In the wake of the Florida primary, it may be timely to return to Iowa to provide context for the rancor and discord still besetting the Republican Party.
In assaying the wreckage of the 2012 Iowa GOP caucus, you can conclude the obvious — that it was a fiasco. You also might wonder if that disaster could be a sort of Phoenix for the Republicans, with a sane and thoughtful party rising from the ashes.
By almost any measure the GOP caucus failed Iowa and failed the nation. The political dialogue and discussion the GOP offered was typified by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas likening President Barack Obama to the antiChrist for his supposed war against Christians.
Celebrated as a screening of potential presidential candidates, the caucus instead was a sideshow of right-wing eccentricities and worse. The religious right, which controls the Iowa GOP, made it clear a year or so before the caucuses that no moderates need apply. That awful start was capped by a ludicrous finish in which votes were miscounted and, eventually, Iowa bestowed upon the nation the winner — Rick Santorum. The delay in declaring Santorum the winner led to the resignation of Iowa GOP chair Matt Strawn, whose disfavor among the Iowa right wing to begin with hastened his departure.
For his part, Santorum is a character right out of H.L. Mencken’s caustic comments about Christians. “One seldom discovers a true believer that is worth knowing” is one of Mencken’s milder views. “Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy” is another. Santorum turned out to be against contraception and an advocate of rape and incest victims making the best out of the opportunities presented by the unwanted pregnancies!
Defenders of the caucus wreckage were reduced to being like the child who killed his parents and then pleaded for mercy because he was an orphan. The caucuses, we were told, aren’t all that formal and reliable, so we should expect slip ups like miscounting votes and promoting bizarre candidacies and, by all means, keep Iowa first in the nation in the process of selecting presidential candidates.
Given the impetus of Iowa, the GOP lunacy continued through South Carolina and Florida and the roller-coaster candidacy of Newt “To the Moon” Gingrich. Gingrich still sees light and victory at the end of the tunnel and perhaps even an endorsement from “family values” Santorum despite Mitt Romney’s success in Florida and Newt’s record of adultery.
The watchdog press dubs Newt as a threat to the discredited “Republican establishment.” Content with the anti-establishment plaudits, the press, however, eschews any reference to Gingrich’s base in terms of “fringe” or more disparaging terms.
But who do you think comes to mind when Iowans think of the “Republican establishment?”
My mind runs to the likes of former Gov. Bob Ray, Lt. Govs. Art Neu and Joy Corning, the late Mary Louise Smith (who was GOP national chair), former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, former legislators Libby Jacobs and the late Dorothy Carpenter, County Supervisor E.J. Giovannetti and others exiled from the Iowa GOP as RINOs — you know, Republicans in name only.
For my money if you want to apply the RINO label to anyone it should be to the likes of Santorum, religious right leader Robert Vander Plaats, Iowa’s national committeeman Steve Scheffler, self-proclaimed Iowan U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and others who have hijacked a once well-regarded political party to advance their religious agenda.
Hence the hope (wishful thinking?) that maybe from the ashes of the caucuses and a GOP disaster in the 2012 elections, we might see the recapturing of the Iowa GOP by people more in the tradition of dedicated, thoughtful public servants than the collection of Mencken cartoon figures now plaguing us — although the Strawn resignation does not bode well.
The party platform that the evangelical Iowa GOP adopts this year most likely will be but an endorsement of their current theology. Perhaps we can hope that by 2014 or 2016 on the state (and national) level, Iowans can have a choice between responsive political parties and not between a would-be theocracy and a Democratic party that we’ve found wanting, too, but which is better than the alternative.