A sense of fatalism has crept into the leadership of Iowa Republicans. Faced with the very real possibility that Donald Trump could be Republicans’ standard bearer in the fall, many leading Republicans in Iowa are cozying up to the bombastic front-runner. Now they’re sharing stages with the man whose policies they’ve distanced themselves from several times last year.
Chuck Grassley raised some eyebrows when he introduced Trump in Pella on Saturday, even using Trump’s signature line of “make America great again.” Pressed on whether this was a show of support for Trump, Grassley’s staff told reporters he would introduce Marco Rubio later on as well.
Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann took the stage in Muscatine to do the pre-show for Trump there.
“If you vote for him, Donald Trump, as the Republican nominee, the Republican Party of Iowa and this Republican chair will be behind him one thousand percent,” Kaufmann told the crowd, noting the energy that Trump has brought into the party.
Some minutes after Kaufmann left the stage for Trump, a Sikh man wearing a turban was ejected from the event after unfurling a “Stop Hate” banner.
“He wasn’t wearing one of those hats, was he?” Trump indignantly asked the crowd.
Kaufmann has visited plenty of other Republican candidates’ events around the state as well, and is scheduled to do a John Kasich one this week, and the party pointed that this was simply a courtesy they’d do for anyone.
Terry Branstad’s comments last week about Ted Cruz, however, were anything but a courtesy. The Iowa Governor specifically stated he hoped Cruz lost the caucus. Add that to Branstad inviting Trump’s son along on a hunting trip, and many believe Branstad is trying to subtly help Trump win Iowa.
It all leads to an interesting dynamic developing with Iowa Republicans. Some of it may be a concern about Trump’s focus on down-ballot races were he to become the nominee, so they’re trying to curry favor with him and appear as allies. Others may be playing a game of political jujitsu to undermine Cruz.
It’s actually rather amusing to watch Cruz’s other opponents try to attack him for shifting positions on conservative issues considering Trump is a former pro-choice, Democrat-donating, free trade-opposing, supporter of single-payer. But whatever, apparently, for the party’s rank-and-file who constantly complain that their leaders are not conservative enough.
As I wrote last week, the strategy here is to cripple Cruz, who they find personally repugnant. Then after New Hampshire, they expect several of the Christie-Bush-Kasich contingent to drop out, allowing the center-right/establishment voters to coalesce around one, likely Marco Rubio.
There’s two problems with this idea. One, Cruz has invested heavily in the March 1st Super Tuesday/SEC primary, where many southern states vote at once. Cruz’s brand will do well there as long as he can stay in the game through February by performing well enough in South Carolina. He’s not going to get knocked out just by losing to Trump in Iowa.
Second, Trump may win the whole thing if he walks away with the first four states, which is looking increasingly likely. Making Trump fight it out with Cruz, his most competent opposition, might be the better option, but establishment and center-right Republicans despise Cruz so much they’re not willing to risk it.
With Trump pulling back into the lead in Iowa, despite Cruz’s organizational advantage, most establishment Republicans can only hope and pray that something will finally upend Trump’s momentum down the line in later states. If it doesn’t, they may have to think long and hard if this is even still their party anymore.
by Pat Rynard
Photo by Gage Skidmore