The “Suck It Up Buttercup” bill is no more. Republican State Representative Bobby Kaufmann will not propose legislation to punish public colleges that hosted post-election discussions that Kaufmann saw as “political coddling” of upset students.
Kaufmann was enraged by the idea that Iowa colleges might have programs that let students talk through their frustration with the election results and sought to slash funding from those schools based on how much was spent on it. Turns out, the colleges didn’t spend extra resources on the talks. Nevermind the nastiness of Kaufmann’s belief that addressing students’ concerns over the future president and how their lives could be impacted should be actively punished by the state.
I predicted back in November that Kaufmann would regret his petty move. I was right.
Kaufmann was viewed by many in Iowa politics as a potential up-and-comer on the Republican side. Ambitious and motivated in his own right, it also certainly doesn’t hurt that Kaufmann’s father, Jeff, is the very popular chair of the Republican Party of Iowa.
But I’ve never seen a politician so clearly demonstrate he’s not ready for primetime as I saw with Kaufmann’s handling of this episode. Kaufmann got plenty of media attention for his “Buttercup” idea, as well of considerable criticism and mockery. That’s all well and good, but the important measure of a politician is how they deal with it. The real low-light came when Kaufmann hung up on a Canadian radio show that pressed him to explain his legislation.
CO: And where have you seen the coddling on campuses?
BK: I’m not ready to point fingers on specifics but I think we’ve all seen the reports across the entire country. We’ve seen them live on reports from reputable media sources. I have people reaching out to me from different states saying, hey, my kid, at this particular college today, the professor was actively discussing the possibility of bringing in a pony — a miniature pony so that people could use it to feel better about the election.
CO: Can I ask you where did that happen? Where was the discussion about bringing a pony to school?
BK: My job is to be finding this out. I’m not prepared to name names right now. I’m doing an investigation.
CO: I’m not asking you to name names — just where did it happen?
BK: Okay… [hangs up]
When pressed on the simplest of topics to explain – where did you hear about these incidents – Kaufmann got flustered and hung up. There was always going to be plenty of tough questions about his proposal – this was by far the easiest to explain, and he couldn’t even do that.
Republicans and conservatives lampoon the “safe space” mentality on liberal-leaning colleges. And yet Kaufmann himself came off as the stereotype that his side hates so much – unable to defend their own position and preferring to punish the expression of ideas they don’t agree with.
If you’re going to propose such an unnecessary, mean-spirited bill, aimed at ginning up the excitement of your own base, then you damn well better be able to defend it. Otherwise you make yourself – and the people who support you – look like idiots.
For Republicans looking around the state for their next cast of leaders that could run for higher office, this entire “Buttercup” incident should give them pause. Kaufmann clearly did not think through his political stunt, actively accepted national and international media attention without solid talking points, and then was forced to retreat from his position months later.
One more thing – the central problem with Kaufmann’s “Suck It Up Buttercup” idea was that it fell into the usual trap of the ultra-partisan political warfare that’s plagued our country. Kaufmann saw people who disagreed with him and, rather than try to understand their anger or frustration, immediately sought to punish them.
I won’t get into the debate over why Trump won the way he did, but I’ll tell you why Republicans thought they succeeded (at least in part): they listened to part of the Democratic Party’s base that was frustrated with Democrats’ economic and trade policies and offered them an alternative.
Now, some Democratic activists will tell you Republicans did the opposite – that by outright demonizing people of color they riled up buried racist sentiments for some voters and swayed them that way.
But Kaufmann’s problem isn’t with Democratic activists, it’s with Republican insiders and donors who will help determine his success in a primary were he to run for higher office. From that perspective, this was all foolish. Republicans in Iowa have a looming problem with young voters. Kaufmann, in his early 30s, could be an effective ambassador to that crowd. Instead, he decided to mock them and call them names. It was a blatant appeal to the angry Facebook conservative crowd, a group the party isn’t going to be losing anytime soon.
Kaufmann should play to his potential strengths and not to the tired playbook of talk radio one-upmanship. And for crying out loud, next time you do an interview over a contentious topic, come prepared. Otherwise he’s going to hang up on his promising career in Republican politics before it even really gets going.
by Pat Rynard