The three-headed Republican Party emerges from Iowa

The establishment, the traditional conservative/evangelical and the libertarian wings of the Republican Party faced off in Iowa last night, and after all was said and done, it was a draw.
 
While the focus has been on the individual candidates — their misstatements, momentum and money — the real story is that the three factions within the Republican Party appear to have chosen their candidates to compete in New Hampshire and beyond.
 
While Mitt Romney has spent the better part of the past year trying to live down the front-runner label, Iowa shows that with all the ups and downs of the candidates around him, his base has barely grown as the libertarian-oriented Republicans cling to Dr. Ron Paul and the evangelical/Reagan Republicans have found Rick Santorum as their last man standing.
 
The bad news is that about 75 percent of the Iowa Republican caucus-goers chose someone other than Romney as the first choice.
 
The really bad news for Romney is that those same Republicans have worked their way through Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich before looking at Santorum, who has found his voice in articulating the choices America faces in this election.
 
This does not mean that Romney cannot win over the Tea Party Republicans for a general-election run, it just means that he does not have, at this moment, a lot of rhetorical wiggle room, due to the deep concerns about his philosophical agreement with the base conservative voter.
 
The good news for Santorum is that a money spigot is likely to be turned on, and he is the most likely beneficiary of voters who are desperately seeking a Romney alternative. Should candidates, other than Huntsman, withdraw, their votes are highly likely to go disproportionately to Santorum, with the remainder going to Paul. Of course, Santorum’s late emergence may well mean that he finds himself on the outside looking in for a number of primaries, including the one in Virginia.
 
That may explain Romney’s day-of-the-caucus pitch opposing European bailouts in tough, no-nonsense terms — the issue plays overwhelming with likely Republican voters who identify with the Tea Party movement.
 
And if there is one overriding message from the 2012 Iowa caucus, it is that the same three diverse perspectives that battled for supremacy within the GOP way back when I was the executive vice president of the California College Republicans in 1979 remain alive and well today. While getting these factions to work together is never easy, in 2012, the Republican nominee will have a lot of help from the one man who will unite the party — Barack Hussein Obama.
 
Newt Note: While Newt is certainly not out of it, no candidate could have been hurt more by the failure to get on the Republican ballot in Virginia than the former Speaker.  Gingrich’s appeal is brilliant competence, and Republican voters were willing to overlook Newt’s well-known personal challenges in exchange for someone who was smart enough to get through the logjam in D.C. and save the country from economic ruin.
 
Unfortunately, the mantle of competence went out the window when Newt failed to qualify delegates for a number of state ballots, and voters felt they were left with just another college-professor lecturer — a seeming replication of the experiment that has gone terribly awry in the past four years.
 

Rick Manning (@rmanning957) is the communications director of Americans for Limited Government.