The Corner

No Glory in the Hawkeye State

I am no fan of the Iowa caucuses. I like Iowa. I’ve been there many times. But the caucuses have turned into something like a permanent subsidy for the political class of Iowa. What is supposed to be a democratic test of candidates in “real America” often morphs into a playground for savvy political consultants who’ve mastered a single skill: helping out-of-state politicians navigate their way around Iowa’s political landscape.  As a result, the vast and bipartisan network of politicians, consultants, and activists unite to guard their food bowl. And that’s fine, or at least understandable. But they act as if there’s something in the Bible or the Constitution that says Iowa must go first. The Iowa caucuses’ first-in-the-nation status is second only to the government moonshine subsidy for ethanol (indeed, if the caucus didn’t exist, ethanol subsidies might not either). When I hear Iowa politicians talk about the sanctity of their front-runner status it sounds no different to me than listening to corrupt teachers’-union bosses talking about the sanctity of tenure; it’s just another interest group pretending that there is a great principle behind their own narrow self-interest. 

And so I was very, very, disappointed in the Walker team for the decision to capitulate to the bullying efforts of the Iowa state GOP. The back story: The Walker team hired Liz Mair to run the campaign’s online operations. Back in January Mair had said some things that hurt the feelings of the Iowa GOP. From the Hill:

The controversy that engulfed her was focused primarily upon tweets that she sent during the Iowa Freedom Forum in January, an event where Walker was seen to have shone. 

At one point, she tweeted, “In other news, I see Iowa is once again embarrassing itself, and the GOP, this morning. Thanks, guys.”

Shortly afterward she added, also on Twitter, “The sooner we remove Iowa’s frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be.”

Mair’s views of Iowa appalled GOP activists in the state, which holds the first contest in the presidential nominating calendar.

A co-chairman of the state GOP, Cody Hoefert, told the New York Times that he found the remarks, which also included criticisms of ethanol subsidies beloved by Iowa farmers, “disgusting and repulsive.”

Disgusting and repulsive. Also, pretty much accurate. 

Erick Erickson writes:

UPDATE: I see from the Associated Press that Liz Mair has resigned from Governor Walker’s campaign. Given Liz’s work history, I will put it to you this way — Team Walker has botched this. There’s just no way Liz Mair resigned with it being her idea. I haven’t talked to her yet, but there’s just no way. So instead of Walker owning this, he’s passed the ball and made a staffer off herself. That’s unfortunate and plays into the “not ready for prime time” theme already developing around Team Walker. At least it is early.

This strikes me as exactly right. Walker talks a big game about standing up to labor unions and the left — and rightly so. His record as governor is nothing short of heroic. He even suggested that his record of standing up to the left at home suggests the kind of leadership he’d show in the fight against ISIS. He phrased it poorly, but the point he was trying to make was that he can’t be intimidated. 

Well, maybe. I don’t know Mair very well. But if Erickson is right, and I’d bet he is, then Mair was asked to fall on her sword. Even if she wasn’t asked but volunteered, the point remains that Walker accepted her resignation because a bunch of party apparatchiks in Iowa are terrified of any dissent over their gravy train. 

If Walker is the guy I hope he is (I’ve been a booster), he won’t just have to take on his enemies, he’ll have to take on his friends, too (something Cruz, Paul and even Jeb can claim to have done). Isn’t that the point of the anti-establishment movement on the right?  That reform starts with reforming how we run our own affairs? Well if there’s a more obvious hive of cronyism in the GOP than the Iowa ethanol racket, I’d like to hear about it.

I get that Walker needs to win Iowa and that staffers aren’t more important than the candidate. But principles are. If Walker didn’t want a critic of the Iowa caucuses on his payroll he shouldn’t have hired one. But he did. And throwing her under the bus for this, suggests not only that he’s got some problems getting ready for prime time, it also suggests he can get rolled by the Iowa GOP establishment. What happens when he gets to Washington?

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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