Iowa: The Day After

Nate Silver is always worth reading, even when you have to endure the New York Times‘s bizarre house style for referring to candidates to do it. Here’s the first sentence, in which Nate is permitted to refer to Romney in a normal way, presumably because it’s the first mention:

If the early primaries are mostly about expectations, Mitt Romney has to be feeling pretty good this morning. Sure, his first-place finish is so close as to remain almost provisional, but the real danger going into the caucuses was that his support was soft enough that he’d wind up placing third behind Paul and Santorum, and possibly even worse had Gingrich’s support not already plummeted.

BJ Bjornson at Newshoggers:

If the early primaries are mostly about expectations, Mitt Romney has to be feeling pretty good this morning. Sure, his first-place finish is so close as to remain almost provisional, but the real danger going into the caucuses was that his support was soft enough that he’d wind up placing third behind Paul and Santorum, and possibly even worse had Gingrich’s support not already plummeted.

Here is Feministing’s take on Santorum’s surge and the closeness of the results:

In some ways, Romney and Santorum represent the two poles of the Republican spectrum. While it’s probably unlikely we’ll see more surging Santorum, he can at least position himself as coming at Romney from behind. But voters did not express a clear preference in Iowa’s messy, over hyped caucus.

Michele Bachmann, who declined to say anything about leaving the race last night, despite her dead last finish, today did the sensible thing and announced that she was “suspending” her campaign:

Rep. Michele Bachmann suspended her presidential campaign after placing sixth in Tuesday’s Iowa Republican caucuses, she announced today.

“Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside,” Bachmann said at a news conference, flanked by her parents, husband and five children. “I have no regrets, none whatsoever. We never compromised our principles and we can leave this race knowing we ran it with the utmost integrity.”

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman have one of those lengthy feature articles that seem daunting at first glance but are well worth the time it takes to read. This one, in Vanity Fair, is a six-screen examination of “The Meaning of Mitt,” and it really is a must-read. Two aspects of Romney’s character that are easy to see as admirable — his devotion to his wife, Ann, and his unflappable coolness in a crisis — are somewhat less so when you see them close up:

To Mitt, the special one in the house was Ann, with her wide smile, piercing eyes, and steadying domestic presence. And woe was the boy who forgot it. Tagg said there was one rule that was simply not breakable: “We were not allowed to say anything negative about my mother, talk back to her, do anything that would not be respectful of her.” On Mother’s Day, their home would be fragrant with lilacs, Ann’s favorite flowers. Tagg didn’t get it back then, but he came to understand. From the beginning, Mitt had put Ann on a pedestal and kept her there. “When they were dating,” Tagg said, “he felt like she was way better than him and he was really lucky to have this catch. He really genuinely still feels that way.” What makes his parents’ relationship work, he said, is their distinct characters: Mitt is driven first by reason, while Ann operates more on emotion. “She helps him see there’s stuff beyond the logic; he helps her see that there’s more than just instinct and feeling,” Tagg said. Mitt and Ann’s relationship would grow and change as their family entered the public eye. But she has remained his chief counselor and confidante, the one person who can lead Mitt to a final decision. Though she did not necessarily offer detailed input on every business deal, friends said, she weighed in on just about everything else. “Mitt’s not going to do something that they don’t feel good about together,” said Mitt’s sister Jane. Tagg said they called their mom “the great Mitt stabilizer.” Ann would later be mocked for her claim that she and Mitt had never had an argument during their marriage, which sounded preposterous to the ears of many married mortals. Tagg said it’s not that his parents never disagree. “I know there are things that she says that he doesn’t agree with sometimes, and I see him kind of bite his tongue. But I know that they go and discuss it in private. He doesn’t ever contradict my mother in public.” Friends of the Romneys’ back up that account, saying they cannot recall Mitt ever raising his voice toward Ann. Nowhere was Ann’s special status more evident than on long family car trips. Mitt imposed strict rules: they would stop only for gas, and that was the only chance to get food or use the restroom. With one exception, Tagg explained. “As soon as my mom says, ‘I think I need to go to the bathroom,’ he pulls over instantly and doesn’t complain. ‘Anything for you, Ann.’” On one infamous road trip, though, it wasn’t Ann who forced Mitt off the highway. The destination of this journey, in the summer of 1983, was his parents’ cottage, on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. The white Chevy station wagon with the wood paneling was overstuffed with suitcases, supplies, and sons when Mitt climbed behind the wheel to begin the 12-hour family trek from Boston to Ontario. As with most ventures in his life, he had left little to chance, mapping out the route and planning each stop. Before beginning the drive, Mitt put Seamus, the family’s hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon’s roof rack. He had improvised a windshield for the carrier to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

Then Mitt put his sons on notice: there would be pre-determined stops for gas, and that was it. Tagg was commandeering the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, when he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. “Dad!” he yelled. “Gross!” A brown liquid was dripping down the rear window, payback from an Irish setter who’d been riding on the roof in the wind for hours. As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Mitt coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the road with the dog still on the roof. It was a preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management. But the story would trail him years later on the national political stage, where the name Seamus would become shorthand for Romney’s coldly clinical approach to problem solving.

Romney’s treatment of the family dog created a firestorm of outrage at the time it came out, and may come back to haunt him. And justifiably so. But I am also put off by the way he treats his wife in relation to his children. He takes it to such an extreme that he elevates and privileges her needs and her feelings over theirs. That kind of blind, single-minded worshipful attitude — as though she were not just his much-loved wife, but actually some kind of superior being — is, in my view, a bit chilling.

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