Field of Drama: Why Iowa Could Decide the Future of the GOP

The state has already become the battlefield of choice for the GOP's warring factions

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M. Spencer Green / AP

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad speaks in Chicago on Aug. 9, 2013

If you want to see the battle for the future of the Republican Party, look no further than the first state on the 2016 nominating calendar.

Iowa has become a proving ground for the Republican Party’s various ideological wings. As Chris Christie and Rand Paul duke it out on foreign policy, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz battle over immigration reform. It’s the struggle in the state that will in many ways shape the future of the GOP. Indeed, the fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party in Iowa is in many ways a proxy for the national party’s struggle for its identity.

In particular, the state has become a test case for how the Republican Party incorporates a growing libertarian contingent. In 2012, supporters of then Representative Ron Paul took over the state party — and altered the results of the Iowa caucuses — by out-organizing the rest of the Republican field at the state convention. What followed was more than a year of recriminations and feuds and fundraising challenges.

“It’s fair to say there is more tension within the party than I’ve seen in many, many years,” says the state’s Republican national committeeman Steve Scheffler. “And I think we’ve seen that on the national level too.”

(MORE: Exclusive: RNC Ups Immigration Reform Pressure On Congressional GOP — But Rejects Path To Citizenship)

The GOP in Iowa is roughly equally divided among the GOP’s warring factions — the Establishment, the social conservatives and the libertarians. Combine two of the three and you have an ironclad grip on the party. That’s exactly what happened in 2012, when evangelicals threw their support behind the so-called Liberty movement of Paul supporters, with chairman A.J. Spiker repeatedly clashing with longtime Establishment governor Terry Branstad. The challenge for Republicans is that with Democratic gains among youth voters and Hispanics, they need all three factions to get along.

“The Establishment needs to find a way to work with them,” Scheffler says. “The new people need to understand there is a process and you have to work within the process. Otherwise we’re in deep trouble.”

“Iowa will decide whether we can keep our eye on the ball, or if we’ll shoot our nominee in the foot like in 2012,” said one RNC member last weekend.

Republicans are far from the first to view Iowa as a test tube for national trends. In 2012, President Barack Obama’s campaign looked to Iowa as a touchstone — in part owing to the swing electorate and in part to the emotional connection to the state that started Obama on the path to the White House. In his book, Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America, Dan Balz wrote that the Obama team sent researchers to focus-group the bellwether state after Obama’s “shellacking” in the 2010 midterm. Republicans see the same role for Iowa in the coming months and years.

“There is a large segment of the Republican Party that wants us to stand up and show some bold leadership on these things,” says Spiker. “The other side says we can’t or we’ll lose. I say if we can’t take stands, why were we sent here?”

(MORE: Christie’s Tough Talk Shows GOP Divide)

According to several longtime Republican operatives in the state, Branstad is building a substantial field team outside of the state party for his re-election next year — designed in part to retake precinct and county leadership posts lost by the Establishment last year. “Our sole priority is to build a grassroots organization for Governor Branstad and Lieut. Governor [Kim] Reynolds,” says Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers. Retaking control of the state convention would ensure a smooth renomination for the pair. But the broader motivations are also clear — an attempt to check the power of the Liberty movement in advance of the 2016 caucuses.

“When you have a group that has controlled the party for 50 years, they’re not going to go away quietly. They want control again,” Spiker says.

“The GOP in Iowa is likely headed for a showdown between people who care more about the R behind the candidate’s name and the party’s values writ large and those who are driving the ‘Big Liberty’ bus but haven’t toiled in the fields of the party except to help one candidate,” says Iowa Republican consultant and former Romney aide Dave Kochel.

“It’s important to put forward the most wide-reaching coalition of activists if we’re going to engage enough voters to win elections,” Kochel adds. “The success candidates like Chuck Grassley and Terry Branstad have had in Iowa has long depended on a far bigger coalition than is currently represented by our state party or interest groups like we see in these early forums.”

As 2016 approaches, Branstad sees the divisions in Iowa as an appropriate battlefield for the future of the national party. “Everyone is welcome, and we encourage them all to come and share their ideas with Iowans, and let Iowans make a judgment of who they think is the strongest and the best,” says Branstad, striking a diplomatic note.

