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June 28th, 2010

The Hubris of Bob Vander Plaats

By Bob Haus

A key ingredient to any political leader is self-confidence, some would say ego. Shrinking violets are rarely elected to office, and leaders need to believe in themselves in order to subject themselves and their families to the rigors of public life.

Over my years in politics, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many talented candidates. They were and are sincere people who thoughts their ideas, stands on the issues, and solutions were the best, and thus they sought political office to implement those ideas and solve problems.

Over the years, I have also witnessed candidates whose egos rise to the level of the unbridled. Their ego drives them, and it directs their every action. At some point with these types of candidates, ego and self-confidence become hubris, and it ultimately consumes them.

The political system usually weeds them out prior to being elected. Even those who do get elected usually are swept up in their own hubris and are exposed in due time. One recent example of political hubris: John Edwards.

Prior to this week, I really thought I had seen almost everything in politics. But I was wrong, because I had never witnessed an ego the size and proportion of Bob Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats ran for Governor in 2002. He lost in the primary, coming in third out of three candidates. Vander Plaats ran again in 2006, but he bailed before the primary and accepted the Lieutenant Governor’s position with Jim Nussle. They lost the general election in 2006.

In 2010, he again sought the Republican nomination for Governor, but lost to former Governor Terry Branstad. And he didn’t lose a nailbiter, he lost by 10 points and almost 22,000 votes.

Now, in most political universes, the Loser licks his or her wounds, takes some time with family, and then jumps on the bandwagon of the Winner for the good of the party. Not often do former adversaries become the best of friends, but they do patch up their differences for the good of the overall effort, and to attempt to accomplish a shared agenda.

In this Universe of Reality, Loser usually meets with Winner and offers his or her support, and politely asks for a “portfolio”, a mission that Loser can undertake to help the party, help the ticket, and potentially help him/herself in the long run.

But apparently, Bob Vander Plaats doesn’t live in this Universe. He lives in The Alternative Universe of Exceptional Hubris in which, as a Loser, he demands and is due really important things.

Vander Plaats met with former Governor Branstad after the primary loss.The meeting didn’t go well. Vander Plaats exhibited no humility, no recognition of the fact that he had lost. He asked to be the Lieutenant Governor nominee. Branstad demurred. He asked that Governor Branstad take up his mantra of fighting same sex marriage with an executive order. Governor Branstad demurred, because he thinks such an action is itself illegal. By Vander Plaats’ account, because the meeting didn’t go well, he decided to withhold his endorsement of Branstad.

But he didn’t stop there. His hubris wouldn’t allow him to do so. He floated the possibility of running as an independent. He then hypothesized that if the delegates to the State Convention nominated him to be Lieutenant Governor, he of course would be duty bound to accept their will.

And thus we got to the sideshow of Saturday, where Vander Plaats supporters in fact nominated him to be Lieutenant Governor, setting up a clash with Governor Branstad’s choice, State Senator Kim Reynolds. In the end, adults carried the day, and Senator Reynolds handily defeated Vander Plaats for the Lt. Govenor position. Vander Plaats, bloodied by yet another loss, later announced that he would still withhold his endorsement of the Branstad/Reynolds ticket.

I know there are my friends who think that the Republican Party came out of this weekend a stronger party. Time will tell. I think Governor Branstad, and Senator Reynolds, exhibited exceptional poise in the face of this Vander Plaats stunt.

Branstad / Reynolds will come out of this weekend stronger, and that’s the most important thing. It’s now Branstad/Reynolds vs. Culver/Judge, and the focus will lie with the differences between the two tickets’ nominees.

And back in the Universe of Reality, there lays another candidate consumed by his hubris, Bob Vander Plaats. In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter what he does from this point…he can run as an independent, that’s his right. He won’t win, and he probably won’t deny Governor Branstad a victory in the fall, either. His base of support will continue to shrink, and he will need to become even more bellicose in his rhetoric in order to gain attention.

A fire that consumes its available oxygen and fuel inevitably dies. The hubris of Bob Vander Plaats will similarly consume his political fortunes and his future.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Bob Haus
Robert Haus is a Des Moines based advertising and communications consultant. Born and raised in Iowa, Bob is a proud graduate of both Iowa State University and the University of Iowa College of Law, which makes him a confirmed CyHawk fan. A former farm boy, and recovered lawyer, Bob has spent the last 20 years working at all levels of state and federal politics. He has worked for and advised Republican candidates for President, US Senate, US House, statewide office, and the Iowa Legislature. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/roberthaus Bob's personal blog is http://bobofftherecord.wordpress.com/




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