The Iowa caucuses: Where Santortum surged, and Rachel Maddow and Sarah Palin found (a little) common ground

For most of the prime time hours Tuesday night, the Iowa caucuses were an endlessly varied repetitions of “it’s too close to call” and “it’s a three-way race between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul.” And that’s the way it went until Romney very narrowly defeated Santorum very late into the night. Nevertheless, the TV coverage yielded some interesting moments of contrast-and-compare, of stylistic tics, twists, and turns.

Rachel Maddow, leading the charge for much of the night on MSNBC, put forward the provocative notion that Ron Paul probably doesn’t want to influence Mitt Romney’s platform, but rather, that he’s “in it to make sure that Mitt Romney isn’t the nominee.” And Sarah Palin’s comment, delivered on Fox News, that “Ron Paul understands that we are war-weary and we are broke” may have been the first and only time Maddow’s ideas have dovetailed with those of Sarah Palin.

As usual, CNN tried to contain its stylistic split: On the one hand, the jargon-free straightforwardness of anchor Anderson Cooper; on the other, the multiscreen, color-coded, giant iPhone-like tapping stat-totaling led by John King. King has apparently found a convert in new-ish CNN host Erin Burnett, who was busy slapping and swiping her hands across screens to show us percentage totals that the other channels were mostly leaving to bottom-of-the-screen numbers.

Fox News Channel, its Decision Desk manned by Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly, kept teasing its ace in the hole, its red meat for its base: an interview with Sarah Palin, deployed by FNC for her “analysis” of the caucus. I put “analysis” in quotes because when Palin finally loomed into view from Wasilla, she said, “I have openly supported all of the candidates in what they’re preachin’ … because they would all be better than Barack Obama.” “We concerned independent patriots … cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. We cannot afford any more of him.” Palin is an official Fox News contributor, yet it’s become comical the way the channel exerts no influence over her. They’ve been trying for weeks, in numerous interviews on various Fox News shows, to get her to commit to one Republican candidate, and she always declines. On Tuesday night, Baier tried sucking up — “You have a lot of power” — in asking the same question, to no avail.

Born-and-raised-in-Iowa candidate Michelle Bachmann collapsed in the count, cushioned only by the dead-last Jon Huntsman.

Newt Gingrich? He had dominated the pre-prime-time news cycle with his attacks on Romney as a “liar” about the latter’s conservative record and his rebuke of the apparently quite effective, highly expensive attack TV ads funded by a Romney PAC. But during the counting of the votes, Gingrich faded from the media conversation pretty quickly.

Jon Stewart cheerfully admitted that he was “broadcasting from the past” — i.e., his show taped around 6 p.m. EST, before the results were being tallied. But while he failed to presage the Santorum surge, merely ridiculing its possibility, he did coin the best term for the Mitt fling: “Romspringa.”

Twitter: @kentucker


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