By Francis Wilkinson

Outside Michele Bachmann's gloomy caucus party last night at the West Des Moines Marriott, a lone sentinel dressed in Revolutionary War garb -- the Tea Party equivalent of gang tats -- stood watch over the disaster. Bachmann's campaign, which mustered only 5 percent of Iowa caucus votes, will not be crossing the Delaware anytime soon. It is currently navigating the River Styx.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, another Tea Party favorite, invested heavily in Iowa and finished with a dismal 10 percent. Newt Gingrich, who channeled Tea Partyers' contempt even as he gave them whiplash on their core issues, emerged with an unlucky 13 percent. Gingrich has enough money (perhaps) and venom (surely) to cause some modest trouble for Mitt Romney, whom he called a "liar" the other day, but not enough to defeat him.

So leaving Iowa, the front-running campaigns belong to Romney, a technocrat from Massachusetts who is viscerally distrusted by the Tea Party base; Rick Santorum, a social conservative from Pennsylvania whose soon-to-be-highlighted Congressional record from the faraway 1990s will not jibe with Tea Party dogma circa 2012; and Ron Paul, the Republican Brother From Another Planet.

One of the ironies of the current Republican landscape is that the Tea Party is having a ball in Washington, D.C., where its acolytes keep House Speaker John Boehner on a short leash (attached to a spiked collar, it seems, judging from the perpetual grimace on Boehner's face).

Out in the heartland, however, the sacred soil where the Real Americans of Tea Party lore hold sway, the Tea Party is getting its grandfather's clock cleaned.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

For a look at Bloomberg View's full coverage of the Iowa caucuses, see our latest entry at Storify.

-0- Jan/04/2012 19:30 GMT