Ron Paul

As GOP chaos continues in Iowa, talk of an upset is increasingly focused on one very unlikely candidate: Ron Paul, the libertarian Congressman with a devoted (and notoriously weird) Internet following. Paul’s positions on any number of issues are well outside the Republican mainstream, so even if he does manage to shake up the Iowa caucuses, he still has virtually no chance of winning the GOP nomination. But how helpful could this Internet following be? According to a 2008 article in Technology Review by David Talbot, Paul’s Internet fan club is a potent but somewhat unfocused force.

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A few days ago I saw Rick Tyler, the ex-Gingrich spokesman who joined a mass resignation from the former speaker’s campaign this summer, on MSNBC looking positively repentant.

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Over the next three weeks, the heat-to-light ratio in the press coverage of the Iowa caucuses will rise steadily. Here are a few basics to keep in mind. 1. Iowa is a flawed leading indicator, especially for Republicans. Of the past five contests without an incumbent Republican president, the Iowa winner has gone on to receive the nomination only twice—in 1996 (Dole) and 2000 (George W. Bush). On the other hand, Iowa typically winnows the field and seems likely to do so again.

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[with contributions from Matt O'Brien and Darius Tahir] At this point, Newt Gingrich's odds of winning the Iowa caucuses are about one in two, Ron Paul's a little better than one in four, and Mitt Romney's about one in ten. That's according to Nate Silver, who has just published is preparing his first official projection for the caucuses. On his New York Times blog, FiveThirtyEight, he explains the formula he'll be using and, in so doing, gives the "win probability" for each candidate -- at least as of this moment. But that's a big caveat. Nate cautions that the race remains very fluid.

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In the lead up to voting in the presidential nominating contest, the only thing that reliably rivals the scrutiny received by Iowa is the disparagement expressed against the tyranny of the Great Corn Idol. With its unrepresentative electorate, its peculiar demands on candidates, and its odd procedures for making its preferences manifest, the Iowa caucuses have been singled out by many as an ill-conceived ritual whose time is long past.

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[with contributions from Matt O’Brien and Darius Tahir] Today’s New York Times article about Newt Gingrich’s efforts to promote and assist various health care companies is likely just the first in a series of stories documenting the former speaker's innovative blending of politics and profit. It’s also the first serious test of whether Gingrich, now the leading challenger to Mitt Romney, can do something his predecessors in that role could not: Keep the popularity surge going. Plenty of very smart people, TNR colleagues among them, think he can’t.

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Rule of Three

The two most salient facts about Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy as the January primaries approach are that he is always first or second in the polls and that his support is stuck at about 25 percent. It’s premature to call Romney the presumptive nominee before any votes are cast, but this year’s Republican field is so weak that alternative outcomes are pretty hard to imagine. Yet the GOP base remains wary of Romney because of his moderate record in Massachusetts and the extreme pliability of his political views.

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[Guest post by Simon van Zuylen-Wood] Yesterday in this space, Alec MacGillis argued the GOP field is such a pitiful morass of second bananas, we should scrap the primaries altogether. He makes a compelling point: Herman Cain is on the brink of implosion and Rick Perry is back in the gutter after Oopsgate. Republican voters will soon have cycled through a full third of the field in search of a viable non-Romney, only to witness each candidate flame out. Well, what about Jon Huntsman, deemed Obama’s most worthy opponent by the paper of record?

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Rick Perry’s “Oops” on Wednesday joined the small canon of legendary phrases from presidential debates, right up there with “You’re no Jack Kennedy.” His inability to remember one of the three government agencies he would promise to eliminate as president, together with his smirking indifference to whether it even mattered, was probably the final moment of a candidacy that was already doomed by his lack of preparation for the national stage. But does it matter?

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After last night’s spectacle, the American public—or at the least, American pundits—would be forgiven for demanding (or whimpering for) an end to the litany of Republican debates. After all, they’re unedifying, agonizing, somewhat grotesque, and offer little of substance aside from a terrifying glimpse into the dark, pitiless recesses of the Republican soul.  All of that is clear enough. But allow for a modest proposal: Rather than fewer debates, what we need is more. Many more.

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