ORANGE CITY, Iowa—Republican Party of Iowa officials sharply criticized the Republican National Committee’s analysis of the party’s post-2012 plans, slamming the RNC’s messaging on gays and illegal immigrants in a meeting with activists in a key Northwest Iowa county Monday night.
“I’m really concerned about some of the language in the Growth & Opportunity Project talking about outreach to the homosexual community and using the term comprehensive immigration reform,” RNC Committeeman Steve Scheffler told more than a dozen members of the Sioux County GOP central committee.
“If we begin to soft-pedal these issues, our party could go the way of the Whigs,” said Scheffler, who lamented that only 3-4 percent of Americans are gay and that just 5-10 percent of that demographic votes Republican. He circulated similar comments via social media.
RPI Chairman A.J. Spiker echoed Scheffler’s concerns. Spiker said that independent voters have turned away from Republicans because they too often cave on their principles. Spiker recounted recent RNC focus groups that he observed where voters criticized compromises crafted by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.
“Three things continually came up,” Spiker said. “One, people don’t trust Republicans. Two, they only think we care about the rich, and, three, they think we’re unprincipled. Either we move the party to the left or we stand for our principles. And we have to do a better job of explaining why we’re pro-life, why we’re for traditional marriage and why a balanced budget is good for the country.”
Spiker and Scheffler singled out GOP nominee Mitt Romney, rather than the party’s platform, as the reason why Republicans failed to win the White House in 2012.
“We really have to, in the primary, look for who is best able to beat the Democrat—and it’s not always the person that can raise the most money,” Spiker said, adding that Romney could not effectively challenge Obamacare, a salient issue of the campaign, because of a similar program that he implemented in Massachusetts. “People aren’t going to spend their time in a Victory Office if they’re not passionate about a candidate.”
To that end, RPI State Central Committee member Jamie Johnson, who represents the Fourth Congressional District, said that Republicans need to a better long-term plan to recruit quality candidates to local office.
“Today’s city councilman is tomorrow’s state senator. Today’s county supervisor is tomorrow’s state representative,” he said. “Even though some of these positions are non-partisan, everybody knows who the Democrats and Republicans are. We ought to not just think about winning back Pennsylvania Ave. for our ideals, but having a Republican nation—a GOP machine that is grassroots-fed and grassroots-run. The only way that we’re going to do that is to elect good people to local office who have moral character and civic competence.”
Sioux County GOP chairman Mark Lundberg said that the 2012 cycle was the most frustrating of his career, mostly because out-of-state Romney operatives ran roughshod over local folks. Spiker responded by chiding national consultants aligned with Romney for royally bungling the campaign’s operations.
“The Romney camp was totally in charge of the GOTV operation,” Spiker said. “Early on they told us that they didn’t want [RPI] to have anything to do with it. They said they were going to contact all 99 county organizations.”
Romney’s campaign used social media and other impersonal tactics to sign up poll watchers with no experience and shut out experienced county activists, Lundberg and Spiker said. The Romney turnout operation, dubbed Project ORCA, flopped on Election Day as unprepared volunteers struggled to use the error-prone application.
Johnson said that a Romney operative told him that 79 of the 81 staffers first hired for the Iowa campaign hailed from outside of Iowa.
“The were a presidential campaign that imported everybody,” Johnson said. “You have to use the old principle that people on the ground know other people on the ground.”
Regarding the 2016 presidential cycle, Scheffler said that Iowans can rest easy that the state will continue to host the nation’s first caucus. It would take a 75 percent vote by the 168-member RNC, as well as a large expenditure of political capital by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, to modify that structure.
“Given regional politics, it will be very difficult” to shift to regionally clumped primaries, as suggested in the Growth & Opportunity Project, he said. “It’s something that has come up regularly after presidential elections, and I really don’t think it’s going to go anywhere.”
Scheffler, the president of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, also detailed an effort led by RNC Committeeman Morton Blackwell of Virginia, to turn back RNC rule changes pushed by Romney lawyer Ben Ginsburg that centralized power at the national party. Scheffler recounted how Ginsburg sought to undermine the Iowa caucuses and wrest local control from state parties at the GOP convention in Tampa last year.
“The first words out of his mouth that day were that he wanted to dethrone Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina’s early primary and caucus status,” Scheffler said, calling Ginsburg a “bull in the china closet.” Ultimately, Ginsburg succeeded in passing a slate of rules (1-11 and 13-25) that Blackwell and Scheffler seek to overturn (they will also need a 75 percent vote of the RNC).
Scheffler stressed party unity amid factional GOP squabbles. He is working with RNC Committeewoman Tamara Scott to set a series of statewide forums focused on bringing together factions in the state party.
“We’re not a red state like Nebraska,” he said. “We’re a purple state at best. I understand that none of us are going to agree on every issue. But at the end of the day, whether people might consider themselves a mainline Republican, an economic conservative, a social conservative or a liberty person, we agree on a heck of a lot more than we agree with the far left and the Obama socialist agenda.”
In routine party business, the central committee unanimously re-elected the county GOP’s executive committee to another term in leadership. RPI State Central Committee member Cody Hoefert encouraged the party leadership to redouble their efforts, even in deep-red Northwest Iowa.
“I want to encourage you to not become complacent,” he said, citing a election results showing that Sioux County turned out the largest percentage of Republicans in Iowa last cycle. “We need to become ‘sending’ county organizations with grassroots activists available to help in other areas… As a friend of mine says, ‘We don’t need to fundraise more. We need to friend-raise more.”
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