Over the last couple of months, I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions that I’m perceiving a certain… lack of enthusiasm… over the GOP presidential nominating process in South Carolina this year.
Today, at the very height of hoopla in that neck of the woods, I see an indication that there is a similar dearth of excitement in Iowa (thanks to Andrew Sullivan for bringing this Philip Klein piece to my attention):
Those following the Iowa caucuses from home, hearing a steady stream of reports such as this about “packed rooms” that are “standing room only” with people still waiting outside, may be getting the impression that there’s a groundswell of enthusiasm for this year’s candidates that will drive turnout for the caucuses to stratospheric levels.
But don’t be fooled. The truth is that the venues candidates are holding events at this year are much smaller than in 2008, back when some candidates were filling large ballrooms or even small arenas. When going into a Barack Obama event in 2008, it wouldn’t be unusual have to get there early and still park a five or 10 minute walk away from the actual rally site, only to come into a massive venue where crowds in the thousands were going wild. Even on the Republican side, Mike Huckabee was filling larger venues.
Yet yesterday, reporters, photograhers and a few actual patrons were packed into a tiny diner at a Mitt Romney event in Atlantic, Iowa. True, later that evening, he attracted hundreds to a town hall-style building in Council Bluffs, but it was still a relatively small venue.
On Saturday, Newt Gingrich squeezed people into a diner in Council Bluffs and a small corner of a Coca Cola bottling factory in Atlantic.
At the same time, the audiences seem a lot more subdued than in 2008 — less shouting and sign waving….
Clever of the candidates’ handlers to make it look like they’re in demand by shrinking the venues. But I’m grateful to hear that this certain lack of vitality is not just a South Carolina phenomenon — and even more importantly, not in my imagination.
The causes? I haven’t sorted that out entirely, but among the causes I suspect are lack of enchantment with the field, an ongoing identity crisis in the GOP (are they about fiscal libertarianism? or is it values? and what happened to a muscular foreign policy?) and a general gut feeling, fairly broadly held, that the incumbent will win in the end.
The table is open to entertain other theories — as well as evidence to the contrary regarding this diminution of enthusiasm.