Branstad, Rastetter, Northey join Donald Trump's Agricultural Advisory Committee

So much for an "unofficial" role: Governor Terry Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter are among more than 60 people named this morning to Donald Trump’s "Agricultural Advisory Committee." Its "executive board members will convene on a regular basis," according to a news release I’ve posted after the jump. Note that the campaign statement misspells Northey’s name and describes Rastetter as having hosted the "first Republican Presidential debate." Actually, Rastetter organized an Iowa Ag Summit at which nine presidential contenders (not including Trump) appeared in March 2015. New Jersey journalist Claude Brodesser-Akner was the first to report Branstad’s and Rastetter’s involvement as Trump advisers last week.

The other Iowans on the list released today are:

• Sam Clovis, who traded in his conservative and religious principles last summer to become Trump’s "national chief policy advisor";

• former State Representative Annette Sweeney, a friend of Rastetter’s since childhood who chaired the Iowa House Agriculture Committee until redistricting forced her into a losing primary battle against fellow House Republican Pat Grassley. She was a key player in passing Iowa’s unconstitutional "ag gag bill," the first of its kind in the country. Soon after finishing her legislative service, Sweeney became president of a public policy group called Iowa Agri-Women.

• Ron Heck, identified as an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Soybean Association.

Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread. Northey is widely expected to run for governor in 2018 rather than seek a fourth term as secretary of agriculture. His likely opponents in a GOP gubernatorial primary include Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. While the lieutenant governor has repeatedly urged Iowans to vote for Trump at public events, Corbett has wisely kept some distance between himself and the presidential nominee. He steered clear of Trump’s rally in Cedar Rapids on July 28.

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Weekend open thread: More Iowa Republicans throwing in with Trump

While Republican insiders across the country despair about the presidential race, dozens urging the Republican National Committee to stop investing in Donald Trump, others wishing in vain that Trump would drop out, and some even quitting their political jobs, Iowa’s most influential Republicans continue to stand with the GOP nominee.

This week, Governor Terry Branstad confirmed plans to advise Trump on policy; his major influencer Bruce Rastetter will reportedly do the same. In addition, two other well-known GOP operatives took on formal roles in Trump’s Iowa campaign. Jamie Johnson will be coalitions director and Jake Ketzner a senior advisor. Johnson is a veteran of Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid. After a spell supporting Ted Cruz, he landed with Rick Perry’s short-lived campaign this cycle. An ordained minister, he will presumably focus on engaging evangelical Christians, a key constituency for Santorum in 2012 and for Cruz this year. Jake Ketzner managed Representative Steve King’s re-election campaign in 2012, the year he faced Christie Vilsack in a substantially redrawn district. Ketzner left Branstad’s staff for a lobbying job last summer and soon became a senior adviser to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Iowa caucus campaign.

Why are more respectable Republicans joining what looks like a sinking ship? For one thing, the latest public polls show Trump running better in Iowa than in national polls or surveys in swing states with more diverse populations. So even if Trump gets blown out nationally, working on his campaign here might not be a liability, especially if he carries Iowa or loses by a relatively small margin. Also, hitching your wagon to a toxic nominee is less risky when your state’s governor, lieutenant governor, GOP U.S. senators and representatives are giving you cover. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that going all-in for Trump helped our state’s establishment secure a promise from the nominee that if he’s elected, the Iowa caucuses will remain first in the nominating calendar.

Neither Branstad nor any Republicans who represent Iowa in Congress have responded to my questions about worrying aspects of Trump’s candidacy. To my knowledge, only two GOP elected officials in Iowa have publicly ruled out voting for Trump: State Senator David Johnson and Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara. Tips are welcome if readers know of other GOP officials willing to say #NeverTrump. I’ve sought comment from many whom I considered "likely suspects."

