The Death Of Iowa Nice

When I think back on all the crazy moments I’ve witnessed during the 2016 cycle, one often stands out above the rest. It was in early August at a Donald Trump rally in Des Moines, and Governor Terry Branstad was at the podium giving a warm-up speech. The crowd broke out into chants of “Lock her up!”, as they often started to do in the weeks after the overheated RNC convention.

The look on Branstad’s face in that moment was one I won’t forget. He stood there silent, standing awkwardly rigid after just delivering a vicious attack on Hillary Clinton. He looked confused and uncertain, unwilling to encourage or acknowledge the crowd as they screamed to jail their political opponent, yet certainly too afraid to tell them to settle down.

In the crowd that day were dozens of people wearing those “Trump That Bitch” t-shirts that vendors sell to eager Trump supporters outside of rallies. I commented to one of the staffers there that if I was in charge of a Democratic Party event, I would immediately toss out anyone with such vile and misogynistic messaging, no matter if they were supporters or not. My concern was met with a shrug of the shoulders. Many adorning those shirts yelled the loudest as Branstad stood silent.

I also recognized very few of the Republican activists that I had gotten to know during the caucuses, the ones who showed up at Rubio, Cruz, Fiorina and Bush events. I met a lot of nice Republicans during that time. I don’t see them anymore, except at the occasional party fundraiser.

With the kind of angry people Trump and Iowa Republicans have welcomed into their party, the bizarre comments from voters at Mike Pence’s event in Newton yesterday shouldn’t come as a shock.

“For me personally, if Hillary Clinton gets in, I myself, I’m ready for a revolution, because we can’t have her in,” a woman told Pence.

Pence cautioned her not to say that in a moment reminiscent of John McCain telling a rally-goer in 2008 that Barack Obama was not, in fact, a Muslim.

This is unfortunately what Iowa politics looks like these days. Thanks to Iowa Republicans’ full embrace of Trump’s candidacy, more and more crazies have entered the party and felt emboldened to project their conspiracy theories and hatred. The Des Moines Register asked what it all says about Iowa, and the answer is nothing good.

The “Iowa Nice” that our state is so well-known for is dead, murdered by the 2016 election.

Nearly everyone on the Republican side has gotten in on it, egged on and justified by the unified Trump support among Terry Branstad, Kim Reynolds, Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley and Jeff Kaufmann. Steve King has been emboldened to go so far as to announce common cause with European far-right nationalists and tweet out white supremacist sayings. The Republicans’ Reagan Dinner in Des Moines on Saturday was a very dark affair, filled with vicious, over-the-top attacks on Clinton, with one attendee shouting out “Impeach her!”, though it was unclear what they wanted to impeach her from.

Branstad and Kaufmann claim their Trump loyalty is partly in an effort to protect the Iowa Caucus, but they’re doing much more harm than good. Candidates and media love coming to Iowa partly because caucus-goers are so well-informed and can converse intelligently with candidates on in-depth policy issues. Right now the base of the Iowa Republican Party has turned into a bunch of foaming-at-the-mouth radicals. When 2020 hopefuls hold town hall forums in the future, will they get people calling for armed revolution against a President Clinton?

And with Trump waging open warfare on the GOP, certain to cause down-ballot havoc, the Republican Party may emerge from 2016 looking for ways to prevent candidates like Trump from winning in the future. Iowa went for Ted Cruz in the caucus, but Iowa has also become Trump’s best, most loyal vote of the swing states. Given the Trump embrace from the state party’s establishment, isn’t it more likely that Iowa caucus-goers would gravitate to another Trump-like nationalist?

Leadership matters. And Branstad and Kaufmann led their party and their voters to become more hateful and more extreme. That is bad for the Iowa Caucus.

But it’s not simply limited to the Republican side. The base of the Democratic Party here isn’t anywhere near the level of anger the Republicans are at, but you can see where we’re headed in that direction. The county conventions back earlier this year featured shouting, yelling and nasty accusations. The Sanders and Clinton factions have still yet to fully reconcile with one another and a sense of mistrust persists.

During the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, one of the Sanders national delegates told Senator Mike Gronstal during an attempted unity meeting that every Democratic legislator is “corrupt.”

“When you say things like that, that’s a conversation ender,” Gronstal replied, according to several people in the room.

And it seems like many of those conversations did end. There’s this prevailing idea that if you aren’t 100% with someone on their favorite policies, you’re the enemy.

