Was it Roast & Ride or Boast & Hide?

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."

Before the presidential candidates spoke on Saturday, Senator Chuck Grassley echoed Trump's airing of grievances as he complained about the "deep state" and accused the FBI of "political bias."

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.

  • Election year already?

    I’m tired of all these Republicans. And their TV ads only interrupt the humdrum of summer television. Tim Scott needs to clarify the rungs on the ladder to success Biden is trashing. I’m not going to learn the names of the contenders until after the primary/caucus, and that includes the governor of North Dakota. The love affair that 90% or more of the Iowa Rs have with Trump is beyond baffling, which makes the other clowns seem like they’re wasting their time. I’ve always thought Chris Christy is a rude loudmouth (which he is), but I’d still like to see him mud wrestle Trump in a winner-take-all match in an alligator swamp. And, if I hear the word “woke” again, I’m going to barf in my popcorn bowl. So, Professor, where do you think we should go? You won’t find the answer in the Register, bless their hearts. Even Kathie O’s plea for Republicans to consider which candidate has the best ideas is wishful thinking. None has an idea, and all think problem solving means you hate America. And, none is concerned for any other citizen, much less the migrants, refugees, and children who are sleeping on the streets in El Paso. Or the Iowa’s clean water crisis. Or the desperation of the climate crisis.

  • I'll comment on this topic only because I rarely see it mentioned elsewhere

    All the GOP POTUS candidates that I've checked out so far, and that's almost all of them, have bad environmental records. The degree of badness varies, but it's still degrees of bad. Ron DeSantis has been forced to pay a certain amount of attention to water because Florida voters (unlike Iowa voters) have made water a politically-significant issue. But his overall record is still dismal.

    What really interests me is that it is now so taken for granted in Iowa that politically-active Republicans don't care about the environment that it wouldn't surprise me if the environment is never discussed in the POTUS race between now and the caucuses. I hope that speculation will be wrong.

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