Several experienced Iowa campaign operatives have said they won’t vote for the GOP nominee, including David Kochel, a former strategist for Mitt Romney and senior figure in Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign. Justin Arnold, former state political director for Marco Rubio, explained in a March op-ed column for the Des Moines Register why he would not support Trump under any circumstances. He announced earlier this month that he has joined the direct mail and political consulting firm Majority Strategies. That company’s clients include U.S. Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) and at least one Iowa GOP state committee.

Joel Kurtinitis, a onetime staffer on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and former Republican State Central Committee member, published a blistering commentary at The Blaze on Friday: Five Things You Can Never Say Again After Voting Trump. I enclose below excerpts from a piece that social conservatives might describe as "convicting."

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign continues to build a strong field operation in Iowa and other battleground states, while Trump’s ground game is remarkably weak and in some areas literally missing in action.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The Iowa State Fair opened on Thursday and runs through Sunday, August 21. A summer cold moving systematically through our household has so far kept us from the fairgrounds, but we will get there once or twice this week. Bleeding Heartland has previously published my best advice for enjoying the fair, especially in the company of young children. The schedule of candidates speaking at the Des Moines Register’s "soapbox" near the administration building is here. Like Brad Anderson, I was surprised Senator Chuck Grassley passed on the opportunity. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, though. Grassley tends to avoid putting public events on his schedule in Polk and several other large-population counties.

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Joni Ernst sticking to ISIS claims despite fact-checker's "F" grade

Three weeks ago today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst took the stage at the Republican National Convention to make the case for Donald Trump and bash Hillary Clinton, particularly on issues related to foreign policy and the military. For those who missed the speech, I’ve embedded the video at the end of this post. The full text is available here.

Other controversies of the day overshadowed the substance of Ernst’s remarks, delivered late in the evening to an "almost empty" hall. Most of the senator’s statements about Clinton and Trump were matters of opinion. However, Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette zeroed in on one verifiable claim: “According to the FBI, ISIS is present in all 50 states. Think about it for a moment — terrorists from ISIS are in every one of our 50 states.”

After researching federal data on terrorism and the material Ernst’s office provided in support of her assertions, Jordan gave Ernst an "F." But Ernst refuses to acknowledge that she distorted and exaggerated what FBI investigators have found.

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Highlights from Donald Trump's swing through Davenport and Cedar Rapids

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump campaigned in Iowa Thursday for the first time since the February 1 precinct caucuses. Follow me after the jump for clips and highlights from his events in Davenport and Cedar Rapids.

Among Iowa’s 99 counties, Linn County (containing the Cedar Rapids area) and Scott County (containing the Iowa side of the Quad Cities) are second and third in the number of registered voters. Trump finished third in Linn County on caucus night, behind Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. He was a close second to Rubio in Scott County and repeatedly praised the Florida senator during his Davenport speech.

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Ted Cruz is playing a smarter long game than Scott Walker or Marco Rubio

Three 40-something politicians who had hoped to be this year’s GOP presidential nominee addressed the Republican National Convention last night. Only one of them upstaged what was supposed to be the evening’s highlight: a speech by vice presidential nominee and Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

Although Senator Ted Cruz drew boos from many in the crowd and was panned by some journalists, he ended the night better-positioned for a possible 2020 race than either Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Senator Marco Rubio.

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Why Iowa's RNC votes all went for Trump, even though Cruz won the caucuses

The Republican Party of Iowa changed its bylaws earlier this year to prevent a repeat of what state party chair Jeff Kaufmann has called "the 2012 fiasco." During the last Republican National Convention, 22 of Iowa’s delegates cast their ballots for Ron Paul, who had finished third in the Iowa caucuses. Only six of our state’s delegates cast ballots for GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Kaufmann has described the Iowa GOP’s new rules as designed to force RNC delegates to "vote with the intentions of the caucusgoers — the wishes of the grassroots."

So why did all 30 of Iowa’s votes go to Donald Trump during today’s roll call vote in Cleveland?

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