How different would the race for the GOP presidential nomination be if, instead of Iowa and South Carolina, the caucuses and primaries began in New Jersey and California (which won’t vote until June!)?

I’d bet that the nominees would be different, because the voters in those states aren’t nearly as conservative as the ones who act first under the current calendar. Candidates like Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum — who never really had a chance of becoming Obama’s opponent anyway — would probably not have run, and more moderate Republicans might have given it a shot (although there are other reasons, which I wrote about here). It might also help bring that party back from the extreme social conservative brink and turn the emphasis away from topics like gay marriage and contraception.

If they adjusted the calendar that way, Mitt Romney wouldn’t have to pretend to be as conservative as he does. However, there doesn’t seem to be any desire inside the GOP mainstream to appeal to the moderates, which is why they ended up with the crop of crazies in this year’s field.