Alternative headline: Dear Iowa: You are being played like a fiddle.

I hate to admit it, but there is a large amount of truth in this analysis by Roger Simon of Politico, Mitt don’t need no surges:

If Mitt Romney wins the Iowa caucuses, the race for the Republican nomination is over.

If Mitt Romney comes in second in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over.

And if Mitt Romney comes in third in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over.

Why? Is his message of goodness and decency and American exceptionalism so overwhelmingly persuasive or are his personal attributes so awesomely compelling?

No. It’s because the Iowa caucuses do not pick winners as much as they eliminate losers. And the Iowa caucuses Tuesday are likely to eliminate from serious contention the only two men who might have blocked Romney’s path to victory: Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.

With those two out of the way, Romney faces Ron Paul, who could come in first, second or third here on Tuesday or Rick Santorum, who could do the same.

But neither of those men has a credible route to the nomination no matter how well they do in Iowa.

And don’t think for a second that the Romney camp doesn’t understand that Santorum is Romney’s Great White Hope:

Santorum has run here like he was running for governor of Iowa,” a senior  Romney aide told me Sunday evening. “He can’t replicate that in other  states.”

The Romney campaign believes its game plan is working here.

How badly does Team Romney want Santorum to do well?  Even Jennifer Rubin, who never has anything nice to say about anyone other than Romney, is pushing Santorum as the best bet for social conservatives:

Certainly he’s a bit intense, which can come across as angry. But he’s got a lovely family, and he’s not going to embarrass you in public. After the slew of characters who’ve come through, you can understand why many, for now, want to spend some time checking out Santorum. Considering the competition, they could do a lot worse.

Of course, this is the same person who just last May insisted that Rick Santorum ‘doesn’t understand America’:

At the Republican presidential debate on Thursday Rick Santorum was asked about Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s suggestion that there be a social truce. Santorum answered, “Anybody that would suggest we call a truce on moral issues doesn’t understand what America is all about.”

That is wrong. In fact, it’s the precise opposite of what America is about….

Santorum’s assertion, quite frankly, reflects a certain constitutionally illiteracy and is at odds at a fundamental level with modern conservatism. Indeed, since the presidency requires that the chief executive “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” — which presupposes one understands what’s in it — Santorum has in the most concise way possible demonstrated his lack of qualifications to serve.

You are being played, Iowa.  Like a fiddle.

You will wake up Wednesday morning with that empty feeling.

Update:  Some perspective lacking from my post: