While the state party was as unified as ever for Donald Trump at the Republican Party of Iowa’s Reagan Dinner in Des Moines last night, two defections happened outside the fundraiser. Ankeny State Senator Jack Whitver was the first major Iowa Republican to publicly call for Donald Trump to step down as the party’s nominee this afternoon. State Representative Ken Rizer of Marion announced he would write in Mike Pence’s name for president in a lengthy Facebook post put up Saturday evening.
This was after a wave of statements from Terry Branstad, Kim Reynolds, Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, Rod Blum and David Young that all condemned Trump’s comments, but did not say they would vote for someone else or that Trump should resign from the ticket.
Rizer’s choice to bail on the nominee makes sense for a number of reasons, most of all that he’s in a tough reelection race in his Marion swing district. That suburban district contains many of the independent-leaning women that polls have shown are moving away from Trump’s candidacy and Republicans as a whole. Rizer’s opponent is Molly Donahue, an educator and part of one of the Democrats’ all-female tickets in the state.
“Until now, I was ready to hold my nose and vote for Trump because I believed he would be better than Clinton,” Rizer said in his Facebook post. “Given this recent release, I have decided I can’t in good conscience vote for him. As a base commander, I aggressively prosecuted Airmen who sexually assaulted women. As the father of 2 college-aged women, I know too well the challenges they’re facing daily in regards to groping, lewd conduct, etc.”
What’s most interesting about Rizer’s move isn’t so much his statement, but the response to it. Of the 47 comments on the post as of Sunday morning, 38 were positive or supportive of his decision.
He also took the interesting move to outright admit that he realized this action would help Hillary Clinton, something that wasn’t seen in any national Republicans’ statements.
“I will be writing in Mike Pence. I take this action somberly, as I believe it will contribute to a Hillary presidency from which we may never recover. I can only hope and pray that our Constitution is more resilient than the inevitable continued assault upon it,” Rizer wrote.
Whitver’s decision to buck Trump is even more interesting, and could carry longterm consequences for the future of the Iowa Republican Party.
“The comments and actions by Donald Trump are inexcusable and despicable. He should step down,” read a tweet that Whitver sent out around 2:30 in the afternoon.
The comments and actions by Donald Trump are inexcusable and despicable. He should step down.
— Jack Whitver (@jackwhitver) October 8, 2016
If Trump gets wiped out on Election Day, costing down-ballot Republicans in the process, the current leadership of the state party could face pressure to step aside. At the very least it would lead to some serious soul-searching on how Iowa Republicans move forward and how they handle this national intra-party warfare that allowed Trump to become the nominee. It could also have a serious impact on how the primary for 2018 governor plays out.
Whitver, Marco Rubio’s top backer during the Iowa Caucus, could emerge as the leader for any type of faction of Republicans who want to pull the party back to a more respectable, policy/values-focused place. The well-known former ISU football star also has shown some personal ambitions for higher office in the past. He strongly considered running for the 3rd District seat in 2014 before giving it a pass, and has risen quickly in senate leadership, currently serving as the Republican whip for his senate caucus. While Ron Corbett, Kim Reynolds and Bill Northey are the big names rumored for governor in 2018 if Branstad declines to run again, Whitver could make a very interesting choice. No one else has a good of claim to a large base of support leftover from the Iowa Caucus – the Rubio crowd – than him.
Regardless of whether he ran for higher office, Jack Whitver’s leadership in the state party could expand significantly if Trump fully implodes. On the other hand, it might not. Last night’s Reagan Dinner showcased a fervently pro-Trump party, egged on by leaders like Branstad and Kaufmann, that only gave tepid applause to Senator Tom Cotton’s denunciation of Trump’s comments. The party is so overwhelming behind Trump that defections like these could put Whitver and Rizer on the outs with them, or at least not provide Whitver with as large of base of sympathetic anti-Trump conservatives as you might expect.
As of this writing, Starting Line has not seen any other Republican legislator or candidate in a swing district give a similar condemnation and distancing from Trump like Whitver’s. State Senator David Johnson released a statement calling on Branstad and Reynolds to repudiate Trump, but he already left the party back in June over a previous Trump controversy.
by Pat Rynard