Michele Bachmann's star fell, and not on Alabama, but she was treated fairly and wasn't patronized as "a woman candidate." That's progress for Republicans. A lot of Iowans found Ron Paul's libertarian domestic policy rhetoric refreshing, but he was exposed for tolerating a hint of racism and anti-Semitism among some of his followers in the past, and his anachronistic isolationism was exposed as both dangerous and dumb. He quotes Thomas Jefferson, but Tom, he never knew ye.
Rick Santorum's knowledge of foreign policy contrasted sharply with Paul's nonsense and deepened the debate over the Middle East. Santorum finally got the attention he craved by his second-place finish in Iowa. He complained that he was neglected in the debates, and now he'll get the magnified scrutiny he may not like so much after all. His biography is moving, but his appetite for government pork renders him a glutton in mean and lean times. He calls his 18-point loss to Bob Casey in 2006 as bad luck in a bad political year, but there may be more here than an example of bad timing.
And that leaves Mitt Romney. If conservatives are dragged kicking and screaming into his camp, they may be learning that it's no time to revel in ideological purity and re-elect by default a president they, to put in mildly, don't particularly like. Romney has the fiscal conservatives behind him, and he has his sails trimmed for the social conservatives. He painted just the right tones to his closing television commercials in Iowa, a determined attempt to rise above petty party politics. He urged Americans to return to the principles every immigrant felt with his first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. This was the land of freedom, opportunity and hope for new Americans, "that in America their children would have a better life."
An election, after all, is more than a race for horses.