Dear Iowa, Republican political professionals hate your caucuses

It’s become pretty clear that a significant number of the Republican Party’s Beltway-based campaign professionals, consultants, and donors hate the Iowa caucuses.


Though surely some of this antipathy is based on the fact that the Hawkeye State’s GOP caucus-goers are not especially friendly toward coastal establishment candidates, the professional political class’s hatred is not entirely irrational. Iowa’s protected role as the first presidential contest in the nation was codified by Democrats in the wake of the reforms to the primary process prompted by the party’s 1968 nominating convention debacle. On the Republican side, Iowa’s caucus-goers haven’t backed the party’s ultimate nominee in a contested primary since 2000. In 2008 and 2012, the GOP’s most socially conservative candidates – Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum respectively – emerged from the caucuses victorious.

Over the years, Republican political professionals have come to view the caucuses as relatively unrepresentative of the Republican Party nationally (to say nothing of Iowa-based presidential contests like the Ames Straw Poll). As a result, they are liable to openly disparage that state and what they view as its undue influence on party politics.

On Monday, Chris Christie’s chief financial backers and Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone sparked controversy when, according to a Wall Street Journal report, he cast aspersions on the Iowa caucuses. “What did it do for him overall?” he asked of Santorum’s victory in the Hawkeye State. “Nada. Nothing. Zippo.”

“How are you going to let a bunch of old ladies sitting in a room saying who they like and don’t like determine who is going to be the next president?” he added.


Now, to be fair, he’s not entirely wrong. In many rural precincts, this is not wholly inaccurate description of how a caucus works. Though Langone’s description leaves the reader with the impression that the caucuses are often a sleepy affair, which is almost never the case.

For those who are interested, here is a good window into what the average caucus-goer encounters. It’s a fascinating and often intensely interactive process:

Apparently, even Democrats are prepared to make the GOP consulting class’s antipathy toward the Iowa caucuses an issue in the coming election cycle:

Some on the right were incensed when it was revealed that the accomplished political consultant Liz Mair had been tapped by Scott Walker’s campaign this week to serve as his chief digital strategist. Democrats apparently also saw an opportunity to scuttle Walker’s rising political fortunes by, as Weigel suggests, feeding the Des Moines Register some of Mair’s tweets in which she castigated Iowa Freedom Summit host Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and his home state.

“The sooner we remove Iowa’s frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be,” she wrote. “Morons across America are astounded to learn that people from *IOWA* grow up rather government-dependent. #agsubsidies #ethanol #brainless.”


“No ethanol subsidy existed when Mair tweeted that,” DMR reporter Jennifer Jacobs wrote in response. “The 45-cents-a-gallon subsidy the federal government paid to ethanol blenders expired in 2011. Subsidies for biodiesel and cellulosic renewable fuels expired at the end of 2014. But there is still a federal mandate that requires a certain amount of ethanol be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply every year.”

Iowans are understandably protective of their state and its privileged position on the primary calendar. Today, Iowa’s Republican Party chairman demanded that Scott Walker pander to his state’s voters far more aggressively than he already has. “I find her to be shallow and ignorant,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann of Mair according to a report in The New York Times.

“When anybody who works for a presidential campaign thinks it’s OK to insult Iowa, Iowa voters and Iowa farmers, I find it absolutely disgusting and repulsive,” the party’s co-chairman, Cody Hoefert, echoed.

The frustration is apparently mutual. That conflict is not going to be reconciled any time soon.

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David Strom 6:00 PM | February 27, 2024