Since taking over the reigns of the Republican Party of Iowa in 2014, Jeff Kaufmann has impressed Republican insiders and frustrated Democrats’ electoral efforts. He took over a state party driven to near-bankruptcy and dysfunction by Ron Paul supporters and willed it back to life, contributing to the party’s overwhelming success in the 2014 elections. And in the span of just a few hours yesterday, he did national Republicans two major solids, both on race issues, by securing a major high-profile opportunity for Republicans to discuss issues important to minority communities and by killing a potentially disastrous Confederate flag controversy in Iowa.
At a press conference yesterday, former Democratic State Representative Wayne Ford (once a colleague of Kaufmann in the House) announced the historic Iowa Black and Brown Forum will feature a Republican event for the first time ever. The well-known forum has been around in Iowa for 30 years, prominently hosting Democratic presidential candidates for a discussion on issues of concerns for Latinos and African-Americans during the Iowa Caucus. The Republican Party of Iowa will co-host a separate Republican candidate forum in December, a new development that Ford credited to his longtime relationship with Kaufmann.
For a party desperately trying to make up their severe disadvantage with minority voters, this forum will give their presidential hopefuls an excellent chance to try to connect. Rand Paul has already been out front on calling for criminal justice reform on federal sentencing laws that disproportionately affect minority youths. Jeb Bush feels his approach to immigration reform can bring some Latino voters back to their side. This will provide a great opportunity to pitch those ideas and show a different side of the Republican Party than many minority voters are used to. Well… unless Donald Trump shows up to the forum saying the same insane stuff about Mexican immigrants that he is right now. Then it may not be a net benefit.
In addition to smart long-term planning, Kaufmann has also shown to be adept at damage control. Yesterday reports came to light of the Marion County Republican Party flying some Confederate flags in its 4th of July parade entry. Iowa has largely stayed out of any flag-related controversy in the weeks since the Charleston shooting and the Confederate symbolism fallout that followed, but having a Republican organization fly the controversial flag could have blown all that up. Kaufmann’s reaction to the story, however, was swift and unequivocal.
“I condemn their actions on behalf of the Republican Party of Iowa in the strongest words possible,” Kaufmann said in an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette. He continued with his denunciation, saying:
“We are the party of Abraham Lincoln. We were the party that supported the Union army and we are still that party of Abraham Lincoln. I absolutely won’t tolerate it. We have no room in our party for people like that — none,” he said. “I hope they toss those people out so fast, it’ll make your head swim. And, if they don’t, I’ll lead a party of 98 central committees.”
Kaufmann’s harsh words continued in an interview with Radio Iowa:
“There are 17,000 young Iowa men that are laying in graves that fought against that very flag and everything it stood for,” Kaufmann said. “There’s really not a lot of conversation to have about that.”
And to the couple who displayed the Confederate battle flags, Kaufmann has this suggestion about their First Amendment rights: “Stand on a street corner and quote Robert E. Lee. I don’t care. While they’re on their way home, they might pick up a few flowers to put on the graves of the thousands and thousands of dead Union soldiers that gave their life to fight under the United States flag.”
I’m not sure I can remember the last time a statewide party chair just straight-up threatened to kick a county party out of the state organization. And certainly not in such stark terms. There will still be some who rightly criticize Republicans for their local activists even having a mindset that waving that flag around right now was a good idea, but this should tamp down any larger fallout. And it pretty easily could’ve become a bigger headache considering the stupidity of some of those Marion County activists. The Des Moines Register story concluded with a quote from one of the flag-wavers actually saying, “I guess my message to Mr. Kaufmann would be that we won’t be slaves to the Republican Party.” I mean, talk about lack of self-awareness.
Rick Perry is scheduled to be in Marion County on Saturday, and Marco Rubio will be traveling to nearby counties tomorrow. Both them and other national Republicans will be happy that a potential racially-tinged story in the heart of caucus country was stamped out so quickly. Kaufmann has a reputation for being an incredibly tough-talking, sometimes-over-the-top polemic quote machine. It sometimes gets him into a bit of trouble, like when a few of his harsher statements on candidates who don’t attend the Iowa Straw Poll may have turned off certain Republican candidates and led to some bad national press. In this case, however, it saved national Republicans from a very embarrassing story within spitting distance of their presidential candidates’ visits to Iowa. Next time those folks are in town, they may want to thank Chairman Kaufmann.
by Pat Rynard