Although Iowa Republicans are at least 26 months away from casting their first-in-the-nation caucus votes for the presidential candidate of their choice, the state is in the midst of an onslaught of big name Republicans visiting the state. Ted Cruz was here last weekend. Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and Mike Lee will be all here next week. Paul Ryan comes the week after that.
At least three of those five are believed to be at least considering a bid for the 2016 GOP nomination. Although caucus night is a long way away, whenever politicians visit the state, Iowans judge their suitability for the presidential nod.
Still reeling from losses to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Republicans desperately want a winner at the top of the ticket in 2016. They also want a better nominee than John McCain and Mitt Romney. Part of the problem is they were deemed too moderate by many Iowa conservatives.
“The problem is, the last couple years, I haven’t seen us put our best foot forward,” said Jim Carley, a Tea Party activist from Altoona.
Carley recently took part in a 10-person roundtable discussion organized by TheIowaRepublican.com, in conjunction with McClatchy newspapers. The 2016 race was one of the many topics debated over a nearly two-hour period. Learning from past failures also took up a large chunk of the discussion.
John McCain and Mitt Romney, the last two GOP nominees, ran lackluster general election campaigns. Not only did some hardcore conservatives stay home on Election Day in 2008 and 2012, McCain and Romney failed to excite the Republicans who did turn out.
“Until we find a way in finding common ground and turning out our vote, we’re going to keep losing,” said Nik Rule, a twentysomething activist from Oskaloosa. “If we’re not going to turn out everyone, all factions of the Republican Party, nothing is ever going to change and we’re going to be at the same table four or five years down the road and we’re going to be talking about something twice as bad as Obamacare.”
Jim Carley was on the GOP ticket in 2012. He ran unsuccessfully for the Iowa House. Carley says a large part of the problem is democrats are thoroughly beating Republicans with the mechanics of campaigning.
“It’s the organization,” Carley said. “You can have the best candidate in the world but you’re not going to win if you don’t have the organization. We are so far behind Obama’s machine. I knocked doors five to seven days a week, four to eight hours a day. Every day I was out, someone else was knocking. I saw them. It wasn’t my opponent. It was somebody working for Obama.”
Part of the problem is that many activists lose their zeal for volunteering if their preferred presidential candidate does not receive the nomination. Instead of working together, they snipe at the nominee from afar and fail to help with local elections.
The neverending search for the “perfect” candidate also hurts the GOP. While looking for the next Ronald Reagan, they conservatives to heed Reagan’s words. “My 80-percent friend is not my 20-percent enemy,” the 40th president famously said. Sitting home and handing elections to Barack Obama, who conservatives disagree with 90-100 percent of the time, is the result of not voting for the GOP nominee.
Nik Rule says until Republicans are willing to work with those they disagree with 20 percent of the time, they are never going to succeed at the ballot box.
“We don’t have a united front,” Rule said. “We don’t have a united team and until we get every player on the team together, our volunteer efforts aren’t going to come back, our organization isn’t going to come back and our candidates aren’t going to win.”
That statement prompted this exchange between Rule, Carley and fellow roundtable participant Ryan Frederick, 28, the Adair County GOP chairman.
Carley: It gets down to the bottom line: At what price do you sell your soul to make a deal?
Rule: What I hear from you is it has to be 100%. Or 95. Or 90.
Carley: No. What you have to get is all of my hot buttons. I don’t have that many hot buttons. But I want someone with principles to stand up for conservative, constitutional values.
Frederick: But the Democratic Party has no principles at all, so what difference does it make?
As for the candidate they want at the top of the ticket in 2016, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the name mentioned most often.
“Right now, if Scott Walker were to run, I would be at least interested in taking a look,” said activist Tim Newman, 48.
Myrna Beeber, a retired nurse, is still clinging to the unlikely prospect that Sarah Palin will run for president. However she sees a lot of potential candidates who could win her over.
“I guess I don’t have anybody who I’m really seriously looking at. There are a lot of people who I like. Scott Walker, Ted Cruz. There are others.”
Michael Young, who was the GOP nominee for the recent Iowa House special election for a southside Des Moines seat, prefers someone with executive experience. He mentioned Walker and Rick Perry as his top two at the moment. Perry will headline the Polk County GOP’s fundraiser on November 7. Young also said he found little difference between Obama and McCain in 2008.
2012 GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who has largely stayed out of the limelight this year, was mentioned as a darkhorse candidate for the next presidential election cycle.
“I think it speaks volumes that, as the budget committee chairman, he stayed as far away from that shutdown, he kept an awful lot of distance from that deal,” said Ryan Frederick. The Wisconsin congressman will speak at Governor Branstad’s annual Birthday Bash on November 16.
Another attendee mentioned prominent neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Many roundtable participants agreed would he make an intriguing candidate.
Regardless of which candidate leads the ticket in 2016, the Republican activists in our roundtable agreed the party has a lot of work to do mend its internal fractures. And unless the GOP can find a candidate that appeals to all spectrums of the party, they might have to get used to democrats holding the Oval Office.
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