A radio story interviewed prospective voters in the GOP Iowa caucuses, coming up in a couple of weeks, to answer the breathless question of who would be the Mike Huckabee of 2012–Rick Santorum? Michele Bachmann? Ron Paul? The reporter did not ask why anyone would want to be the Mike Huckabee of 2012.

Huckabee, of course, did not get his party’s nomination in 2008. Nor are Bachmann or Santorum or Paul likely to get it this year, even if one of them wins in Iowa. Caucuses, even more than most primary processes, favor the extremes, and the GOP has seldom gone with its rightmost option. Yet here is the Iowa caucus, threatening to knock out what passes for a centrist in the Republican party in favor of whoever can please right-wing evangelicals the most.

So I went and looked up just how much of a bellwether Iowa has been for the GOP. It’s not impressive, but it’s not bad.  Asterisks indicate the winner of the nomination.

  • 2008 – Mike Huckabee
  • 2004 – George W. Bush*
  • 2000 – George W. Bush*
  • 1996 – Bob Dole*
  • 1992 – George H. W. Bush*
  • 1988 – Bob Dole
  • 1984 – Ronald Reagan*
  • 1980 – George H. W. Bush
  • 1976 – Gerald Ford*

Six out of the last nine Iowa winners won the nomination. But it doesn’t look even that good when you take out the candidates who ran unopposed: Reagan in 1984, George H. W. Bush in 1992, and George W. Bush in 2004.  That leaves six years of contested caucuses, with only three predicting the eventual winner.

  • 2008 – Mike Huckabee
  • 2000 – George W. Bush*
  • 1996 – Bob Dole*
  • 1988 – Bob Dole
  • 1980 – George H. W. Bush
  • 1976 – Gerald Ford*

I don’t think any Republican candidate should lose sleep over losing in Iowa. What we all might lose sleep over is why the party gives so much power to the extremists who can’t get their favorites to win on the national stage. In 2008, John McCain rose to prominence as an honorable moderate (a reputation he subsequently threw away by embracing every crazy idea, not to mention every crazy VP candidate, that came along–he’s scrapped the rest of his principles since, in his determination to oppose anything supported by the man who defeated him). This year, who of that description has survived even to the first primary?

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