Iowa Caucus players not worried social conservative influence will diminish state’s status
Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2012-80.jpgEvery four years there is speculation as to what might diminish Iowa’s first-in-the-nation’s caucus process, and this presidential cycle is proving no different with social conservative influence being held up as the latest danger. But two historic defenders of the state’s process say this threat, just like so many in years prior, simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
“As somebody who was chairman [of the Republican Party of Iowa] previously, what I know is that no one — Democrat or Republican — wants to be known as the person who lost the first-in-the-nation caucuses. You just don’t want that on your watch — you don’t want to be that particular footnote in Iowa political history,” said Mike Mahaffey, who served as the party’s leader in the late 1980s and was a member of the Republican State Central Committee prior to that.
Former U.S. Rep. Dave Nagle, also a former Iowa Democratic Party chairman, faced a lawsuit in the early 1980s and nearly lost all Iowa delegates to the Democratic National Convention as a part of his quest to defend the state’s status. He agrees that state party leaders have worked tirelessly to protect the state’s status and issues a reminder that the purpose of the caucus isn’t to pick either party’s presidential nominee.
“The role of Iowa and New Hampshire, as the first caucus and first primary state — and this played out very well during the 2008 process — is that we are supposed to be narrowing the field, not selecting the nominee,” Nagle said.
“As such, if we simply say that we found that of the most conservative Republicans this person had the best credentials, then we’ve done what we were intended to do. We’ve winnowed the field. We’ve said to those that don’t finish first or second on the very conservative side that maybe they should look someplace else or maybe that this isn’t their time.”
Those things being said, both men agreed that the process would benefit from more moderate voices becoming actively engaged in the caucus process.
“As one of the chief proponents through the years of the Iowa caucuses, I want to see participation,” Nagle said. “One of the criticisms of Iowa — I believe it to be misfounded, but it does persist — is that only the most dedicated activists participate, or that it isn’t broad enough. So, from that standpoint, I want to see as much participation as possible, and when one segment of a party starts dominating the process that can hurt turn-out, and that can under-cut us.”
Mahaffey is somewhat optimistic that the entry of Texas Gov. Rick Perry might bring more interest to the race, but not necessarily because of Perry himself.
“I think the big question now is what does the entry of Perry prompt [former Massachusetts Gov.] Mitt Romney to do,” he said. “Does he rethink his strategy in Iowa thus far and, if so, does that spark a new dynamic in Iowa with more moderates or individuals other than those who focus on traditional social issues becoming more involved?”
Social conservatives are playing a dominant role in Iowa, Mahaffey said, adding “there’s no doubt about that,” and that they will continue to be a force in the state.
“But I think there are several other scenarios in play as well, and those are perhaps not as often recognized by the media as they develop story lines about the caucuses,” he said.
One such story line is that of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who has developed an almost legendary following of people from wide swaths of various demographics.
“A friend of mine who went to see Paul during an Iowa City stop said he had never seen a more ‘motley crew’ of supporters,” Mahaffey said, noting that Paul has garnered support from social conservatives, anti-war demonstrators, fiscal watchdogs and, of course, those Republicans with a libertarian bent.
“Do I think he’s going to win the caucuses? No. But he does have significant support and I think he will do better than he did four years ago. … And its important because the people that he is energizing to be active here in Iowa aren’t members of this one-facet party that I think the media is trying to paint.”
On the other hand, Mahaffey, like Nagle, doesn’t see a socially-dominated GOP caucus as something that will diminish the role Iowa has played and should continue to play.
“I say to friends of mine that decide not to attend their caucus and wind up with someone they don’t necessarily agree with that whoever shows up has the influence,” he said. “And, frankly, if these [social conservatives] are the individuals who are willing to show up and sit for two or three hours, God bless them. Sometimes in politics the winners are simply the ‘iron-butt’ caucus — those who will show up, stay and fight for what they want.”
For a good example of the influence of extreme factions of each party, he said, one need look no further than the party platforms. The grassroots documents are often completed at conventions where only the most dedicated and passionate souls are willing to stay put long enough to voice their opinions.
The key to defending the Iowa caucuses, according to both men, are for Iowa leaders to do what has always been done: Walk hand-in-hand with New Hampshire (and especially Secretary of State Bill Gardner) and use their first contest influence to get candidates on record now as supporting the existing process.
“I generally admire the way that the Republican Party of Iowa is handling it,” Nagle said. “But I do have a few suggestions for them. First, they should get a pledge from candidates to seat Iowa delegates at the national convention in case the state needs to outside of the calendar at the national party has set. Second, they should get a pledge from the candidates now that if they become the nominee they will support Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status. They’ve not yet done that, and they need to do it.
“And there is one other step that they’ve not yet done, which they should. They should make it perfectly clear to candidates that they should not participate in any other process that is not sanctioned by the calendar of the Republican National Committee. Remember that we (Iowa and New Hampshire) were able to effectively keep everyone out of Florida [in 2008] because they were told that if they went there they wouldn’t find a warm audience back here.”
Working with New Hampshire to obtain the pledges of support has always worked well, and is something that has been an historic part of the process since the early 1980s.
“If someone comes out of Iowa and winds up on the ticket as president or vice president, I don’t think there is problem,” Mahaffey said. “On the other hand, if someone who doesn’t come out of Iowa — or maybe hasn’t had a really good experience here earns the nomination, there might be reason for concern.
“But I also think the candidates understand the process has to begin somewhere. When you look at Iowa and New Hampshire, you have places in which pretty much everyone can play regardless of their name recognition or the amount of money they have. In these two states, you have true retail politics, and we provide a real bang for the buck. They also know the people of Iowa are very serious about our responsibility. Even those who never really make it out of the gate know that they have gotten a fair hearing in Iowa. They get listened to here and get to spread their message through the publicity they get by being here.”
Mahaffey, who has participated in numerous presidential campaigns, said even those candidates who end their campaign here — for instance, Elizabeth Dole — still speak highly of how they were treated in the state, what they were able to accomplish and how good the process is here.
“Even if someone else becomes president, I think there are still these candidates out there that will step up and say that this is a process that has to start somewhere and that Iowa does a good job,” he said.
No matter how important Iowa is to the presidential nominating process or how many stories are written about how this, that or the other might spell the end of Iowa’s era, the future of the caucuses, Nagle said, is in the hands of the people of Iowa and the state’s political leaders.
“The bottom line is that the future of the caucuses will depend on how flexible and committed we are to keeping us first,” he said. “And if they ever throw us out of a national convention? Fine. If that’s the cost of being first, it is more important to be first.”