Mitt Romney got slapped around by hecklers (meet a charming one here) at the Iowa State Fair, in an episode one longtime Iowa political observer described as almost certainly prefabricated. But on the fairway, Romney was the leading candidate — he definitely won the T-shirt primary, at any rate. The only campaign swag in evidence was Romney’s.
When people think of commerce in Iowa, they tend to think of corn- and pig-intensive enterprises. But Iowa is of course much more complex than that, and Romney’s business background seems to resonate with a surprising number of Iowa voters, considering the fact that Romney has been AWOL from this week’s dog-and-pony show straw poll in Ethanolistan.
“Can you imagine where we’d be if we’d had somebody like Romney in there the past three years instead of that idiot?” asks Carter LeBeau, a Romney supporter from Davenport. “Obviously, the economy is our biggest problem, and Romney’s got the background: In business, at the Olympics, everything he’s touched has been successful. He knows people, knows how to hire, knows how to manage. Right now, we’re being led by a bunch of academics — and lawyers, for God’s sake.” He says that he likes Herman Cain, too, but that Romney has the better résumé.
Mr. LeBeau says that regulatory reform should be at the top of any Republican agenda, along with tax cuts. “You know, 91 percent of us are still working. You want a stimulus, cut the taxes of people who are drawing salaries. And clear out those regulations. There’s nothing people are doing overseas that we can’t do here. We got along without a goddamned EPA for 200 years, we can live without it.”
Jeff Brown, who was enjoying a lemonade shake-up with his family of six, concurred. “We care about foreign policy, and we care about other issues, but the economy right now trumps everything. You can’t be a world superpower if you’re broke. You can’t have strong families and good schools if you’re broke. And we’re broke. And we need a businessman to fix it.”
Not everybody was buying the businessman template. Tom Vaughn, an Ames resident who is skeptical of Romney, says business success isn’t everything. “Think about Donald Trump. Can you imagine having somebody like that in there — oh, my God. You can’t run government like a business. It needs that responsibility and latitude that business has, but it works in a different way.
Romney’s Mormonism remains a low-grade concern, for better and for worse. One Iowa voter who declined to give her name said she would never vote for a Mormon, period. Mr. LeBeau fumed at the suggestion that Romney’s religion would hurt in him Iowa. “We’re Catholics,” he said, gesturing to his wife, who sported a Romney T-shirt. “But the Mormon religion outdoes us in a lot of ways. They’ve got a great sense of family and community.”
Rep. Steve King had kind words for Romney, along with some concerns. “I think Iowans should have treated Mitt Romney better last time he was here,” he says. Health care, he thinks, remains a point of concern for Romney. Noting the constant comparisons of Romney’s health-care reforms in Massachusetts to President Obama’s legislation, he said, “Obamacare makes it difficult for him to make progress on other issues.”
Does America need a businessman president? Banners outside the debate hall proudly announce the sponsorship of the Iowa Energy Forum. Slogan: “Ethanol-Fueled Pride.” A reminder that businessmen aren’t always friends of free enterprise.
— Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review.