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Iowa Divided: Civil War Threatens the State's GOP
National Review ^ | 07/26/2013 | Robert Costa

Posted on 07/26/2013 6:49:34 AM PDT by SeekAndFind

Des Moines, Iowa — The front line of the Republican civil war may be Grand Avenue, a hilly road that cuts through the heart of Iowa’s biggest city.

On one side of the street is the gold-domed state capitol, home to Republican Terry Branstad, Iowa’s longest-serving governor. On the other side is a weathered brick building housing the Iowa GOP, which is chaired by A. J. Spiker and David Fischer. Both men are faithful allies of Ron Paul, the retired Texas congressman who twice ran for the Republican presidential nomination.

These days, relations between the two camps are as messy as eating a deep-fried Snickers bar at the Iowa state fair. Iowa Republicans increasingly find themselves either part of Big Liberty, the libertarian bloc led by Spiker and Fischer, or members of Branstad’s center-right circle.

Confidants of both groups say the tensions have nearly crippled the party, which is known for hosting the Iowa Republican caucuses. Branstad doesn’t trust the co-chairmen, and the co-chairmen don’t trust the governor. Behind the scenes, they quarrel constantly over cash and politics, and many veteran Iowa Republicans fear the infighting will embarrass them, especially as presidential contenders start to fly in for appearances. “It’s a pretty bad situation,” says Bob Haus, an Iowa-based Republican consultant. “They’ve been at loggerheads for over a year. Traditionally, sitting governors enjoy collegiality with their party and work together to achieve important goals, but none of that has happened here. They’re not coordinating much of anything, from fundraising to strategy.”

“If you’re a Branstad person, you’re donating to Branstad’s expected 2014 reelection campaign; you’re not donating to the party,” explains an Iowa Republican insider. “If you’re a Ron Paul supporter or an anti-establishment Republican, you’re donating to what should be the establishment, the state party, which is controlled almost entirely by your friends. That’s where we stand. The lines are drawn, and they’re unlikely to go away.”

Sources who work within the state GOP say the co-chairmen are furious; they believe that Branstad is maneuvering to put his associates on the state committee and, in the meantime, keep donors away. Branstad’s crew says the governor is angry about rumors of plans to kick members of his administration off next year’s Republican ticket.

Hostility over the emerging 2016 Republican presidential field is another cloud that hangs over the cornfields. “All we hear is that the party has become a conspiracy to help Rand Paul get elected president,” says an operative who works with Spiker and Fischer. “It really pisses us off. Some of us may like Rand, but we’re not going to ruin the caucuses and our reputations to do that.”

Spiker was elected chairman in February 2012, soon after the 2012 Iowa caucuses, which were a disaster for the state party. Rick Santorum won the contest by a hair, but Mitt Romney was declared the winner by party chairman Matt Strawn. After that episode, Strawn left his post, creating an opening.

Spiker, who had a sprawling network from working for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, jumped in and promptly won the chairmanship, upsetting Branstad’s pick, Bill Schickel. A year later he was reelected, and tapped Fischer to assist him.

In an interview at the state capitol, Branstad acknowledges the rift, and worries about the direction of the state GOP. “There is some concern that you have one faction, and the party should be there to support everybody, all the candidates,” he says. “I’m a big-tent Republican. I want to include everybody, but we have some people who don’t.”

Branstad says the Spiker-Fischer coalition focuses too much on purifying the ranks rather than building the party’s numbers, both in the legislature and at the bank. Their efforts, he argues, have turned the party away from the successful model established by Branstad himself and longtime Republican senator Chuck Grassley over the past four decades.

“When I started in politics,” Branstad recalls, “it was the moderates who controlled everything, and I was the conservative. But my approach wasn’t to throw them all out. Instead, I said, ‘I want you to stay.’”

Fischer, in an interview at his office, pushes back hard against Branstad’s analysis. “I resent being pigeonholed as someone who only supports Ron Paul,” he tells me. “Now, Ron Paul is a good friend of mine and remains a good friend, and I support him without reservation. But I was an Iowa Republican long before Ron Paul ran for president.”

“People can say whatever they want, but I’m happy with what we’ve done with the party,” Fischer continues. “We’ve unapologetically worked with the grassroots to advance our founding principles. That’s our job description. I didn’t run to be a leader of this party just so I could be a cheerleader for anybody who happens to hang an ‘R’ behind their name.”

A breaking point came earlier this year when the Republican-controlled state legislature was debating a new gas tax. Branstad was open to the tax, and didn’t expect the state party’s officials to weigh in on policy matters. When Spiker did, sending warning letters to Republican lawmakers, Branstad and his advisers effectively decided to cut ties.