MORE: GOP Claims High Ground in 2014 Battle for the Senate

82 comments
bb53
bb53

Really, they're all the same.  If you weren't evil, there's no way you would ever call yourself a Republican in this day and age.

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

The Republicans use two states with demographics so unlike anywhere else in the country (IA and NH) to pick the craziest klown to lead the parade.  And Valentine, $11 trillion of that national debt was run up by Republicans like Ray-Gun, Bush 1, and Bush 2 with his off-budget wars and other hijinks. Most of the rest is a result of the Bush 2 Depression and trying to get the country out of it without any help from the Republican Party.  If the rolls were reversed, FAUX, the GOP network would be calling for impeachment of every Democrat for treason.  The country will survive DESPITE Republicans, not with their help but we could be much further along if the Tea Pot Brotherhood would renounce terrorism and actually act like Americans.

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

IN CAPS.....SO THE SENIOR CITIZENS CAN SEE/READ BETTER......

ZEKE MILLER.....WHO THE BARACK IS HE?..........IOWA .......WILL NOT DECIDE THE FUTURE OF THE GOP.....

WHAT WILL DECIDE THE FUTURE OF THE GOP.....IS THE EMERGENCE OF A CHARISMATIC CANDIDATE.......WITH BRALLS/GUTS/BRASS......AND THE VISION TO UNITE THE COUNTRY UNDER GOD.....AMERICA......AND THE CONSITUTION.....AND WHO KNOWS HOW TO WAGE DIRTY WAR.......BETTER THAN THE DEMOCRATS.......

WHERE IS THAT MESSIAH?........THE BLACKS GOT THEIRS......AND WHAT DID IT GET US?......OBAMA GAVE US 17 TRILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT......ENOUGH TO ENSLAVE EVERY AMERICAN CHILD TO THE 3D GENERATION......OBAMA DESTOYING THE MILITARY......OBAMA CAUSING RACIAL HATRED THAT IS NOT THERE?.....WHEN HE HIMSELF HAD SEX WITH MULTIPLE WHITE WOMEN........OBAMA DRIVING THE COUNTRY TO CIVIL WAR?......WHILE HE PLAYS GOLF......LIKE NERO PLAYING THE LYRE WHILE ROME BURNED......

ZEKE IS A JACKANAPE AND A JHARRAL......

VALENTINE, POLITICAL HISTORIAN, COMEDIAN.......LOL.....

roadsendllamas
roadsendllamas

Broader question. Given the speed with which Americans today treat the crisis of the moment, or anything for that matter, why in the world is everyone getting 'stirred up' about 2016? America is fickle, almost as fickle as the American new media....We are talking about an election that NO ONE except pundits and fools silly enough to be listening to them should be talking about. How about we just try to get a federal budget passed? Hell don't even care what's in the the budget; getting one passed and signed would be a milestone in Congressional responsibility.

glennra3
glennra3

Which state is most demographically like the U.S. as a whole?

EarlShelton
EarlShelton

Iowa Republicans:  Give me small gov'mint but big Pentagon and ginormous ethanol subsidies!

glennra3
glennra3

The modern Republican Party is a coalition of groups that do not always play well together ideologically.


Libertarians: All government is bad

Religious social conservatives: Jesus for President 

Pro-business fiscal conservatives: Government should help the wealthy

Neo-Cons: Let's bomb somebody

Moderates: The last bastion of sanity within the GOP, so naturally these people are looked upon with disdain as Republican in Name Only and are on the verge of being drummed out of the party altogether.




v27678
v27678

As long as the GOP nomination process is controlled by Christian fundies, the GOP will continue to shrink and continue to lose.       Yes, it really IS that simple. 

glennra3
glennra3

With absolutely no insult intended toward Iowans, does one of the major parties in the U.S. really want this state charting its course toward the future? 