When I covered a Green Party rally, one of the nice, enthusiastic Jill Stein supporters was cautioned by her friends not to talk to me, because they told her I had once written that she was a “suicidal Marxist who works at TGI Friday’s.” Now, anyone who actually reads Starting Line knows I wouldn’t write something so unprofessional and nasty-sounding, nor that I actually feel that way about anyone (and indeed, it was some random VICE reporter who wrote it). But some people will believe anything and the worst of someone if that person is perceived to not be on their side. At least I was given a chance to clarify and reassure in this situation.

You saw flashes of that during the Polk County minimum wage fight. The activists advocating for a $15/hour minimum wage brought up very important concerns with the process and the youth and tipped wage exceptions. They also got out of hand at times, leveling very personal attacks at the supervisors, as well as shouting and yelling at times during the meeting, which didn’t help anything. The supervisors didn’t improve matters either by making odd accusations right back that the activists didn’t care about fighting hunger because they weren’t also at meetings about local food pantries. They even had sheriff’s deputies kick out one of the lead activists for constantly shouting at them.

It’s all part of a pattern of a breakdown in political discourse in Iowa. Republicans’ fiery hatred of Clinton has led them to a dangerous place, tolerating the extremes of racists and misogynist so they can win. The activist left is trending toward a dangerous path as well, with both sides of the internal Democratic divide not doing enough to reach out to one another. And yes, it’s happening all across this country, but it’s particularly noteworthy here given our reputation, as well as the severity of it caused by Iowa Republicans’ choices.

Perhaps it will get better once Election Day is here and gone. Perhaps it won’t. But one thing is sure: it will take real leadership in both parties to return our state’s politics to a productive place, and to regain the “Iowa Nice” distinction that has served our state well.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 10/12/16

19 Comments on "The Death Of Iowa Nice"

  • Iowa has changed for the worst since I returned to my native state after 20 years abroad teaching. Hate is out in the open: the KKK and Iowa NAZIs are openly rallying along with Tea Party and Confederate flag carrying haters. There is a Confederate flag flying right across the street from McFarland Clinic, and youth pledged to Trump wear T-shirts of hate and promise, like the crazed woman at a Pence rally, they are ready for a revolution. I am not unpacking a single box–for if Trump and Grassley should win, this native Iowan is flying this nation as I have lived through the Third Reich and do not want my final days spent living in the promised Fourth Reich.

    • Grew up in Iowa City in the 50s and 60s. I remember seeing little tiny traces of this, and having to fight it off in my own life, but it was done – by all of us. I’m no saint by a long shot, but I still remember proudly castle my first vote for McGovern. This Iowa foreign to me, and sad. We can do better. We really can.

  • The above comment that I wrote is missing an important caveat. The McFarland Clinic is in Eldora (not in Ames).

  • Gee Pat.,. None of the angry voices have a 1st Amedment right – their all “Deplorables” and should be disenfranchised! You and your ilk are the problem. Let’s not cover the facts of why people are angry… let’s just label them misfits and “extremist”

    • ,, You’re right. They do have a right to express themselves. They are also accountable to the things they are saying, and if they are counter to the values and freedoms that this great country upholds, then they deserve to be told to STFU! There is no reason to be THIS angry. Our economy is great, our job rates have risen, we are out of a recession, and we have respect from our international peers. Any reason to be angry is MOSTLY propaganda. “They” are deplorable and not worthy of credibility..until “they” learn how to act properly.

    • No John, you yourself who has labeled them “misfits” and “extremists” from the tone of your response to calling Pat “You and your ilk” just proves his point in this article. He never called them deplorable in nature or questioned their use of the 1st amendment he just stated that “There’s this prevailing idea that if you aren’t 100% with someone on their favorite policies, you’re the enemy.” And he’s very much correct in making that statement regarding all side of the political spectrum. And yes he has covered the facts as to why they’re angry and he gets it. However, how people are willing to express it is another totally different matter. Angrily. With hatred. Violently (a revolution perhaps). Or possibly with ethnic cleansing. I believe for now your at the angry stage of this cycle.

