As Senate Republican leadership faces internal tumult over their failure to recapture the majority last week, it’s worth noting an interesting exchange between Iowa’s Sen. Joni Ernst and some conservative constituents earlier this year where she declined to say whether she would vote for Mitch McConnell as leader again.
Several prominent Republican senators, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have in recent days called for leadership elections to be postponed after their disastrous midterm results at the national level. Missouri’s Josh Hawley is saying he’s unlikely to back McConnell. But the Senate GOP will hold a vote all the same tomorrow morning.
Back on a Wednesday night in mid-April at a town hall in Decatur County, Ernst faced similar questions from Iowans frustrated with McConnell’s leadership.
“Would you vote for Mitch McConnell as majority leader when he has said he would not impeach Biden?” a man asked Ernst.
Others in the crowd loudly agreed with his frustration with McConnell.
Ernst replied that she wasn’t positive that was McConnell’s position on impeachment, then demurred on whether she’d support McConnell in the future.
“One, in order to not vote for him, you have to actually have someone else run,” Ernst said. “So, I can’t predetermine. I can’t tell you today what I would do. But point is taken.”
Starting Line followed up with Ernst afterward to see if she wanted to clarify that response in regards to whether she’d back the longtime GOP leader. Ernst said she was fine leaving the interaction as is without any additional clarification, noting again that no one runs against McConnell.
It is next to impossible that Ernst, who has steadily climbed the rungs of the Senate GOP leadership ladder in recent years, would break with McConnell and the official slate, which includes her. Ernst is currently the Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference, and is expected to move up one spot to the Republican Policy Chair position tomorrow.
But Ernst’s reluctance to tell Iowa conservatives to their face that she would vote to reelect McConnell is telling of the difficult position Republicans find themselves in.
The party establishment largely sat back and allowed Donald Trump to radicalize much of their base against leadership. And many remain unwilling to even tell that base in person what they obviously plan to do behind closed doors.
Like other Iowa Republicans who won’t push back against conspiracy theories presented at their town halls, Ernst’s inability to talk tough truths with her base allows those voters’ extremism and anger toward the establishment that she embodies to grow.
Clearly, none of that hurt Republicans’ electoral chances in Iowa, where they trounced Democrats up and down the ballot last Tuesday, a lonely bright spot for the GOP amid a nationwide rejection of Trumpism.
But as Republicans nationally grapple with where their party goes from here, how honest Iowa GOP leaders are with their base, all while presidential candidates descend upon the state, will be a key factor to watch.
by Pat Rynard
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Follow us on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.