The Ames Straw Poll, which actually has some predictive value, gave noninterventionists some reasons to smile. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas placed second with 28 percent, just behind Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (29 percent). After finishing third with 14 percent, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who may well have been the most neoconservative candidate in the race, quit. Sadly, he was immediately replaced by his “less boring clone,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who achieved 4 percent with write-in votes.
The two worst of the other candidates, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, finished with 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively. Among the moderately atrocious, businessman Herman Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also combined for 12 percent. Not-entirely-wretched former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman got 1 percent. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson did not participate.
As I noted last week, Bachmann has infuriated some of the right people by being less than reflexively bellicose. Whether her deviation on Libya reflects mere opportunism or nascent realism is hard to say, though her reported coziness with Frank Gaffney makes me shudder. Still, if we place Bachmann in the center of this nonet, with Paul, Huntsman, Romney, and Cain to the less-Gaffneyesque side and Gingrich, Santorum, Pawlenty, and Perry to the other, we get 41 percent for the former set and 30 percent for the latter. In the 2007 straw poll, Paul was the only candidate who wasn’t running on a Bush-Cheney foreign policy, and he received only 9 percent of the vote. The winner that year, Mitt Romney 1.0, was much more belligerent than either Mitt Romney 2.0 or Michele Bachmann has been so far. Maybe even the Republican base is inching our way.