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.

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Jeff Kaufmann and Cody Hoefert likely to be next Iowa GOP leaders

Former Iowa House Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Kaufmann appears likely to be chosen as the next state chair of the Republican Party of Iowa this weekend. Kaufmann has been rumored to be angling for that position ever since he was elected to the party’s new State Central Committee this spring. He made his plans official in an e-mail sent to fellow State Central Committee members yesterday. Excerpts are after the jump. Kaufmann served four terms in the Iowa House before retiring in 2012. His son, Bobby Kaufmann, currently represents the same district.

Lyon County Republican Chair Cody Hoefert announced yesterday that he is running for state party co-chair. Excerpts from his e-mail are at the end of this post.

Immediately after their terms began on June 14, the majority of new State Central Committee members signed a letter calling for a meeting on June 28 to elect a new chair and co-chair. Danny Carroll and Gopal Krishna have served in those positions since late March.

Some party activists are upset that the new State Central Committee isn’t giving Carroll a chance to show he can lead. A former state lawmaker and close ally of Bob Vander Plaats, Carroll is popular with social conservatives. At least two GOP county central committees (Jasper and Warren Counties) have passed non-binding votes of no confidence in the State Central Committee’s plan to vote on new leaders. I recommend watching or listening to the video of Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler’s remarks to Jasper County Republican Central Committee members, followed by comments from the audience and the no-confidence vote. Scheffler repeatedly brought up the need for the state party to improve its fundraising, and argued that past chair A.J. Spiker created this problem by resigning in March rather than making his resignation effective on June 14, when the new State Central Committee was seated. He also suggested that Carroll should have agreed to resign his position, an assertion that angered some Jasper County activists.

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Weekend open thread: Big Iowa GOP changes

The Republican Party of Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party held district conventions yesterday. Nothing particularly important happened at the Democratic conventions, but the GOP gatherings continued the march toward overthrowing the "Liberty" faction that gained control soon after the 2012 caucuses. No one from the Ron Paul orbit won a seat on the newly-elected State Central Committee, which will take over after the party’s state convention in June. They are likely to replace Danny Carroll and Gopal Krishna in the party’s top leadership positions.

I’ve listed the new State Central Committee members after the jump. Notable names include Governor Terry Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley and William Gustoff, both elected to represent the third district. Gustoff is a partner in the law firm headed by U.S. Senate candidate Matt Whitaker and State Representative Chris Hagenow. In 2011, Branstad named Gustoff to the State Judicial Nominating Commission, but the Iowa Senate did not confirm him. Findley briefly was an attorney with Whitaker Hagenow after she left Representative Steve King’s staff to run for Iowa attorney general in 2010.

According to Kevin Hall of The Iowa Republican blog, “Liberty” activists handed out flyers at all four district conventions urging delegates not to vote for fourteen State Central Committee candidates. All fourteen of them won seats on the committee anyway.

Another interesting development: the GOP platform committee in the first district removed the plank declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman. Katherine Klingseis reported for The Des Moines Register that the new platform language asserts the government should have no role in marriage. Some delegates tried and failed three times yesterday to restore the traditional marriage plank through amendments. UPDATE: According to conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart, one of the IA-01 convention votes on platform language went 116 to 89 to remove so-called “defense of traditional marriage” from the district GOP platform.

Kathie Obradovich wrote up the six IA-03 candidates’ pitches to Republican convention delegates. For now I consider it more likely than not that the nomination will be decided at a special district convention.

UPDATE: More thoughts on the Iowa GOP State Central Committee changes after the jump.

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Twilight of the Iowa GOP's Liberty era (updated)

Time for a discussion thread on news that broke over the weekend: A.J. Spiker will step down early as chair of the Republican Party of Iowa in order to serve as an adviser to U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s political action committee. I’ve posted the Iowa GOP’s official announcement after the jump. It puts a positive spin on Spiker’s tenure, which began after Matt Strawn was forced out early over the 2012 Iowa caucus vote-counting debacle. Spiker’s critics have complained of poor fundraising and an insufficient focus on party unity and electing Republican candidates.

Spiker was a leading supporter of Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns in Iowa and benefited from the “Paulinista” dominance during the 2012 county, district, and state GOP conventions. However, Ron Paul loyalists were unable to repeat that performance at this year’s county conventions on March 8. In fact, some high-profile Paulinistas weren’t even able to win district convention delegate slots.

David Fischer, another prominent figure in the “Liberty” camp, stepped down as state party co-chair earlier this year. Danny Carroll, a former Iowa House Republican and unsuccessful candidate to lead the state party in 2009, won a very close State Central Committee election to succeed Fischer in that role.

Longtime social conservative activist Steve Scheffler made a deal with the Liberty crowd in the summer of 2012 to retain his position as Republican National Committeeman. He told the Des Moines Register that he expects “a huge turnover” on the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee after district conventions on April 26. Scheffler would like to see Carroll serve as the Iowa GOP’s interim leader until new State Central Committee members begin their terms this summer.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. P.S.- Some observers believe Spiker’s departure will spell doom for the Ames Straw Poll. I suspect the Iowa GOP will still organize some kind of candidate forum a few months before the Iowa caucuses, perhaps even a fundraiser. But new party leaders will likely be swayed by Governor Terry Branstad and other straw poll critics in planning that event next year.

UPDATE: Speaking to a conservative breakfast club on March 12, Danny Carroll confirmed that he will run for party chair this month and again after the new State Central Committee members are selected. He told Radio Iowa he’d like to see the straw poll continue, while making sure tickets are not overpriced and candidates are not charged “exorbitant rent for space at the venue.”

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