There has also been continued warring over the future of the Ames straw poll for Republican presidential candidates, a major party fundraiser every four years. Wannabe presidents gather in a parking lot at Iowa State University, cook hot dogs, serve funnel cake, and shake hands. Branstad wants to end the tradition, but Spiker and Fischer want to keep it going, and perhaps even expand it.

“It’s the most fun you can have in politics and a boost to our party,” Fischer says. “I don’t understand why some people want to kill it, or say it’s lost its usefulness. It’s still a wonderful way to unite the party and meet the candidates.”

When I mention the Spiker-Fischer team’s love for the straw poll, Branstad rolls his eyes. “It’s a costly circus, a fundraising gimmick for the state party,” he says. “Straw polls are not reliable indicators of who’s going to have the ability to win the caucuses, so it’s usually a waste of time. I want to protect the integrity of the caucuses, not the straw poll.”

The upcoming Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Tom Harkin, who has announced that he is retiring at the end of this term, is the latest area of contention. Branstad was hoping that his lieutenant governor, Kim Reynolds, would run, but the co-chairmen weren’t enthusiastic, and she ultimately decided to sit out the campaign. The primary has since become crowded, and there’s buzz that Fischer or another Paul-aligned leader will run.

It’s very possible that Branstad World could lose that battle. Per party rules, if no candidate gets more than 35 percent in a primary, the nomination is thrown to a convention. Spiker and Fischer would wield enormous influence over that process. Branstad may be the state’s top Republican, but he doesn’t control the party.

And so it goes. Republicans may come here from far and wide, but up on Grand Avenue, they’re reluctant to cross the street.

— Robert Costa is National Review’s Washington editor.


TOPICS: Iowa; Parties; U.S. Congress; U.S. Senate
KEYWORDS: 113th; gop; ia2014; iowa; libertarians; schism; teaparty

1 posted on 07/26/2013 6:49:34 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

I’ve always been a party-first person, but it is becoming clear the GOP is a dying organization. They are rejecting any principled objectives, and are so corrupted by poor strategy ideas, I am becoming convinced that (short of a resurgent leader like a Reagan), it is done. In fact, it seems the entrenched machine will destroy any resurgent Reagan-like leader.


2 posted on 07/26/2013 6:53:53 AM PDT by ilgipper (Obama is proving that very bad ideas can be wrapped up in pretty words)
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To: SeekAndFind

While the Dems must be salivating at the thought of a GOP civil war, it’s becoming clear to me that war will be absolutely necessary before we conservatives can take back our party.


3 posted on 07/26/2013 6:59:05 AM PDT by Huskrrrr
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To: SeekAndFind

I always stop reading at “center right.”


4 posted on 07/26/2013 6:59:46 AM PDT by TheLawyerFormerlyKnownAsAl
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To: ilgipper

Welcome to reality.


5 posted on 07/26/2013 7:00:53 AM PDT by MrEdd (Heck? Geewhiz Cripes, thats the place where people who don't believe in Gosh think they aint going.)
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To: SeekAndFind

Or, we could quit letting the same two states decide our candidates every cycle. Might calm things down a bit.


6 posted on 07/26/2013 7:06:10 AM PDT by Colonel_Flagg (Army dad. And damned proud.)
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To: Norm Lenhart
Rick Santorum won the contest by a hair, but Mitt Romney was declared the winner by party chairman Matt Strawn.

Just a reminder of how the GOP-E cheats to get their liberal on the ticket. It's also why I won't vote for a liberal (R).

/johnny

7 posted on 07/26/2013 7:07:01 AM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
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To: SeekAndFind

It’s a shame because a golden opportunity to pick up Harkin’s seat may be pissed away due to infighting.


8 posted on 07/26/2013 7:16:14 AM PDT by 0.E.O
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To: SeekAndFind

Gee, Republicans acting like.......Oh, I don’t know.......Democrats!


9 posted on 07/26/2013 7:17:23 AM PDT by Roccus (POLITICIAN...............a four letter word spelled with ten letters.)
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To: TheLawyerFormerlyKnownAsAl

If we had a closed primary system for all GOP primaries, we could eliminate establishment Republicans real quick.


10 posted on 07/26/2013 7:29:19 AM PDT by o2bfree (Lindsey Graham is left of South Carolina.)
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To: Colonel_Flagg

No lie. Why Iowa gets the privilege of being the first contest in the GOP race is beyond reason. The caucus is a weird system. In recent elections, it hasn’t forecast either the nominee or even the most electable candidate nationwide...and it usually goes blue anyway. It’s no bellweather predictor, just a weird first stop that takes time and money. It has become a distraction rather than an opportunity. And the same complaints could be issued about New Hampshire!


