Overreacting to criticism is not good for the Iowa caucuses

Are Iowans “government-dependent” types who should lose our first-in-the-nation status because we embarrass ourselves and the Republican Party?

No, but the way some people reacted to comments by a political strategist should embarrass Iowans and can only hurt the Iowa caucuses.

Liz Mair has consulted for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker before and took a job this week handling online outreach for his Our American Revival PAC. Within hours, The Iowa Republican blogger Craig Robinson (not a big fan of Walker) was taking shots at Mair for supposedly not being “a big fan of Iowans.” Jennifer Jacobs lit up the Des Moines Register’s website with a post on how “Iowa has been a punching bag in online quips by Republican Scott Walker’s new strategist for online communications.”

Mair’s great crime was bashing farm subsidies and some out-there comments about immigration during Representative Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit in January. Dave Weigel was one of the few who remembered that Mair wasn’t speaking about Iowans generally. Rather, she was reacting to the opening speech by WHO Radio host Jan Mickelson.

No matter. Yesterday the Republican Party of Iowa’s leaders seized the chance to make an example out of Mair. From Trip Gabriel’s report for the New York Times:

Jeff Kaufmann, the state Republican chairman, said Mr. Walker, who leads in polls of Iowa Republicans, should dismiss Liz Mair, who was hired by Mr. Walker’s political action committee to lead online communications for his likely 2016 campaign.

“It’s obvious she doesn’t have a clue what Iowa’s all about,” Mr. Kaufmann said. “I find her to be shallow and ignorant,” he added, “and I’ll tell you, if I was Governor Walker, I’d send her her walking papers.” […]

The co-chairman of the state party, Cody Hoefert, also took umbrage. “When anybody who works for a presidential campaign thinks it’s O.K. to insult Iowa, Iowa voters and Iowa farmers, I find it absolutely disgusting and repulsive,” he said.

Mair resigned last night, not even two days into her new job.

I have two questions for Messrs. Kaufmann and Hoefert.

1. Are you out of your mind?

It’s not healthy to get so worked up about something another person posted on twitter months ago. Marshall Rosenberg has written extensively on how anger disproportionate to the stimulus is often a cover for pain and unmet needs. I recommend reading some books on anger management, or perhaps seeking counseling so you won’t get so upset next time someone expresses a different opinion from yours.

2. No, really, are you out of your mind?

We all enjoy a spirited Iowa caucus campaign, but state party leaders need one more than most of us do. Presidential candidate visits provide opportunities to recruit supporters and raise money for Republican office-seekers and local party organizations. The Iowa GOP’s biggest fundraiser of the year will need to pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars just to recoup costs. That can happen only if several strong presidential contenders decide to compete in the August straw poll.

Think about the message Kaufmann and Hoefert just sent to every Republican who may run for president. The top leaders of the Iowa GOP will hold you personally responsible not only for your own views and comments, but also for anything anyone who works for you has ever said about Iowa. If anyone connected to your campaign rubs us the wrong way, we will give you the choice of throwing your associate under the bus or dealing with this distraction every time you come to our state.

When I lived on the east coast, I heard plenty of insults about “flyover country” and got back-handed compliments such as, “You don’t seem like you’re from Iowa.” (Translation: “You don’t sound dumb.”) Flying off the handle or seeking retribution never reflects well on the Iowan. If you’re confident and proud of your home state, you don’t need to throw a fit over someone else’s misconceptions.

I’m embarrassed by Kaufmann’s and Hoefert’s behavior. Mair wasn’t hired to be Walker’s policy advisor, so her position on ethanol subsidies, immigration rhetoric, and Iowa’s place in the primary calendar should be irrelevant. When the New York Times runs the headline, “Iowa G.O.P. to Walker: Drop Adviser Who Trashed State,” I wouldn’t blame other presidential candidates for concluding that these Iowans are too high-maintenance.

Speaking of embarrassing antics, Jennifer Jacobs highlighted this breaking news on the Des Moines Register’s website yesterday.

On Monday evening, the Wall Street Journal published an article that quoted a supporter of Republican Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, dissing Iowa.

“While Mr. Christie’s backers say his prospects are good in Iowa,” the Journal reported, “some in his camp also contend the state isn’t central to their prospects. Ken Langone, one of Mr. Christie’s top financial supporters, pointed out that Rick Santorum won the state’s caucuses in 2012. ‘What did it do for him overall?’ Mr. Langone asked. ‘Nada. Nothing. Zippo.’ ”

Langone went on to say, referring to the Iowa caucuses, according to the Journal: “How are you going to let a bunch of old ladies sitting in a room saying who they like and don’t like determine who is going to be the next president?”

