GOP establishment seizes control in Iowa

In the midst of all the foreign affairs stories it was probably easy to miss a bit of domestic political news coming out of the Hawkeye State yesterday. At the 2014 Iowa GOP state convention, political activists loyal to Governor Terry Branstad essentially ousted all of the “dissidents” loyal to Rand Paul, securing control of the state party for the perceived establishment.

Establishment forces officially wrested control of the Iowa Republican Party from supporters of Rand Paul on Saturday, a development the victors said would help save the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus from being marginalized and possibly spell the demise of the Ames Straw Poll…

The battle for control of the party was primarily an effort by Branstad to reestablish himself as the undisputed leader of Republican affairs in Iowa — perhaps most critically the future of the caucuses.

After the 2012 results, Ron Paul supporters mobilized at district-level conventions to take over the party — despite the fact he finished third on caucus night — and wound up controlling the delegation to the national convention.

Branstad, cruising to an unprecedented sixth term as governor, has spent the better part of the past two years sparring with A.J. Spiker, a co-chair of Ron Paul’s Iowa campaign who defeated the governor’s preferred pick to lead the state party in 2012. As chairman of the party, Spiker was publicly critical of Branstad’s legislative agenda. Establishment-minded donors refused to contribute to the state party as long as Paul people were in charge.

This appears to be the end (at least for now) of a long simmering dispute. The report lists several complaints by Branstad’s alliance creating the need for such a change. The first was a growing fear that the credibility of the Iowa caucus would be damaged if they keep selecting candidates who go on to lose either the primary or the general election. (See Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.) On that score, I have to say that it doesn’t make much sense. We have competitive primaries for a reason and not every state selects the same person, so nobody picks the winner every time.

They did express some other concerns, however, such as a fear that the candidates who are perceived as being more moderate – such as a Chris Christie or Jeb Bush – might wind up skipping Iowa entirely and focusing instead on New Hampshire. This led one committee member to state, “We need to let people know that when candidates come to Iowa, they have a fair shake,”

The other question, though, is what they meant about the possible end of the straw poll.

It also jeopardizes next year’s straw poll: Branstad said the annual ritual has “outlived its usefulness,” and other critics say it’s become a spectacle that raises a lot of money for the party but has little significance politically. Pro-Paul forces, however, enthusiastically support the event and want to keep it going.

Can they really just cancel the straw poll? Aside from the fact that it gives bloggers something to do while waiting for the actual primary battles, it’s something of a tradition which draws the entire political spectrum. As much as I personally disagree with having Iowa and New Hampshire go first every single cycle, it would be a shame to lose it.