The PJ Tatler

What If?... Might Haunt Santorum Campaign

Historian Niall Ferguson edited an intriguing collection of essays from professional historians on some of the great “What Ifs” of history. Titled Virtual History, the essays dealt with what is popularly known as “alternative history” but which many academics refer to as “counterfactuals,” positing a different historical timeline by the alteration of one or two events. In that spirit, it might be fun to look at the Santorum campaign, now mired in a distant 4th place in South Carolina in the polls and take in the news out of Iowa today that the certified vote totals from the caucuses have given him a slim victory.

What if Rick Santorum had been declared the winner of the Iowa Caucuses on January 3 instead of January 19?

Would New Hampershites have looked at him a little differently if he had won Iowa? Perceptions are hard to predict and damn near impossible to gauge from the distance of time. But a more interesting counterfactual question would be what would have been the perception going forward for Mitt Romney without a clear win in Iowa? How about a week of press coverage that drummed into the electorate that Mitt underperformed and didn’t meet expectations? Romney lost 8 points of support in between Iowa and New Hampshire. Would his drop have been more precipitous?

But if Santorum had made a slightly bigger splash in New Hampshire, would that have given him more momentum going forward — especially if Mitt had been damaged coming out of the Granite State primary? Two underwhelming performances by the frontrunner might have made it a wide open race.

So the ultimate question is — would the flavor of the race have been altered if Santorum had taken Iowa 2 weeks ago rather than declared the winner today?

The fun thing about this parlor game is that everyone can play, and everyone has a different answer.