challenge to Romney — from a victory. The number of delegates they would lose is mostly irrelevant. Winning Iowa means media, money and momentum — things anyone hoping to wrest control of the nomination from Romney must quickly gain.
This would deprive them of that. And if Mitt Romney were to then go on to win New Hampshire — as he’s expected to — it becomes very unlikely he he could be stopped. (Mathematically, of course, it would be possible, but realistically speaking, it would be very, very difficult.)
(Sure, one can envision a scenario where Gingrich finishes a close second place in Iowa and somehow rebounds to win South Carolina. Or one could imagine Jon Huntsman depriving Romney of a victory in New Hampshire — a possibility which could have huge implications. But these are, for now, at least, remote possibilities.)
My guess, therefore, is that a vote for Ron Paul in Iowa is a vote for Mitt Romney.
Depending on where you stand — this may be a good thing or a bad thing. But I think it is a thing.