Weekend open thread: Improbably smooth GOP state convention edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Republican Party of Iowa finished all party business at yesterday’s state convention in under six hours. (For comparison, all four of the Iowa Democratic Party’s district conventions lasted more than twice as long.) You’d never guess that a candidate not named Donald Trump won the Iowa Republican caucuses in February, or that his supporters dominated the four GOP district conventions last month. State party chair Jeff Kaufmann assured journalists that the project of uniting the party was well underway after a sometimes bitter primary season.

During their speeches to convention delegates, Governor Terry Branstad said, "We need to support Donald Trump and his choice for vice president because he will make America great again." Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds echoed the call to stand united against Democrats. As O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst didn’t mention Trump’s name but argued, "We’ve got to come together, because you know what my motto is going to be this year? Never Hillary! Never!" A massive wall display symbolized the delegates’ commitment to "Stop Hillary" from becoming president.

Representative Steve King, who said a few days ago that he is "not ready" to endorse Trump yet, left little doubt yesterday that he will be able to do so by the time of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The at-large slate of RNC delegates chosen yesterday included Branstad, Reynolds, King, and Bob Vander Plaats, who like King was a high-profile endorser of Ted Cruz before the caucuses. Vander Plaats and Trump had a big dustup on Twitter in January. This week, Vander Plaats told Neil Cavuto of Fox News that he recently met one-on-one with Trump, adding that there was "no endorsement" but that the two men had a "good conversation."

At least a handful of #NeverTrump types, such as conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart, were among the more than 1550 delegates at yesterday’s state convention, but they did not make their presence known in any organized or vocal way.

The party platform debate proceeded briskly, with no big floor fights. Planks approved by voice vote included one that would eliminate more than a half-dozen federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration along with the long-hated-by-Republicans Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Education. The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble highlighted some platform planks that are at odds with Trump’s positions.

Some Iowa GOP conventions have involved intense battles over electing the man and woman to represent our state on the Republican National Committee. However, Tamara Scott was unopposed yesterday for re-election, and Steve Scheffler easily outpolled his little-known opponent David Dicks, a homeschooling dad from Des Moines.

Speaking of Scheffler, how about that guy’s survival skills? The founder of the Iowa Christian Alliance, whom conservative talk radio host Steve Deace has called the "least trustworthy & most gutless person in Iowa politics," was first elected as RNC committeeman in 2008. His victory over a legend of the Iowa Republican establishment was seen as a sign the Iowa GOP was moving to the right. Scheffler held on as RNC committeeman in 2012 amid the takeover of Iowa GOP machinery by Ron Paul supporters, winning a spot on their approved delegate slate. (Craig Robinson described here how Scheffler did "a 180" on Paul.) The "Paulinista" faction was mostly swept away in 2014, but Scheffler is still standing.

His ability to align himself with establishment figures goes back a long way. Scheffler first made a name for himself as a "lead organizer" for Pat Robertson before the 1988 Iowa caucuses. Robertson’s second-place finish in that contest shocked the political world. Scheffler went on to become a prominent Christian Coalition activist but disappointed some allies in social conservative circles by endorsing Bob Dole before the 1996 caucuses. As head of the Iowa Christian Alliance in 2007, Scheffler did not endorse a presidential candidate but "often spoke highly" of Mitt Romney (see here) and "was accused of trying to undermine Mike Huckabee’s campaign," which had much more support among Iowa evangelicals at that time. I’ve posted more background on Scheffler below.

UPDATE: Every Iowa Republican who has endorsed Trump should be asked about this article by David Cay Johnston: "Just What Were Donald Trump’s Ties to the Mob?" Johnston won a Pulitzer prize in 2001 for his reporting on loopholes and inequities in the U.S. tax code.

Continue Reading...

Six reasons Newt Gingrich would be a perfect running mate for Donald Trump

Former U.S. Representative Greg Ganske has a guest column in today’s Des Moines Register making the case for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as Donald Trump’s running mate. Gingrich has been unofficially auditioning for the job lately. Ganske argues that Newt has the qualities that Trump has said he’s looking for: someone with "a strong political background, who was well respected on the Hill, who can help me with legislation, and who could be a great president."

Although Governor Terry Branstad is pushing Senator Joni Ernst to be Trump’s running mate, several well-known Iowa Republicans would probably be as thrilled with a Trump-Gingrich ticket as Ganske. Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer was Gingrich’s first high-profile endorser here in 2011, when she was Iowa House majority leader. State party chair Jeff Kaufmann also supported Gingrich before the 2012 caucuses, when Kaufmann served as Iowa House speaker pro-tem. In December 2011, Gingrich picked up support from several more GOP state lawmakers, including then Speaker Kraig Paulsen and rising star Chris Hagenow, who is now House majority leader.

While Gingrich has never struck a chord with me, he seems like a perfect match for Trump, and not only because he has the policy knowledge the presumptive Republican nominee lacks.

Continue Reading...

IA-04, IA-Gov: Kim Reynolds endorses Steve King

Yesterday Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds became the fourth Republican who has won a statewide election to endorse seven-term Representative Steve King in his primary race against State Senator Rick Bertrand. Speaking exclusively to the Sioux City Journal’s Bret Hayworth,

Reynolds said she doesn’t usually get involved in contested primaries, but said King has been an effective congressman.

“He has been an effective advocate for his district and for Iowans,” Reynolds said of King.

Reynolds said she appreciated his support in 2010. She alluded to a floor flight that year at the state Republican convention, where King ultimately placed her name into nomination for lieutenant governor.