11 posted on 07/26/2013 7:38:41 AM PDT by MHT
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To: SeekAndFind

> ““People can say whatever they want, but I’m happy with what we’ve done with the party,” Fischer continues. “We’ve unapologetically worked with the grassroots to advance our founding principles. That’s our job description. I didn’t run to be a leader of this party just so I could be a cheerleader for anybody who happens to hang an ‘R’ behind their name.””

Perfect. This is what we need nationally. Fischer should run for Harkin’s Senate seat.


12 posted on 07/26/2013 7:41:50 AM PDT by Hostage (Be Breitbart!)
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To: Colonel_Flagg

Both sides are off kilter.


13 posted on 07/26/2013 7:46:54 AM PDT by EternalVigilance (Obamanomics: Coming soon to a breadline near you!)
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To: ilgipper

There needs to be a split in the GOP....I would hope the Texas Delegation would be the one to get the ball rolling.


14 posted on 07/26/2013 7:47:49 AM PDT by dfwgator
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To: MHT

Texas should be the first primary....no other state provides the guaranteed electoral votes for the GOP candidate, even the losers like McLame and Romney. And we have no say in who the nominee will be.


15 posted on 07/26/2013 7:49:00 AM PDT by dfwgator
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To: EternalVigilance

Couldn’t agree more, EV. The primary system in this country is a disgrace.


16 posted on 07/26/2013 7:49:10 AM PDT by Colonel_Flagg (Army dad. And damned proud.)
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To: ilgipper
In fact, it seems the entrenched machine will destroy any resurgent Reagan-like leader.

They will. If it weren't for Nixon's trouble I don't think Reagan would have been allowed to run.

17 posted on 07/26/2013 7:52:01 AM PDT by Moonman62 (The US has become a government with a country, rather than a country with a government.)
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To: MHT; Colonel_Flagg
I agree with both of you.

I'd rather have one primary day for everyone.
18 posted on 07/26/2013 7:59:41 AM PDT by novemberslady (Texas For President)
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To: novemberslady

Just about anything would beat the current system. Rotate states every cycle, national primary, you name it. At least that way the Republican Party would have a fighting chance of nominating an actual conservative for President every generation or so.


19 posted on 07/26/2013 8:01:52 AM PDT by Colonel_Flagg (Army dad. And damned proud.)
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To: 0.E.O

You have identified the biggest issue and risk. Winning Harkin’s seat has long-term positive consequences for Iowa and the nation.


20 posted on 07/26/2013 8:22:09 AM PDT by iacovatx (Conservatism is the political center--it is not "right" of center)
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To: SeekAndFind

Although a lot of people complain about Iowa’s position in the election cycle, it actually serves a fairly good purpose. The Iowa caucus gives candidates a chance to test their campaign organizations and fund-gathering potential. Being held in Iowa enables a test of voter behavior that is somewhat similar to voter behavior in a large part of the US, unlike in some other states, e.g., NY or Texas, where voters are more unique. There are problems, too, as when a candidate gains strength in Iowa but is weakened later during campaign season or when a candidate wins in Iowa but really can’t carry other parts of the US. It is a problem for conservatives in that a strong conservative might be more likely to gain strength in, say, Texas than in Iowa.

If there is a war in the Iowa GOP, there is tension in the GOP elsewhere and that may be necessary if the old guard, which has shown it is not able to win the big ones and lacks both conviction and clear values, is to be replaced with a new and strong GOP leadership. The GOP was given a gift when the Tea Party emerged a few years ago and the GOP has not only ignored this new, gift movement which was populated with energized, extremely honorable, and well-behaved traditionalists, and could have revitalized the GOP but has rejected it. That, and the loss of the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 should have led to a cleaning house of GOP leadership, but still they run the GOP.

The Dems did not reject the moonbat movement or the occupy movement and those movements are nuts. The old GOP’s foolishness is jaw-dropping.


21 posted on 07/26/2013 8:36:07 AM PDT by iacovatx (Conservatism is the political center--it is not "right" of center)
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To: SeekAndFind

I see this as a good thing, because it points out the obvious:

1) The leadership is small and liberal, and is trying to cling to power.

2) The rank and file, and now second tier independent leadership is much more conservative, and is tired of the liberal antics of the leadership.

I’d also like to point out that in similar situations, when displaced from power, liberal Republicans quickly turn on their party, and their treachery comes to the fore. They do not lose power graciously.

But the end result is a better party with better candidates, who become much more popular in their state because of their sound policies.


22 posted on 07/26/2013 9:14:30 AM PDT by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Be Brave! Fear is just the opposite of Nar!)
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