Check out this piece from Matt Hildreth published today at the Des Moines Register. We’ve spent years on this blog pointing out how toxic Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is to national Republicans, calling DREAMers “deportable[s]” and describing them as having “calves the size of cantaloupes,” and in general being the poster Congressman for the fact that the GOP is doing a terrible job of reaching out to Latino voters. But as Matt points out, evidently King is having a detrimental effect at home in Iowa as well.
In every presidential election, Iowa is home to the nation’s first caucuses, a privilege the state takes pride in and enjoys. But recently, GOP candidates have been skipping the Iowa caucuses, because the extremist positions needed to compete there (made necessary by kingmakers like Steve King) make it difficult to win important voters later on. Steve King is harming the Iowa caucuses, and soon state Republicans are going to have to decide which of the two they value more.
Read Matt’s op-ed in full here or below:
There was a time when Iowans picked presidents. But for Iowa Republicans, that may no longer be true — thanks to Rep. Steve King.
For the last decade, Iowa Republicans have let King lead their party to what is now the irrelevant right and in doing so are at risk of losing the power and prestige that comes with being the first in the nation.
Between 1972 and 2000, the Republican winner of the Iowa caucuses went on to win the party’s nomination four out of five times. But since 2000, Iowans haven’t successfully picked a candidate for their party. They were wrong both on Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012. Compare this to Iowa Democrats, who have successfully picked their eventual nominee every year after 1992, when Tom Harkin, an Iowan, was in the running.
All through the early months of 2012 — despite his early success and victory in Iowa — Rick Santorum consistently trailed nearly 10 points behind President Barack Obama in national general election polling. At the same time, the same national polls showedMitt Romney only 3 points behind the president.
So why did Santorum win Iowa when it was so clear that national Republicans preferred Mitt Romney?
Few Iowans actually participate in Iowa’s caucuses, which have a much more complex and time-consuming process than the straightforward primary election. Voters don’t just cast a ballot. They have to show up at a local meeting for several hours.
In fact, in 2008 — the last year with competitive caucuses from both parties — only 350,000 voters participated and that’s despite the millions spent by campaigns on both sides for turnout. That’s less than 17 percent of registered Iowans. Compare this with New Hampshire, which had a voter turnout of more than 51 percent during its first-in-the-nation primary.
But this has always been true. The Republican caucuses have always been dominated by a relatively small number of partisan diehards.
So what changed? Simply put, Steve King entered the conversation.
In 2003, Steve King was elected to Congress and appointed himself the kingmaker of this group. And since then, Iowa hasn’t successfully predicted the Republican presidential nomination.
Now, King will host the first gathering of Republican presidential candidates at the Iowa “Freedom” Summit on Saturday, where candidates like Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum join the stage with Sarah Palin and Donald Trump to pander to King and his followers.
King’s strategy is to use his small but loyal following in Iowa to force moderate Republican presidential candidates to the right — especially when it comes to immigration.
In 2012, King was successful when, on the eve of the 2012 Iowa Caucus, Romney visited King’s district and told a small crowd gathered at the Family Table Restaurant that he would veto the DREAM Act if elected president in an attempt to pull conservative caucus-goers away from Santorum.
Not only was his last minute pander not enough to win Iowa (Romney lost Iowa by 34 votes), but his promise to veto the DREAM Act — a bill supported by 90 percent of the Latino community — cost him big in the general election. Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney 71 percent to 27 percent, a lower percentage than Republican candidates have received in the last three elections. Latinos also made up 10 percent of the electorate in 2012 for the first time ever and helped Obama win in key battleground states.
Now leading Republicans are encouraging their candidates to avoid King and Iowa all together. Recently Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona suggested: “Often we [Republicans] spend so much time trying to win Iowa we can’t win the rest of the states. Frankly a lot of Republicans appreciate those who come there and say, I’m sorry, I just don’t agree with Steve King.”
It’s also a strategy that worked well for John McCain, who ignored the Iowa caucuses on his way to the nomination over Mike Huckabee in 2008.
And already, Jeb Bush, the clear Republican presidential front runner in national polls appears to be following that tactic, skipping King’s gathering this month. And Sen. Marco Rubio, another possible front runner for Republicans, has yet to confirm.
Soon (maybe sooner than we think) Iowa Republicans will be forced to choose between two of their most powerful political brands: Congressman Steve King and the success of their beloved Iowa caucuses. Because if local Republicans keep letting King run the show, it won’t be long until serious presidential candidates skip Iowa altogether. And what good is it to be first, if no serious candidates show up?