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The GOP Caucus Machine Grinds On in Iowa

Iowa "nice" sorely tested under fire and under pressure.

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Articles, Opinion, Politics

Iowa has been put to the test, from a host of GOP presidential candidates in and out of the state to CNN holding town halls and minority groups seeking attention. To top off an untenable strain on the state, voters are asking questions of government officials about how a school shooting in the small town of Perry could possibly happen.

Among the chaos, the Iowa caucuses are set to take place next week. While Democrats in the state can delay voting on their preferred presidential candidate until March, it is full steam ahead for the Republican Party, which declined to postpone the first-in-the nation election event. The battle amongst GOP presidential hopefuls seems to be only for second place, however, as former President Trump continues to dominate the field. And perhaps after traipsing around the Hawkeye State and fielding questions from locals, whoever comes second will claim gains were made on number 45 and, therefore, that their star is on the rise.

GettyImages-1913490637 (1) Donald Trump

Donald Trump (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The two main contenders to place after Trump are Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. Haley has declared more than once that she will come second in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, and then wipe Trump out in her home state of South Carolina. In response to her declarations, both Trump and DeSantis have ramped up negative ads against the former South Carolina governor. Haley took note and had her campaign release a statement: “Nikki Haley is rising. Donald Trump is scared. This is a two-person race.” But the needle has yet to move.

One Iowa Republican voter did not approve of the battle for second place. Doug Stout has been a prominent GOP activist in the state for years. After an appearance in Waukee, he relayed his unhappiness: “We need a governor as the Republican nominee. It’s bad that it’s kind of devolved into something where they both seem to be fighting for second. They’re not fighting for second. They’re fighting for president.”

Town Halls Reveal Nothing New

CNN did its part in trying to topple Trump by hosting two town hall-style meetings with all sorts of voters. The message from the Florida governor was a plea to look beyond, well, CNN and their ilk: “Don’t let the media or the pundits make the decision. Vote for who you think will be the best president of the United States,” DeSantis said, reminding everyone that he did visit all 99 counties in the run-up to the big event.

Haley has fallen short of accusing her former boss and friend of any wrongdoing but has continually labeled Trump as a baron of bedlam:

“Chaos follows him. And we can’t have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it. We have a country to save, and that means no more drama. No more taking things personally.”

She also confided in the audience that she had often told the former president he was “his own worst enemy.”

Iowa and Gun Control

But then came the tragic school shooting, and the rhetoric was redirected. Responses were measured, heartfelt, and somewhat confusing.

Trump took the stage the day after a 17-year-old murdered one student and wounded six more before committing suicide in Perry, IA. Speaking at Sioux Center, the former president said: “To the entire community, we love you, we pray for you, and we ask God to heal and comfort really the whole state and the pain that you have. This is something that’s very unique to your state. That’s just horrible, so surprising to see it here, but we have to get over it.”

GettyImages-1913443403 Donald Trump

Donald Trump (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

That “get over it” part raised brows, and he continued, “We have to move forward.” Too soon? Yes. This is not the most well-thought-out response, but Trump is not known for his delicacy.

DeSantis referred to his predecessor, GOP Gov. Rick Scott, who responded to the 2018 Parkland School massacre in Florida: “We’ve done everything like school resource officers, help with hardening, but also help identify students that are exhibiting really problematic behavior,” DeSantis said. “We’re getting more information about what happened in Perry, but it seems like this student had some serious, serious problems.”

Haley basically said, “Ditto,” and blamed the mental health crisis. “We have got to deal with the cancer that is mental health,” she said.

GOP Snub or What?

For whatever reasons – and there must be some really good ones – every GOP candidate has declined an appearance with the Iowa Black and Brown Presidential Forum. Wayne Ford has organized the event since the state has held the mantle of the first-in-nation caucus. Ford, a former Democratic state house member, has worked with Republican groups to schedule participating candidates.

“We’ve reached out to the Republican Party – whether it was Bush, Reagan, it didn’t matter. We always reached out to both parties,” Ford said. “Over the years, we started recognizing that Republicans were not coming, but Democrats were.” He added: “I’m disappointed that as of today, we still have not done a Republican forum from the presidential level.”

Is it a waste of time? It would seem serendipitous to the political party striving to increase its vote share among the demographic of people of color to at least show up. Out of all the hopefuls, only one, Ryan Binkley, committed to attending any proposed forums. Businessman and pastor Binkley did not have the weight to entice more participants.

But down the stretch, here they come.

At What Cost to Win One State

Trump has spent a little over $11 million in Iowa – nearly a third of it going to media ads contrasting himself against the current president and making jokes about the other two top Republican candidates vying for a participation trophy. According to AdImpact, Haley is outspending DeSantis $27.5 million to $26 million. Over $100 million has been poured into the Hawkeye State, and the buys are ramping up. But in the end, Trump will likely win the state by a landslide. Maybe it’s time to throw some cold, hard cash at coming together for the greater good.

Yeah, that won’t happen, but at least Iowa will soon get a reprieve from the unwanted guests that, like three-day-old fish, have stayed too long.

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