It's been a mixed week for Mitt Romney's campaign. On one hand, Romney won Iowa, but on the other, he was endorsed by John McCain.
Until the first actual votes were cast Tuesday night, it appeared as if some elements of the Republican Party were becoming the mirror image of a liberal mob.
The wild swings -- at least in the polls -- from one populist right-winger to another suggested that some Republicans were determined to change the meaning of "conservative" from "normal person who wants to protect what's best in mainstream America" to "perpetually indignant, restless carper against everything, obsessed with symbolic issues, determined to punish the country for its impurities."
Some Republicans, we were led to believe, would only be satisfied with angry denunciations of Obama as a Kenyan colonialist and demands for Barack Obama's birth certificate -- without ever spending five minutes of calm contemplation to see that he had already produced it.
And if there's anyplace for a zealot to shine, it's in a caucus state like Iowa.
But Romney won -- in a razor-close finish with another plausible candidate, Rick Santorum.
The reason the Iowa caucuses rarely produce the party's eventual nominee is not because Iowans are wacky white Christians, as some in the media have claimed, but because caucuses are ridiculous ways to choose a presidential candidate. It is a process that empowers the pushy and loud, much like a Manhattan co-op board meeting, but, unfortunately, not like anything envisioned by our founding fathers.
Instead of arguing for hours in public with partisans in order to cast a ballot, voters are supposed to put on their shoes, fight off the Black Panthers on the way to their precincts, vote in private and go home.
So the fact that the Iowa caucuses avoided giving the gold to Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul or some other sure-to-lose candidate shows that Republicans are dead serious about beating Obama this fall. Even in Iowa, the only Republican with a chance of doing that won.
Conservatives are naturally suspicious of any candidate deemed "electable" on the grounds that the mainstream media always anoint the most liberal Republican, preferably pro-choice, as the "electable" one. And then that guy goes on to lose.
But just because liberals misuse the word doesn't mean there is no such thing as "electable."
Michele Bachmann was not electable as president because she is only a congresswoman, which is why she has now dropped out.
Newt Gingrich is not electable for many reasons including that he, too, was only a congressman; he took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac (his latest excuse is that he got only $35,000 of that money and the rest went to "overhead" -- there's a great fiscal manager); he cut a global warming commercial with Nancy Pelosi; and because he cheated on, not one, but two wives.
Ron Paul is not electable as president for several reasons, including that he is only a congressman, is bad on illegal immigration, favors drug legalization and is off the charts on foreign policy.
(But it would serve the rest of the world right to have Paul running the show for a term or two. Then they'd find out what it's like to be entirely on their own, protecting their own sea and air lanes, digging themselves out of their own earthquakes, getting invaded and nuked by hostile powers, having their computers hacked by terrorists and buying oil from the new Islamic caliphate. After eight years of President Paul, it would be generations before we'd hear a peep of anti-American sentiment again.)
Rick Perry is not electable as president for three reasons: First, he seems too much like Bush; second, he gave illegal immigrants in-state tuition; and, third, uh, oops ... I can't remember the third reason.
As a two-time senator from a light-blue state, Rick Santorum is not as obviously unelectable as the rest. But don't leap too fast, Republicans. Remember how Rick Perry broke your heart.
Santorum is not as conservative as his social-issues credentials suggest. He is more of a Catholic than a conservative, which means he's good on 60 percent of the issues, but bad on others, such as big government social programs. He'd be Ted Kennedy if he didn't believe in God.
Santorum may not be a big spender as far as professional politicians go, but he is still a professional politician. In 2005, one of his former aides described him as "a Catholic missionary who happens to be in the Senate."
The Catholic missionary was fantastic on issues like partial-birth abortion, but more like a Catholic bishop in his support for No Child Left Behind, the Medicare drug entitlement program (now costing taxpayers more than $60 billion a year), and a highway bill with a Christmas tree of earmarks, including the famous "bridge to nowhere."
Santorum cites his father's admonition to put any extra money in the poor box at church to explain his wanting to use the federal government to help the poor.
You get only one or two big issues in a presidential campaign. But in the middle of the second Great Depression, Santorum is on the campaign trail saying, "The reason I ran is 'cause I think people know there is more than just a little narrow issue called 'jobs.'"
This is going to be a tough election, and a man with the presence of Rick Lazio is not the strongest candidate to send in against Obama. Santorum is more assistant-manager type than presidential material.
So it was a relief to see that when the first votes in the Republican primary were actually cast -- even in a caucus system ideal for zealots, fanatics and mobs -- reason prevailed. Romney won.
Not a professional politician, Romney has created a lot of jobs and also knows how to fire people, something heretofore untried in the federal workforce, except briefly by Reagan.
Having spent his life turning around companies in the private sector and not sitting on some Senate committee spending money, he'll get to Washington and be as shocked as the rest of us are at how taxpayer money is wasted even by conservative senators like Santorum.
Iowa shows that Republicans are still the party of normal people -- normal people who are determined to defeat Obama.