In the beauty contest that was the GOP's Iowa caucuses — the winner is not actually guaranteed any delegates — Mitt Romney eked out a post-midnight, eight vote "victory" over Rick Santorum, a man most famous for equating homosexuality to "man on dog" sex.
This is an embarrassing state of affairs for Romney, who outspent Santorum by nearly $4 million. And it's the culmination of a clownish early primary campaign that's seen 3 out of 4 GOP voters desperate for anyone-but-Mitt.
Indeed, for all of the Warholian drama, in which everyone from Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to Ron Paul has been a frontrunner for 15 minutes, the one constant in Iowa and the GOP race nationally has been Mitt Romney's inability to crack 30 percent support.
Call it The Romney Ceiling. And its durability nearly led to an astonishing victory in Iowa by the raging mysogynist, racist, Islamophobe, and gay baiter Santorum — who was last seen on the national stage getting trounced by 18 points in his failed 2006 senate reelection bid in Pennsylvania.
Rick Santorum is the bottom of the GOP's not-Mitt barrel — a C-Lister par excellence. Yet he lost to one of the best funded candidates in the history of politics by a mere eight votes.
It seems impossible that the detestable, unvetted Santorum won't crash and burn in the coming days as the media dredge up his inflammatory declarations denigrating women, blacks, gays, and Muslims. This is after all a man who described Catholic priests' abuse of altar boys as "sexual relations with post-pubescent men.... We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship."
But it's equally difficult to see where Romney goes after the contest in his vacation-home state of New Hampshire. Rick Perry appeared to drop out of the race last night; his supporters aren't going to Romney in South Carolina. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich used his airtime yesterday to bash Romney as a "liar" whose track record as a governor suggests he's "pretty good at managing the decay" — making the former Speaker the insurgent leader of the GOP's Party Unity My Ass faction. After a strong third-place showing in Iowa, Ron Paul may yet be a spoiler.
By all rights, Mitt Romney should be on a glide path to the nomination today. But at this moment, his candidacy seems equally likely to spark a fratricidal war inside the GOP — one that could even spill over into a third-party bid.
They say that Democrats fall in love with their candidates, while Republicans fall in line. That narrative is busted in 2o12.