JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 10, 2011
The campaign press seems to have decided that Tim Pawlenty has to win the Iowa straw poll:
As the only mainstream Republican candidate actively competing in the Ames straw poll — thanks to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s decision to skip the event and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential race slow walk — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty may never have a better opportunity to break through in the 2012 campaign than this Saturday. ...
With so much firepower behind Pawlenty and so few candidates who have a plausible chance at coming out ahead, Hawkeye State politicos say Ames will be a potentially campaign-changing test of the Minnesotan’s strength.
But if Pawlenty fails to deliver, it will be a grim — and possibly fatal — omen for his underfunded presidential bid.
But... but... why? The Iowa straw poll is not a "test of strength." It's not a test of anything. It's a racket to raise money for the Iowa GOP. It's not democratic. It's not predictive. It's just a sideshow.
The only logic here is the completely self-fulfilling prophesy in which reporters semi-arbitrarily define expectations, even for non-events, and then decide that if a candidate doesn't make it, they can begin hounding him out of the race. They're not thinking of themselves as hounding candidates out of the race. They just decide that the only interesting thing to ask the candidate is some version of the question "When will you quit?" At that point, the candidate's public message becomes "I am going to lose" and defeat becomes inevitable.
Now, something like this dynamic may be necessary during actual primaries and caucuses where delegates are being awarded. But the straw poll is a pure contrivance. Reporters often present it as an event that winnows the field, but the truth is that it's simply an excuse for reporters to winnow the field.