  • Right wing radio saturates our once conservative but sane state. WHO is only one station that broadcasts hours of it daily, reaching a huge population. This creates conversations that spread, polluting dialogue, furthering these ideas even among those who don’t listen to it on the radio or even have awareness that it exists. Blog for Iowa researched right-wing talk radio in Iowa a few years ago. Probably not much has changed. It is the invisible mechanism that not only puts ideas into the minds of otherwise decent human beings, but creates a community of ignorance. There are places in Iowa where there is no internet access and little or no access to public radio. Right wing radio in Iowa supports and validates an alternate reality. It affirms believers. We need to start talking about this. Here is what we found out about the daily dose of lies and hate being delivered over the publicly owned airwaves to Iowans:
    Of the 16 commercial stations in Iowa that broadcast conservative talk:

    – 7 stations broadcast 12-14 hours per day of conservative talk
    – 2 stations broadcast 9 hours per day of conservative talk
    – 1 station broadcasts 8 hours per day of conservative talk
    – 4 stations broadcast 6 hours per day of conservative talk
    – 2 stations broadcast 3 hours per day of conservative talk

  • Following is the list of stations in Iowa that broadcast right wing talk

    Burlington Talk
    Radio KCPS
    KCPS 1150
    205 S. Gear
    W. Burlington, Iowa 52655
    Phone (319)
    Glenn Beck,
    9-11a; Limbaugh 11a-2p;Dennis Miller 2-5p; Michael Savage
    7-9p; Jerry Doyle 9-12am;
    (Since 2009, took out 1 hour of O’Reilly, replaced with 3 hours of Doyle) Total: 13 hours/day

    *Burlington KBUR 1490 am
    Hannity 2-5, Roger Hedgecock, 8-11
    Total: 6 hours/day

    Cedar Rapids WMT 600
    Old Marion Road
    Cedar Rapids, IA 52402
    Toll free: 800-332-5401
    *600 on your US
    Cellular Phone
    Limbaugh 1p-4p;
    Jim Bohannon 9p-12a Total: 6 hours/day

    KXIC Iowa City 800 AM
    (319) 354-9500 /866-609-TALK
    Dennis Miller, 3 hours each Total: 6 hours/day

    WOC Quad Cities
    1420 AM

    11a-2p; Hannity 6-9p;Dennis Miller 9-12a; Total: 9 hours/day

    Des Moines WHO
    1040 AM
    2141 Grand Ave
    Des Moines, IA
    Program Director,
    General Manager
    Jan Mickelson,9a-11:30;Limbaugh
    1-4p;Steve Deace 4-7p;Michael Medved 9-12 ;Jim
    Bohannon 4-5am
    (Dropped Michael Reagan, added Bohannon) Total: 12 1/2 hours/day

    WDBQ(no website)
    1490 AM
    5490 Saratoga
    Road Dubuque
    Phone: (563) 557-1040
    Limbaugh 11a-2p
    *Acc. to Wikipedia: As of September 2009, added: Smerconish, Ingraham, Hannity, Fred Thompson
    Est. Total: 13 hours/day

    *Estherville KILR
    1070 AM (no
    Phone: 712-362-2644
    Limbaugh 11a-2p
    Added: Bill Bennett, 2 hrs; James Dobson 1/2 hr, Laura Ingraham, 2 hrs., Hannity 3 hours; Savage 3 hours; Total: 13 1/2 hours/day

    Mason City KGLO

    AM 1300
    341 S Yorktown Pike
    Mason City, IA
    (641) 423-1300
    Tim Fleming,
    Brian Fancher,

    Limbaugh 1p-4p
    M-F Total: 3 hours/day

    Sheldon KIWA (has advertiser list
    on website!)
    1550 AM
    411 9th Street
    Sheldon, IA
    E-mail: Walt Pruiksma, Station
    Mgr., at (good
    luck…there is a picture on the website of Walt with Bush)
    E-mail: Wayne
    Barahona, Program Director, at
    11a-2p; Hannity 2-5p; L & H Saturdays also
    Added Laura Ingraham and Mike Huckabee Total: 9 hours/day

    Sioux City
    2000 Indian Hills Dr
    Sioux City, IA
    (712) 239-2100
    11a-2p; Hannity, 2-5, O’Reilly (Fred Thompson now?) 5-7, Glenn Beck 7-10, Dennis Miller 10-12
    Total: 13 hours/day

    Waterloo KXEL
    AM 1540
    514 Jefferson
    Waterloo, IA 50701
    Manager: Tim Mathews
    Phone: 319-234-2200 or
    Coverage Area: Waterloo-Cedar
    Falls-Cedar Rapids-Iowa City
    8-11a Glenn
    Beck; 11a-2p Limbaugh; 2-5p Hannity
    Dropped Bohannon, added Mark Levin 6-9, Smerconish 6-8
    Total: 14 hours/day

