Since the usually erudite pundits have been so totally clueless as to what is going to happen at the Iowa caucuses, I will tell them.
Granted, Rush Limbaugh, Arianna Huffington, Sean Hannity, and all the others have been operating under historical precedence. For the last four or five decades, the old party insiders and bosses have decided the field of candidates, then various polls told us voters who the leaders were, and, after endless punditry, fund raisers, and scintillating news releases, we dutifully chose our party candidates in caucuses and primaries. The problem with this, however, is that pesky little phrase one sees on stock market advertisements, "past performance is no guarantee of future gains."
As a trained historian, I have always been amazed at instances in history where highly improbable events did indeed happen – with profound impact and consequences for all involved. Had Rush or Arianna or Sean been commentating on the course of my own state of Texas' struggle for independence, no doubt they wouldn't have given a plug nickel for success after the fall of the Alamo. The well-equipped armies of Santa Anna were chasing the remnants of ragtag Texian resistance completely out of the territory. But no one reckoned with the feisty Sam Houston who, with his followers backed up against a river and no chance of further retreat, counter-attacked Santa Anna as he dallied with Emily Morgan (the legendary Yellow Rose of Texas) in his tent, and achieved one of the greatest victories in the history of warfare. Greatest precisely because it so defied probability, "conventional wisdom," and had such profound consequences.
And so it will be in Iowa. But rather than accepting or rejecting this as just another blustery attempt at wishful thinking, indulge me for a few minutes as I give my rational and math.
First, Ron Paul is running as a republican in a state where the base is disenchanted with those they have sent to office. They are unhappy with the war in Iraq, baffled at the massive increase in the size and scope of government, and especially perplexed at the President's unwillingness to defend our borders.
Second, according to conventional polling, the republican base in Iowa doesn't really prefer any one candidate and feel most have serious flaws of one sort or another. Whether Rudy's lack of morals, Mitt's lack of a backbone, Fred's comatose arrogance, John's acid temper, or Mike's specter of universal alter calls, all of them leave a slight foul aftertaste in the back of one's mouth.
Third, any Iowan can register as a republican – right up to walking in to the local precinct caucus on January 3rd. Coupled with this, democrats nationwide and in Iowa are not happy with their congressional representative's (read Hillary and Barack) failure to end the war in Iraq.
Keeping these three factors in mind, consider the math behind Dr. Paul's impending victory.
In the 2000 presidential campaign, some 87,666 Iowa republicans caucused in 2,114 precincts (99% of the total as per www.gwu.edu). This is an average of slightly under forty-two attendees per caucus site. Let us assume that these same people would normally attend the caucuses on January 3rd. However, applying my first point, unhappy voters are less inclined to spend several hours of their free time to participate in a process that seems to have been less than satisfactory in the past. If ten percent stay home, that will bring our average attendance to thirty-eight. Now, applying my second point and one of the more reliable pollsters (Rasmussen Iowa poll of December 17th), lets say that eleven (28%) of those thirty-eight cast their ballot for Mike Huckabee, ten (27%) cast for Mitt Romney, five (14%) cast for John McCain, three (8%) cast for Rudy Giuliani, three (8%) cast for Fred Thompson, and two (6%) cast their votes for Ron Paul. Conventional wisdom (and most likely our pundits) would say that Dr. Paul is a surefire loser.
But the last factor trumps all. Most political commentators are in agreement that Ron Paul supporters are engaged, organized, computer literate, and on fire with zeal. Volunteers across the nation are donating a week of their vacations to walk the streets and roads of Iowa to canvas votes for Dr. Paul. If one clicks on Ron Paul's official website, he or she will find very detailed instructions on how to participate in an Iowa precinct caucus as well as tips on dealing with the old party faithful. Trust me – almost all Ron Paul supporters are intimately familiar with this. By many accounts, Dr. Paul's most ardent supporters are young, energetic, and new to the political process. By definition then, these individuals would not be included in Mr. Rasmussen's polling data, so any that show up would be in addition to the thirty-eight at our hypothetical average precinct. It is plausible to expect half a dozen of these new voters to brave whatever the Iowa winter throws at them in their quest to vote for Dr. Paul. In addition, many lifelong democrats are rallying to Ron Paul's message and, because of the registration rules, can easily walk in the doors of republican precincts, register as republicans, and vote for Dr. Paul. Judging by their comments in the blogosphere, I don't think it unreasonable to expect another four disgruntled democrats to be at each of our average precincts. These ten new voters and the older two give Dr. Paul twelve votes – and first place.So there it is. Someone once said all politics is local, and these local political processes will hand Ron Paul his first improbable victory on the way to the nomination and the White House.