Michele Bachmann

Santorum and Pawlenty supported confrontation with Iran. Yet both together did not come close to matching Paul’s vote tally.

The warfare state is now on the chopping block, thanks to the principled relentlessness of Ron Paul. And the GOP may soon become a house divided, for the anti-interventionists—after Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya—are stronger than they were in 1999, when the GOP House opposed Clinton’s war on Serbia.

The entry into the race of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, the only mega-state that is reliably Republican in presidential elections, has produced another front-tier candidate and complicated the strategic plans of Mitt Romney.

Had Perry not gotten in, Romney might have held to his decision not to make a huge investment in Iowa, let Bachmann or Paul win the state, and then dispatch them in New Hampshire and go on to rout them in a 50-state battle, for which he is better-resourced than any other candidate. Today he faces a new situation.

With Perry going into Iowa, the caucuses, from Christmas on, will rivet the nation’s attention. If Romney is not there, he will be ignored for that month. And should Perry win Iowa, he would storm into New Hampshire and conceivably overwhelm Romney in his fortress state.

If he did, it would be all over for Mitt. For no GOP candidate ever has lost both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and won the nomination.

Should Bachmann prove to be a giant killer and defeat Perry in Iowa, she would be a formidable rival to Mitt in New Hampshire and a favorite to beat him in South Carolina.

There are two questions Mitt should be asking himself:

“Can I afford to cede Iowa to a tea party-values candidate like Perry or Bachmann and wait for them in New Hampshire? Can I take five months of pounding for ‘writing off Iowa’ and refusing to get out of my backyard and do battle in Middle America?”

Yet the entry of Perry and straw poll are not all bad news for Mitt. Pawlenty, who appealed to the same Republicans, is gone. And still in Iowa are Bachmann, Paul, Santorum and Perry, all of whom will be competing for the same social conservative-tea party base.

Which leaves a huge opening for Mitt.

Does he head for Iowa, confront Bachmann and Perry, and win, in which case he is the nominee? Or does he wait for Bachmann or Perry to come into New Hampshire on the momentum of an Iowa victory and try to stop them there?

Upon Mitt’s decision may hang his five-year investment in winning the office his father failed to win.



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