    *Marshalltown KFJB1230
    Hannity 2-5
    Total: 3 hours/day

    *Ames 1430 KASI
    Laura Ingraham 9-12, Neal Boortz 9-12
    Total: 6 hours/day

    *Spencer KICD 1420
    O’Reilly Talking Points Memo 2 minutes 2x day; Mike Huckabee Report 5 minutes 2x a day; Glenn Beck 3-5; Saturday Beck 3-6; Sunday Lou Dobbs 9-12
    Total: 2 hours, 14 minutes/day; Weekly total: 8 hours

    *98.3 WOW-FM Des Moines
    Mark Levin 11-2 am; Dennis Miller 2-4; Glenn Beck 10-1; Sean Hannity 4-7; Michael Savage 8-11;
    Total: 14 hours/day

    • This list is downright frightening. Because this is what Hitlers supporters did in Germany before WWII to carry out their message of the Third Reich. With limited ways to broadcast messages to a large audience (i.e. Radio and newspaper, books and word of mouth or speeches) Hitler was able to sell his persuasive ideology to a massive crowd of supporters. It’s worth noting that some of the names on this list surprise me. Names such as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Dennis Miller, Sean Hannity and others to name a few. I doubt many of these celebrities would want to give up their successful careers in radio to support another Nazi regime.

  • The GOP leaders and many supporters have turned Iowa into one of the least progressive states in the nation. We do not deserve to host the first caucuses for President every four years. We also need to replace our old GOP politicians.

    • Yep, the Iowa GOP has turned our state into a laughing stock. When is the last time someone who won their caucus was actually the nominee? If Iowa loses its “first in the nation status” it’ll be due to their craziness.

  • Yes, it’s no wonder that there is such angst and violent rhetoric out there when viewing the list of hate radio out there. We need to figure out what can be done about this mental poison. Maybe calling in to the sponsoring stations and complaining? Threatening to boycott sponsors?

    But let’s also talk about a missed opportunity for Democratic party unity during the National Convention. Dr. Andy McGuire and Congressman Loebsack did a MAJOR disservice to party unity when not allowing Bernie supporters to stand with them during the role call. Senator Sanders basically won half of the state but his delegates were not merely dissuaded from participating they were actually PREVENTED from taking part or even standing next to these party “leaders.” The Party says they want unity but this was a poor way of proving it. This is likely one of the reasons that some Bernie supporters have moved on to “greener” pastures that actually want their participation, not just their votes every 2-4 years.

  • Yes, there’s been no attempt to redress actual grievances on the Democratic side. We need an end to coin tosses, an actual vote and bi-partisan, verified vote count, and as the comment above mentioned, fair time and presence at the convention. Since the primaries are now essentially the election, democracy is on the line. Open debates would help too–the major parties are a duopoly and act accordingly. Notice that the only mention of a Jill Stein supporter in this article was negative.

  • Indeed, Mary. And ask how many of those Bernie Dems who ARE voting for Clinton this year are doing so because the alternative is literally (and I do not mean “figuratively”; I do mean “literally”) too scary to contemplate. And who would like to see more downballot love?

  • Why can’t we quarantine the wackos from both extremes and all get along?
    The country is split. The GOP is split (not that I give a rip). This polarization isn’t good for anyone. My mother used to tell me that if I couldn’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Be pretty damn quiet, wouldn’t it?

  • Iowa politics used to be strongly communal. Now, like most politics, they have gone tribal. Identity rules. Folks in many rural areas sense a “southernization” of their old identity.

    How many who used to think of themselves as Iowans now primarily identify with their color, creed, party, education level, or just being a “real American”? And think the rest can just dang well put up with them and their kind running the country?

  • Thank you, Pat Rynard, for a very thoughtful piece. Yes, “Iowa Nice” seems dead here, too, in the Quad Cities.

  • I must say– as a person who lived in Iowa for nearly a decade—Iowa Nice was always a fiction.
    I experienced some of the worst hate speech, some of the most thoughtless, uncaring actions that I have ever witnessed in Des Moines and In numerous small towns over that decade. Iowa is like everywhere else–a mixed bag of good people and less good people.
    Add in a dominant white culture that fears latinos, blacks and other “foreigners” as the scary “other”—and you have a prescription for the levels of support and opprobrium seen in the Trump ranks.
    It’s actually the most natural Iowa state of mind in my view–that’s why we left for good a year ago…and have never looked back.

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