Mitt Romney makes his victory speech, with his perfect family alongside. (Photo: Jim Wilson/NYT)
What did they tell us? I think they told us that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee.
It may only have been by 8 votes (8 votes!) and it may have been with the lowest percentage (24.6%) of any GOP Iowa winner for, oh, ever, but Romney has ground out a victory in a state where, up until a couple of months ago, few thought he would even be competitive.
Much of the coverage and all of the excitement today is around Rick Santorum, who won a fine reward after a year of dogged pursuit from the back of the pack (to flesh out your impression of Santorum a little read this by David Brooks; also, every time you hear him being described as an 'Evangelical Christian' in the British media, shout CATHOLIC with me).
But Santorum is really another sideshow surge, in the tradition of Perry, Cain, and Gingrich; he just happened to surge at the right time. In short order he will follow the trajectory they have established, cresting, sliding and eventually falling out. He hasn't been under real heat yet. He will get some now, from the press, and from the Romney machine. I think he will melt. Romney has vastly more money, organisation and establishment support. He put them to excellent use in Iowa, as Gingrich knows, to his chagrin. Santorum is no Obama '08. He's not even Huckabee.
Meanwhile, Romney has knocked out his other opponents. Rick Perry has already intimated, probably with some relief, that he's headed back to Texas for good. Ron Paul missed his biggest chance to make a real impact on the race. Bachmann is done. Gingrich is staying in but is fatally wounded (as one commentator remarked, a wounded Newt is a dangerous Newt; he will be throwing petrol bombs at Romney - whom he despises - from the sidelines).
Romney will take a bit of a hammering over the next few weeks as everyone - his opponents, the media - test his front-runner status to destruction. But I think he'll survive it and win the nomination, despite the fierce indifference of his party, who will feel a sense of anti-climax tinged with self-loathing when he stands up to accept their acclaim at the convention.
One final note. Obama won 25,000 votes from Iowan Dems last night. That's about a fifth of the total that voted for a Republican; not bad for an incumbent president with no candidate standing against him. It was a show of organisational strength that will have even Romney-supporting Republicans worrying anew about the lack of grass-roots enthusiasm for their man.