All of these positions reflect legitimate arguments about policy and "the way things ought to be." But as we look to New Hampshire, and begin making predictions about how Granite Staters will vote, it's important to note that what matters most is what they care about -- not what we care about. And believe me when I tell you that voters in Iowa -- and New Hampshire -- often are quite different from voters in other states (let alone from opinion leaders in big cities).
Case in point: When I was in New Hampshire this Spring, I interviewed at least a dozen Granite Staters who attended a John McCain Town Hall meeting. I also heard McCain answer dozens of questions from various Town Hall audiences. Not a single person asked John McCain about campaign finance reform. To me, that says something. The issue if vitally important to me -- but not to the people who matter the most on Tuesday.
Too often, political writers and observers confuse what they want to happen with what will happen. When I write about whether or not you should vote for John McCain, I will mention his position on that issue as a negative. But when I write an analysis about whether or not McCain will win New Hampshire, I won't be mentioning that issue. This should not be construed as an endorsement of his position -- but as a realization that my opinion shouldn't factor into an analysis of who will win or lose ...
With some exceptions, of course, Mitt Romney has become the candidate of the conservative panjandrum. These conservative opinion leaders too often look for ways to prove Mitt Romney will win, because they really hope he will win. They must think Iowans were naive or uninformed for voting for Mike Huckabee. But they had the power on Thursday night -- not you or me.
So how did this disconnect happen?
Once the media was so dominated by liberals that, by definition, conservative writers were anti-establishment. Today, that's not the case. Conservative pundits who live in New York, Washington, DC, or, for that matter, California, will make vastly different conclusions than will voters living in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.
It used to be that the liberals were the ones disconnected from the voters. For years, liberals were always surprised when Republicans like George W. Bush won the presidency. "I don't know a single person who voted for Bush," they would honestly say. They were right; few of their friends who attend cocktail parties in Georgetown or Chelsea voted for George W. Bush. And if what we see is what we believe, it was only logical that they assumed John Kerry would win in a landslide -- after all, all their friends voted for him.
Sadly, the same sort of thing has happened to the conservative movement. Mind you, this insular nature is fine for someone who wants to write policy posltion papers -- but it's deadly for anyone in the political prognostication business. As Dick Morris once wisely said, "the hardest thing in politics is to be an insider, but think like an outsider." He was right; the best analysts will be thinking like a Granite Stater -- not like a conservative bon vivant.
And while many conservative writers seem to like Mitt Romney, my guess is that Granite Staters will like John McCain's style more. Maybe I will be wrong, but that's my bet today ...