Five Things We Learned from Iowa

1. Negative campaigning works. Let's see if we can spot a pattern here. Rick Perry rose up to take a lead over Mitt Romney, only to get smeared by a nasty piece of Washington Post work about a rock in West Texas. Herman Cain rose up to take a lead over Mitt Romney, only to get pasted with accusations of sexual misconduct. Newt Gingrich rose up to take a lead over Mitt Romney, but got hammered after the world learned about his work as a "historian" for Freddie Mac. And in Iowa, Romney-allied super PACs pounded Gingrich with millions of dollars of negative ads, pushing him into a poll free fall from which he did not recover in time to do well in Iowa. Meanwhile, candidates who until very recently never posed a threat to Romney never got much scrutiny. There's no Scooby Doo mystery here. Romney's core team are veterans of national campaigns and experienced at Beltway knife fights. Negative campaigning works, and the most effective negative campaigning is the kind that leaves no fingerprints. Let's hope they intend to be even more aggressive against Obama than they have been so far in the primary. The media won't help them out the way it has in going after Republicans.

2. The rules of campaigning have changed. In the past you needed money, manpower and message to compete, prety much in equal terms. Without all of those three you weren't a serious candidate. That began to change with Mike Huckabee's Iowa win in 2008, and the change has been completed now. Message is now magnified, money is secondary and manpower is in third. The 13 debates plus YouTube and social media plus the multi-layered 24/7 news cycle have all ripped up the old rules. You still have to have a ground game, you still have to raise money and you still have to have a message, but you also have to account for the new reality. It's easier for candidates to forage off earned media and go viral, obtaining coverage across the networks and blogs and social media that would cost millions of dollars if you had to buy it. This may mean that the mainstream media is actually more powerful than it was in years past, despite the fact that its overall reputation has declined.

3. We're pretty shallow after all. All the governor's horses and all the governor's men could not put things back together again, once Gov. Perry uttered the "heartless" remark. We're petty and shallow when it comes to politics. We want someone who looks good, speaks smoothly and woos our psyches. Or, we want to be able to tell ourselves that we have become a part of something revolutionary. This isn't really new, people have always sought after the shiny new thing, but it is magnified now in the age of incessant image bombardment and status. Candidates' actual records in office mean a whole lot less than how a candidate makes us feel. Advantage: Obama.