Iowa’s Sam Clovis will not be the USDA’s top scientist. Clovis withdrew his name from consideration this morning after it was revealed earlier this week that he had encouraged Trump campaign staffers on their outreach efforts to Russian contacts. He still has a job in the administration as the senior adviser to the White House on agriculture, though the White House didn’t confirm or deny that he would be staying there.
Clovis’ nomination to be the USDA undersecretary for research, education and economics was already highly controversial for a whole host of reasons. For starters, Clovis is not a scientist. That he was nominated to a position always held by an actual, trained scientist was extremely problematic, especially so since he’s a climate change denier. He also has no professional experience in agriculture.
What he does have is experience in Iowa politics, where he’s hosted a conservative talk radio program, taught public policy at Morningside College in Sioux City and ran for the U.S. Senate and then State Treasurer position in 2014. Most importantly, he joined Donald Trump’s campaign as a national co-chair in 2015 to play a pivotal role in religious outreach and foreign policy advisement (although, again, he had no experience in foreign policy). He made the jump to Trump’s candidacy after endorsing and working for Rick Perry earlier that year, leading many to question at the time whether he’d been paid off.
All of that was enough to get him nominated to a top position in the USDA. But even beyond the qualifications issue, his history of incendiary and homophobic statements from his radio show and old blog were causing problems as well. He once compared LGBT protections to pedophilia, blasted Democrats as “race traitors” and pushed various conspiracy theories about Barack Obama.
Now Clovis could face a lengthy, expensive legal battle if he is further ensnared in Robert Mueller’s investigation. Senator Chuck Grassley, who is heading up the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation into Russian collusion, has said this week that the campaign emails he saw regarding Clovis paints a much more positive picture for the Iowan. That’s actually entirely possible, as the emails from Clovis are very questionable, but without the full context it’s difficult to tell if he really committed any crimes. We’ll find that out soon enough as Mueller’s work continues.
For now, Clovis’ ascendant star in Republican Party politics has stalled out, and depending on how the next couple months go, he could be finished entirely. If he does end up returning to Iowa, he might have problems going back to his old job at Morningside College – they publicly criticized him for his work on Trump’s Muslim ban.
One of the big questions around Clovis’ entire political career is just how he rose to where he is in the first place. The man never came off as particularly outstanding at campaign events, and his history of conspiracy theory nonsense should have tipped people off that he’s not the most credible guy. Flipping from Perry to Trump despite Clovis’ deeply religious nature should have been a red flag. Instead, he was handed the party’s Treasurer nomination, headed up Trump’s foreign policy operation (his recruitment of people like Papadopolous and Carter Page has caused Trump significant problems) and then got nominated to a position he had no real qualifications for.
It seems if you spout off enough conservative talking points throughout your life, people will take you seriously even if you don’t conduct yourself seriously. However, that didn’t work out too well for all the Republicans involved in this in the end.
by Pat Rynard