Jacobs’ headline was “Christie backer describes Iowa caucuses as ‘a bunch of old ladies.’” To be clear, this guy doesn’t work for Christie in any capacity. The New Jersey governor has visited this state a dozen times in the last five years, so we can conclude he recognizes the importance of the caucuses.

Alluding to the Mair controversy, Jacobs wrote in the lede to her latest piece, “a GOP strategist used the word ‘morons’ in a tweet referring to ‘government-dependent’ Iowans.” The phrasing implies to the casual reader that Mair called Iowans morons, which she never did. Rather, she was mocking “Morons across America” who don’t know that Iowans are “rather government-dependent” because of agriculture support programs.

The Des Moines Register needs a vibrant Iowa caucus campaign almost as much as the Iowa GOP does. Now candidates considering how much time and money to spend here know that any unflattering comment about Iowa by any associate may be highlighted on the Register’s website, possibly in a misleading way.

Perhaps Jacobs was just following the Gannett memo on duties of a “self-directed reporter” at the Des Moines Register:

Regularly use available tools to monitor how your work is performing. […] Extend the shelf life of your work: If a story tops the charts, what else can you do to feed your audience’s interest in the topic? Is there an angle you can break in a follow?

Or perhaps Jacobs couldn’t pass up a chance to make Christie look bad while taking a second shot at Walker. She has been spinning madly for Jeb Bush lately, and the governors from New Jersey and Wisconsin appear to be his main competition for moderate Iowa Republican caucus-goers.

Whatever the motivation, the chief political correspondent for “the newspaper Iowa depends upon” should be covering real issues and campaign developments, not serving up clickbait for the easily offended.

  • I don't feel sorry ..

    for her at all.  She went to work for a clown who compared teachers to ISIS.  And now her fellow travelers are turning on her because she isn’t pure enough?  She decided to ride the tiger long ago.  And this is her payback.

    • it's not about her

      Not really. It’s about Iowans piling on and acting like pouty children when they should shake it off.

      Isn’t it enough that candidates come here and shower attention on us? Now we insist that neither they nor anyone associated with them has ever attacked one of our sacred cows.

      • That's just the thing ..

        this would have happened anyway .. she was also for amnesty .. something the GOP has no tolerance for .. when you run in the GOP these days .. you better hire staffers that come from the base .. or believe(at least publicly) the same things they do .. otherwise it’s heresy.

        • none of that matters

          or it shouldn’t matter, anyway, since she wasn’t a policy adviser.

          • Lousy at her job

            I’ll agree that Iowans shouldn’t demand some sort of fealty as the price of admission to our caucuses.  But your post seems a little more defensive of Mair than she really deserves.  It isn’t particularly wise of someone who makes a living as a political consultant to say intemperate things about segments of your party, or things that can easily be misconstrued to insult key voting blocks.  To do so on social media, where it is easy to find (and even more easily misconstrued because it is usually short and devoid of context) doesn’t exactly recommend one for the job of social media advisor to a Presidential campaign.  I have trouble losing a lot of sleep on her behalf on this one.  

            • point taken

              It’s not wise for a campaign consultant to make sweeping remarks like that, especially on social media.

              I’m not losing sleep for her, but I do think the episode reflects poorly on Iowans.

  • it's tiresome

    This hubbub is the typical flicking of gnats by political reporters before there is any real news to cover. This person’s views would not have affected one voter’s decision. Heck, her views weren’t even reported correctly. I wish Walker had told everybody, including the Iowa Republican chairman who appears to be a Bush acolyte, to step back.

    desmoinesdem is correct. It is ridiculous for Iowans to go bonkers every time somebody – anybody – dares say something that could be interpreted as critical about our state. Who cares? Sometimes they might actually be telling the truth. We’re big girls and boys. We can take it.

    The Register yesterday took up a good chunk of it’s front section reporting that “we matter” because Iowa has three teams in the NCAA basketball tournament. Give me a break. We pick presidents, for God’s sake, but still we need somebody to pat us on the head. It’s tiresome.

    Anyway, on this day (I might change my mind down the road) I am willing to support the first Republican candidate with the courage to say Pizza Ranch food is hideous. It won’t happen, unless Trump wanders into one of those places, but the truth is a wonderful thing. I’m still waiting for a Democrat candidate to say anything.

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