I had forgotten that King formally nominated Reynolds. Even in politically active circles, Reynolds was barely known when Branstad announced two days before the Iowa GOP’s state convention that the first-term state senator would be his running mate. Many Republican state delegates were social conservatives who had backed Bob Vander Plaats in the gubernatorial race, so when State Representative Dwayne Alons nominated Vander Plaats for lieutenant governor, there was a real chance the vote might go his way. King’s support for Reynolds must have been helpful. In the end, 749 convention delegates voted for Reynolds to appear on the GOP ticket, while 579 voted for Vander Plaats.

Reynolds will almost certainly run for governor in 2018, either from her current position or (I suspect) as the incumbent, if Governor Terry Branstad resigns before the end of his sixth term. One of her likely rivals in the next gubernatorial campaign is Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who was the first statewide office-holder to endorse King for the fourth Congressional district primary. U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have also publicly backed King. A poll recently commissioned by a new group supporting the incumbent showed King leading Bertrand among likely voters by more than a 4 to 1 margin.

I enclose below the King campaign’s statement on the Reynolds endorsement. Any comments on the IA-04 race are welcome in this thread.

Continue Reading...

Looking for prominent Iowa Republicans ready to #NeverTrump (updated)

Donald Trump wrapped up the Republican nomination for the presidency by winning yesterday’s Indiana primary, prompting Ted Cruz to suspend his campaign. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus posted on Twitter, "we all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton." Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann weighed in a little later last night, "The only movement I’m a part of is the #NeverHillary movement #UnitedIowa."

Yet many lifelong Republicans have vowed not to vote for Trump under any circumstances. After the jump I’ve listed some well-known Iowa activists and strategists in that camp. I have not yet found any elected GOP official in Iowa willing to say #NeverTrump. Governor Terry Branstad and our state’s Republican U.S. Senators and House representatives are poised to support the nominee, despite Senator Joni Ernst’s discomfort with Trump’s way of expressing himself. I welcome tips on any GOP state lawmakers, school board, city, or county elected officials willing to go on record that they will not vote for Trump.

UPDATE: Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara (R) confirmed on May 4 that she is "not ashamed" to say, "NEVER TRUMP." She further commented that she is "low key when it comes to politics" and did not endorse any candidate before the Iowa caucuses, adding that Trump "does not represent me or my values."

Senator Chuck Grassley, Ernst, and Representatives Steve King and David Young confirmed that they will support Trump. I’ve added below excerpts from the Des Moines Register story by Brianne Pfannenstiel and Matthew Patane.

Continue Reading...

IA-04: Joni Ernst is all in for Steve King

Today U.S. Senator Joni Ernst became the third Iowa Republican heavyweight to endorse Representative Steve King, who faces a primary challenge from State Senator Rick Bertrand in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Ernst didn’t just allow King’s campaign to announce her support in a statement, she also filmed a short video which I’ve enclosed below, along with a transcript.

Birds can be heard singing in the background as Ernst praises King for supporting life, liberty, the military, four-laning U.S. Highway 20, and the fuel blender tax credit. The sound you can’t hear is the door slamming on Bertrand’s already slim chance to win this primary.

Ernst served with Bertrand in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from 2011 through 2014, so has observed his political work more closely than most Republicans. She could have stayed neutral, though seven-term incumbent King was heavily favored to win the IA-04 primary even before Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley publicly backed him.

As with Grassley’s endorsement, I wonder whether Ernst wanted to dish out some payback to Nick Ryan, the dark money operative who was recruiting a primary challenger in IA-04 and endorsed Bertrand immediately after the state senator made his campaign official.

Ryan worked for Mark Jacobs during his race against Ernst and others in the 2014 GOP primary for U.S. Senate. (Bruce Rastetter, a frequent ally of Ryan and major ethanol industry figure who is also supporting Bertrand against King, backed Ernst early in that race.)

Bertrand has been promoting himself as someone who will deliver for IA-04 in Congress, rather than trying to be a "national figure." Last week, he asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski that there is widespread "discontentment" with King, who "has gone Washington." Echoing that talking point, Ryan told Petroski, "I believe we can do better. I want a conservative congressman that cares more about getting things done for his district than booking an appearance on Fox or MSNBC."

Ryan can raise a lot of money to spend on campaigns, but his track record in Iowa GOP contests is mixed. Unsuccessful candidates who benefited from spending controlled by Ryan include: Jim Gibbons in the 2010 primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district, Annette Sweeney in the 2012 primary for Iowa House district 50, Jacobs in the 2014 Senate primary, Matt Schultz in the 2014 primary for IA-03, and Mike Huckabee before the latest Iowa caucuses.

P.S.-Asked this morning whether he wants "to see King defeated" in June, Governor Terry Branstad replied, "It’s up to the voters to decide in each of these instances and I’ve always had confidence in the voters of Iowa to make a good decision and I will obviously support the Republican nominees," O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa. Branstad made headlines by calling for Ted Cruz’s defeat less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. King was Cruz’s leading surrogate in Iowa after endorsing the Texas senator for president in November.

Continue Reading...

IA-Sen: DSCC makes the obvious official, Judge doesn't talk about it

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recruited former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge to run against Senator Chuck Grassley, praised her as a "formidable challenger" the day she launched her campaign, and invited her to lunch with Democratic senators in Washington a few days later. So it was no surprise when the DSCC made its support for Judge official on April 20.

Judge’s campaign has touted endorsements from influential Iowa Democrats but didn’t spread the word about the DSCC’s announcement this week—probably because backing from Washington insiders feeds into talking points Republicans and Democratic rivals have already been using.

Continue Reading...
View More...