White population: (Iowa) 92.8%, (U.S.) 77.9%

Black population: (Iowa) 3.2%, (U.S.) 13.1%

Hispanic population: (Iowa) 5.3%, (U.S.) 16.9%

Live in cities: (Iowa) 61%, (U.S.) 79.2%


Iowa has been undergoing a significant brain drain. In the 1990s they had the second highest exodus of single educated young adults in the country. 


The average age of Iowa caucus voter is 61.


Iowa is whiter, older, and more rural than the nation as a whole. How does the GOP win a general election by following the same electoral strategy they have for the last four presidential elections, in which the Republicans only won the popular vote once? 

ArmandWinter
ArmandWinter

Considering Rand and Ron Paul and McConnell's campaign manager bribed Iowa state senator Sorenson to rig the last primary caucus against Michele Bachmann and that is currently being investigate... I don't think Rand Paul has a chance.

HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

Why can't that party stop pandering to the worst in the population and reach out to the rest This country will continue to slide into oblivion if the  opposition party is just so plainly stupid.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

what the republicans need to do is nominate condoleeza rice. being a black woman would result in millions of votes from uninformed voters who only care about voting for the "cool" candidate. look how that worked out for baraquaman

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

Nothing against Iowa, I'm sure they're nice people, but what a messed up system that a small group of motivated people get to choose the next candidate.   The other 49 states ... too bad, so sad. 

dickcheneyisaliar
dickcheneyisaliar

The only thing Iowa republicans decide is who are the biggest losers. 

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

Libertarians have their own party.  True libertarians, that is.  The hybrid, TP, Republican libertarian "contingent" is a bastardization.   

Duffman
Duffman

Yeah, let`s have the hillbillies pick our next candidate. What could go wrong? Introducing the G.O.P. candidate: that guy from Duck Dynasty!

oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

Boy, if the future of your party is going to be decided in Iowa, you haven't got much of a future. Iowa may have been critical in elections past because it's the "heartland" of America and every politician has to craft his message to appeal to that audience. But "the heartland" is not the future of this country. Evangelicals are not the future. We need to look ahead to the 2050's, not back to the 1950's. The Republicans keep trying to craft their message in order to find their way through the self-created right-wing mine field of libertarianism and social conservatism. Instead, they need bold, populist thinking on how to rescue the middle class. Ain't gonna happen in Iowa, boys.

kernals12
kernals12

it's sad that the state that will determine the future of the GOP voted for Obama twice

ElGreg
ElGreg

 The rights idea of "bold leadership" is obstruction and to oppose anything that would help the American citizenery. They are for corperate control of the government, unfortunatly they seem to be winning. With the voter repression laws they intend to force their idiology and religious dogms on all of us.

Koko_Loko
Koko_Loko

GOP -  Stop oppressing minorities that are just as much part of this country as you are. Lets start there. 

dopper0189
dopper0189

@valentine.godoflove You write "the blacks got theirs" and then late write "Obama causing racial hatred that is not there?". I love how you project your feeling on others and don't even realize it. But I'm sure things like irony are lost on anyone who types messages in all capital letters.

reallife
reallife

@roadsendllamaswhy in the world is everyone getting 'stirred up' about 2016?

no one cares about 2016 yet - it's the democrat's trying to keep everyone's minds away from the upcoming 2014 shellacking

time is just doing their part 

TallusRip
TallusRip

@roadsendllamas That almost sounds like you want them all to come back from their 5 week vacation.  That kinda sounds like work...work enough to earn them their lifetime health insurance and 6-figure salaries.  I don't think they want to do that.

glennra3
glennra3

@EarlShelton

Yes, and let's also shrink government down to a size small enough to fit into our bedrooms to ensure we all follow the dictates of the Bible, as interpreted by the GOP.


bb53
bb53

@glennra3 Actually, Iowa is a moderate state, sometimes voting Republican and sometimes Democrat.  So it is a good test of how the nation will go.

dopper0189
dopper0189

@glennra3 The idea is that the first four states are represent a part of the US. Iowa (the MidWest and rural America, unions for Dems, Evangelicals for Republicans), New Hampshire (North East, suburbia, highly educated liberals for Dems, Establishment Republicans for the GOP also Libertarians), Nevada (Western, Hispanics and unions for Dems, Mormons, retirees, and Libertarian for Republicans) and South Carolina (South, blacks for Dems, Southern white Evangelicals for Republicans).

