COHEN: Winning in Iowa, losing in America

"The problem with the Republican Party is Republicans." This quote is taken not from the recent report of a Republican task force but from the mind of yours truly. It is, however, the message of the 97-page "Growth & Opportunity Project" report, which urges the party to get with the program (the 21st century) on gays, immigration, corporate greed and even same-sex marriage. The report was written by five important moderate Republicans who would like the GOP to be more like themselves. It ain't going to happen.

Missing from the report are any critical words about the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. These are the early contests where, if past is prologue, the presidential candidates of the future will take positions pleasing to the ears of extraordinarily conservative and religious voters.<WC>

<WC1>They will call for a roundup of illegal Hispanics immigrants, condemn same-sex marriage, sing hosannas to local control of the schools, denounce the federal government in all its varied forms, promise to die for ethanol, lament the absence of God from the schools, utter cockamamie warnings about vaccinations, vow to eradicate Planned Parenthood from planet Earth, rail against foreign aid, the United Nations, the mainstream press, the teaching of evolution and, for good measure, the mainstream press again.<WC>

<WC1>Whoever does this best might win the first two contests.

The report confronts this problem by denying it exists. While the authors want regional primaries and a truncated nominating process — so as to have an earlier nominating convention — they bow before what they call the "carve-out" states that have individual and early elections.

"It remains important to have an <WC>'<WC1>on ramp' of small states that hold unique primary days before the primary season turns into a multistate process with many states voting on one day," the report says. "The idea of a little-known candidate having a fair chance remains important." In other words, New Hampshire and Iowa.

This would be nice and warmly traditional if these two states were representative of the Republican Party as a whole. But they are not. They are far to the right<WC>,<WC1> and the candidates who do best there often do poorly thereafter.<WC>

<WC1>Presidential hopefuls spend months in those states and, because Iowa is the first contest, it gets a hugely disproportionate share of the news coverage — what seems like an event (debates, etc.) a week, starting with the preposterous Ames Straw Poll, won last time by the highly incompetent Michele Bachmann.

Rudy Giuliani, a moderate who thought in 2008 that he could bypass Iowa, found out the hard way he could not. By Florida, where he had intended to make his stand, he was already an also-ran.<WC>

<WC1>In 2012, Mitt Romney, an erstwhile moderate, was not going to make that mistake. He jettisoned his positions and his principles somewhere around Keokuk. It worked. He (almost) won Iowa but, in the fall, lost the rest of the nation.<WC>

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