Who could have predicted Rod Blum wouldn't be bipartisan?

Anyone who listened to what Blum told journalists and Republican audiences when he was seeking the GOP nomination for Congress in 2012 and 2014.

But apparently not the Cedar Rapids Gazette editors, who engaged in some wishful thinking before endorsing Blum for Iowa’s first Congressional district last year.

Todd Dorman’s latest column for the Gazette revisits the editors’ decision to recommend Rod Blum over Democratic nominee Pat Murphy.

By way of background, Cedar Rapids is the most populous metro area in the first Congressional district, which covers twenty counties, mostly in northeast Iowa. The Gazette is IA-01’s largest-circulation newspaper. Both Blum and Murphy are Dubuque natives, with no natural base in Linn County. So while I wouldn’t overstate the importance of newspaper endorsements, Blum and Murphy must have coveted the Gazette’s support.

That October 2014 column reveals that Blum put on quite a show during his interview with the Gazette’s editors:

For this race, a rare open seat within Iowa’s federal delegation with no third-party candidate on the ballot, we wanted to know which of the two men held a realistic view of what a first-year congressman could accomplish, and who could best play with others in a bipartisan way.

Blum is best suited for this task.

“(The Affordable Care Act) was a big law, one of the biggest we have passed as a nation,” Blum said during our interview with him. “I’m a firm believer that anything that big should be bipartisan.”

When laws are debated and ultimately approved in a bipartisan way – when input from both sides of the aisle is included, he said, there is a much better chance at success.

“Democrats don’t have a corner on great ideas; neither do Republicans,” he said.

That sentiment was threaded throughout Blum’s responses to our questions regarding national security, immigration, health care, education, environment, economy and more.

“I’m not interested in Republican-only solutions any more than I’m interested in a Democrat-only solution,” he said. “Government has a role to play.”

Looking back, Dorman is struck by Blum’s “transformation”:

Blum has thrown in with the Freedom Caucus, which has worked again and again to bring Congress, perhaps even the government, to a screeching halt until its rigid, ideological demands are met. And the leadership vacuum they’ve helped create not only brings down the House, but jeopardizes efforts to meet a series of important legislative deadlines, including paying the nation’s debts.

So the country needs to be governed. Too bad the Legislative Branch is now controlled by 40 people who would rather throw wrenches into the gears. That’s a big problem, not a solution.

“This is an opportunity to change business as usual in Washington, D.C.,” Blum said in a statement Thursday.

Actually, senseless gridlock is business as usual.

But hey, it draws plenty of applause from crowds of partisan GOP activists who blame the “establishment” for just about everything. So if that’s Blum’s goal, it’s been a great success.

With a 25-year career in the Iowa House, including four years as speaker, Murphy didn’t present as a bipartisan figure for obvious reasons. In contrast, Blum has mostly worked outside the political sphere. As a successful business owner, he probably developed excellent schmoozing skills for situations like his interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette editors.

But Blum’s rhetoric during his two Congressional campaigns show no hint of a taste for political compromise.

Going through Bleeding Heartland’s posts on Blum’s 2012 primary race against eventual IA-01 nominee Ben Lange, as well as Blum’s public statements before the 2014 Republican primary, I couldn’t find any reference to bipartisanship or a commitment to working across party lines.  

Blum’s 2012 campaign relied on standard Republican talking points and positioning himself as someone with real-world achievements, as opposed to an “aspiring career politician” like Lange, who raised more money and was favored by Republican establishment types in Iowa and in Washington.

Blum launched his second Congressional campaign in March 2013 with a mash-up of tea party rhetoric about a country “in crisis,” tenets that made America great now “under attack,” and the evils of “big government, more regulations and out of control government spending.” Blum promised to battle “leaders in Washington” and their “fiscal insanity,” which “threatens to destroy our country.” He promised to fight to change Washington–not to work better with Democrats, but to “STOP the out-of-control spending, keep our markets free, and return our country to the limited government mandated by the Constitution.”

Doesn’t sound like someone who is open to Democratic perspectives on government’s “role to play.”

The Gazette’s editors didn’t need to read Blum’s press releases or listen to any of his stump speeches. They only had to go through their own newspaper’s archives to find this article by James Q. Lynch from June 2013. At that time, politics-watchers widely expected Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen to run for Congress. Paulsen was touting his legislative accomplishments, such as passing a large commercial property tax cut. Blum fired a warning shot a the speaker, telling Lynch,

[T]hose accomplishments have required Paulsen to be a “compromiser,” Blum charged.

“He wears it like a badge of honor,” he said. “That’s what we have in Congress now. How’s that working for us?”

Blum describes himself as willing to compromise “if it moves the ball toward our goal line.”

Does that sound like a guy who is open to working with Democrats to find bipartisan solutions?

By definition, compromise involves meeting a person with opposing views in the middle. Insisting on a final deal that is closer to “our goal line” is exactly what House GOP hard-liners do when they would rather shut down the government than make a deal with Democrats to continue federal funding. No wonder Blum’s first vote in Congress was for a far right candidate for speaker. No wonder the Freedom Caucus was a natural fit for him.

Here’s hoping the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s editors will be less gullible when they pick a Congressional candidate next year.

P.S.- It’s rich for Blum to complain that the Affordable Care Act should have been bipartisan. Congressional Democrats made huge concessions while drafting the health care reform law, partly to appease the insurance lobby but also to get Republicans like Senator Chuck Grassley on board. Why does Blum think the final bill didn’t have any public health insurance option?  

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