We should have known that it was only a matter of time before the cultural and ideological tug-of-war within the Republican Party would resurface. Truth be told, ideological debates are prevalent in both political parties. It just seems that Iowa Republicans do a poor job in keeping their turf battles in-house. Former GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Gross penned an op-ed for the Des Moines Register yesterday, and it is likely to become another distraction which the traditional media will have a hay-day covering.
Gross’ message to the GOP is the same one he has been preaching since the conclusion of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. Gross believes that social conservatives and their views on gay marriage and abortion are the root cause for the Republican Party’s downfall in recent election cycles. Gross believes that they have prevented Iowa Republicans from creating broad coalition of supporters which has resulted in a 100,000 person disadvantage in voter registration to Iowa Democrats.
While it should come to no surprise that both sides of this political tug-of-war blame the other for the Republican Party’s struggles, each faction also seems to be oblivious to the fact that there will never be a day when one side of the ideological battle within the Party will be deemed the victor.
Even more frustrating is that Iowa Republicans have never had a better environment in which to build a broad coalition of voters that should lead to success at the polls next November. Making things even better is that neither side of the party will have to compromise their beliefs and principles to build that winning coalition.
Doug Gross is correct in his assessment that Republican candidates should lead on fiscal issues. However, he is wrong to simply want to brush aside issues such as abortion and gay marriage, which have long been tenets of the Republican Party. While those issues vary in importance from person to person, it is ludicrous to simply want to dismiss them, especially with an issue like gay marriage, which so many Iowans are upset about and would like to see changed.
For example, look at the issue set that is being played out in the Special Election in House District 90. The primary focus has been on taxes and spending, but gay marriage has also been an important issue. In fact, the issue of gay marriage is so important that Iowa Democrats recruited a candidate who supports the right of the people to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage. That issue hasn’t hurt the Republican candidate in HD 90, but rather, it has helped him, even against an opponent who takes a similar stand on the issue.
What is confusing about Doug Gross’ actions is that he contradicts his own polling data. While it is true that the Iowa First Foundation poll from March of this year showed that respondents had a negative view of the Republican Party, the most recent IFF polls showed that Republicans lead Democrats on a generic ballot for the first time in over a decade. Additionally, the most recent IFF poll showed that 49% of the respondents considered themselves pro-life, while only 31% said that they were pro-choice. In the same poll, 61% of respondents would vote for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Those are not percentages that should keep Republican candidates from discussing those issues on the campaign trail.
In his op-ed in the Register, Doug Gross referred to some social conservatives as the grouchy old uncle who turns people off. While there is little doubt that Gross doesn’t like the party’s social conservatives, the analogy of the grumpy old uncle is doesn’t describe social conservatives – it describes Gross. I have yet to see social conservatives in the party write editorials in the newspapers calling out the hypocrisy of people like Gross. While some people lash back at Gross every time he lashes out, Doug himself is the grouchy old uncle who just can’t seem to give it a rest.
The ironic part of all of this is that former Governor Terry Branstad looks like he might be about to enter the gubernatorial race. Branstad, who Gross worked for when he was Governor, might be one of the few candidates who could unite the Party around his candidacy. In 1994, Branstad’s last campaign, he barely won a tough primary fight against Fred Grandy. Grandy was to the left of Branstad ideologically in the primary. Even though the 1994 Republican primary was heated and, at times, nasty, Branstad was successful uniting the party behind him after the primary. Branstad defeated democrat Bonnie Campbell 57% to 43%.
If Branstad does ultimately decide to run for governor, his association with Doug Gross is likely to cause a tremendous amount of grief in the early portion of the campaign. While the likelihood of a Branstad candidacy seems to grow with each passing day, it is ironic that one of the main obstacles that Branstad will have to maneuver around is the Republican Party’s grouchy uncle, Doug Gross. If Gross really wants Branstad to run for governor next year, it would be wise for him to stop antagonizing social conservatives, and he might want to consider going into hiding.
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