All these states are on the small side, allowing for retail politics and (at least trying) to lessen the ability of money to influence politics. All except South Carolina are swing states, even when one party of the other has won these states (except SC) the margins have tended to be relatively close.

sacredh
sacredh

" Iowa is whiter, older, and more rural than the nation as a whole. How does the GOP win a general election by following the same electoral strategy they have for the last four presidential elections, in which the Republicans only won the popular vote once?"

That was supposed to be a secret. It's 5 out of the last 6 elections that the democrats have taken the popular vote for President. 


 

dickcheneyisaliar
dickcheneyisaliar

@HazeAndDrizzle there is a simple answer to this. The right win cons who are bankrolling the GOP are making money off of the recession. They don't want to see the country improve while they are make money.  Just checkout how the Koch brothers are making money. They are manipulating energy prices and gambling on a weak economy. They don't care if this country goes down the toilet cause they can move anywhere in the world they want.

glennra3
glennra3

@cjh2nd

As long as Republicans continue to view Blacks, Hispanics, women, and young people as shallow, uniformed dunderheads who were simply duped by president Obama and only voted for him because he was the "cool candidate," they will forever lose their votes.

Blacks, Hispanics, women, and young people are first and foremost AMERICANS. They vote for the candidate they feel will do the best job of improving their lives and the nation, just like the old, white men who tend to vote Republican.


queenofromania
queenofromania

@cjh2nd You remind me of Richard Nixon's embracing Elvis Presley because he thought in doing so, he would gain the 'youth' vote. Good luck with that.

glennra3
glennra3

@formerlyjames 

All political parties in democratic republics are coalitions of like-minded voters, or bastardizations, in your words.


If you want political and ideological purity you have to look to communist or fascist parties, where disagreement and dissent are not tolerated.


The problem with today's' GOP is that they put their dogma above belief in our democratic republican form of government, which requires compromise.

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@Duffman Hey! Hillbillies live in mountainous Southern states! Let Iowa rednecks get their own insult! 

I suggest "Cornpluckers."

EarlShelton
EarlShelton

@oldwhiteguy  

Same with New Hampshire -- the next stop.

Both are time capsules of what America used to be, antiquated relics when considering that the president is the national leader - the one who is supposed to set the course for the future.

You make an excellent point.

bb53
bb53

@kernals12 It's even sadder that they voted for Reagan twice.  And Bush Jr once.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

@kernals12 if the GOP wants to regain the WH it must flip most of the battleground states (e.g., Iowa) from blue to red -- simply making the red states redder will not work

eagle11772
eagle11772

@Koko_Loko I agree.  I was a Republican for decades until 1986 when I joined The Libertarian Party.  And I'm STILL a proud Libertarian.  The Republicans must embrace Equality under the U.S. Constitution for ALL Americans, not just SOME Americans.

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

Thhe House has worked an average of 3 days a week when they show up.  The Senate is somewhat better at 3.5 days a week.  If either of them acted like this at a private company, they would be out of work.

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

New Hampshire is probably worse on minority representation and city residences and these two states are what the GOTP uses as their template for America?  Christy probably is too urban and educated for the group in those two states UNLESS Iowa is wiped out by tornadoes or New Hampshire has a 7 ft snowfall and then you would want a Christy to be around to get your world re-started.  I don't see any of the krazy klowns having the no-how to solve any problem that can't be resolved by another 100,000 bedroom police.

KenEngledow
KenEngledow

@PerryWhite1 @Duffman  I will have you know, Iowa is the pig capital of the country. and the republicans here are the reason we have the most pigs in the country

falcon269
falcon269

@eagle11772@Koko_Loko "And I'm STILL a proud Libertarian"

 It is good to know that there are ashamed libertarians with enough sense to see the idiocy of their political philosophy.

eagle11772
eagle11772

@falcon269 @eagle11772 @Koko_Loko So you are OPPOSED to LIBERTY and the RIGHT of people to live their own lives how they see fit WITHOUT government interference, huh ?  "FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS......."