Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.
A day after Senator Joni Ernst’s annual Roast and Ride fundraiser, which marked the informal start of the Iowa GOP's 2024 caucus campaign, a friend asked, “Where do we go from here?”
She was mindful of the cluster of Republican candidates challenging former President Donald Trump for the nomination.
Trump, who was absent from Roast and Ride festivities, had offered an answer a few days before at an appearance in Urbandale: “We have a nasty race ahead of us.”
Forecasting a “nasty” campaign is one of the few areas, perhaps the only one, in which Trump’s credibility can’t be questioned—not when he’s the target (in his own mind), or the provocateur (to many of us).
In efforts to track the week before the Roast and Ride spectacle, I monitored news coverage by The Des Moines Register—scanning eight news stories totaling some 9,700 words. There was no editorial comment in the newspaper.
Some thoughts about what the stories said or suggested:
First, the only nastiness that surfaced during the event, which featured eight declared or potential presidential candidates, was directed toward President Joe Biden. Their host, Ernst, set the tone early: “It’s time to kick Joe Biden out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Second, through their silence or acquiescence, the candidates declined to challenge Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Perhaps that’s because polls have shown that as many as 70 percent of Republicans agree with Trump on the “steal,” despite all the evidence that Biden won the election fair and square. In addition, prominent Republicans and conservative media continue to sow doubts about "election integrity."
Reviewing the Des Moines Register's coverage, I found no references to Trump’s unprecedented legal situation. Nothing about the recent jury verdict finding him civilly liable for sexual abuse and defamation. Nothing about possible indictments on other civil or criminal charges, and no discussion of how those cases may affect the race for the nomination.
One article briefly mentioned Trump’s animosity toward former Vice President Mike Pence for not using his position to overturn the 2020 election when the U.S. Senate certified the electorate votes on January 6, 2021.
Perhaps all of the above is to be expected, given that the Iowa caucuses are months away. In these early stages, campaigns lay the groundwork for candidates to get acquainted with Iowans, enlist support—and duck significant issues.
The notion of a viable Trump candidacy, despite his lies and legal woes, remains troubling and good cause to wonder, “Where do we go from here?”
Well, for one thing, we go to the presidential election on November 5, 2024.
But Trump forecast “nasty” times ahead. He may see to that.
Kathie Obradovich, editor of Iowa Capital Dispatch and former opinion page editor of The Des Moines Register, had a more helpful take in her latest column, "GOP presidential campaign messaging needs a reality check."
Iowa GOP caucusgoers could do a real service to the rest of the country if they took a minute to consider which candidate has the best ideas for solving the problems that actually affect their lives instead of who sounds the best on conservative cable.
Or whose competence, call to public service, and concern for all citizens can be heard and recognized despite the roar of Harleys.
Top photo of Iowa politicians at the Roast and Ride on June 3 was first published on U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks' Twitter feed. From left: Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Joni Ernst, Governor Kim Reynolds, Representative Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Representative Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04). A video of all speeches from the event is available on C-SPAN's website.