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Endorsement exposes cracks in GOP unity
The public refusal of an influential social conservative group to support the eventual GOP nominee for governor is causing long-term damage to the party and could result in a second term for Gov. Chet Culver, Republican leaders said Tuesday.
At an event originally billed as a rally to oppose same-sex marriage, Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC) chairman Danny Carroll announced the group’s endorsement of Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bob Vander Plaats. While that news wasn’t a shock, Carroll’s announcement that the group would sit out the 2010 governor’s race if former Gov. Terry Branstad wins the party’s nomination caught many by surprise.
“[Gov. Branstad] has failed to boldly address the values that we embrace,” Carroll said Tuesday. “And even if he were to win the nomination, the Iowa Family PAC would not support him.”
The endorsement followed a similar announcement last week by state Rep. Kent Sorenson, R-Indianola, where he, too, vowed only to support the nominee if it is Vander Plaats.
One Republican said the announcements are the start of a war that could “set back the Republican Party of Iowa for decades.”
“I am stunned and mortified,” said Brent Oleson, a Republican member of the Linn County Board of Supervisors and a former member of the party’s state central committee who has endorsed Branstad. “This is absolutely a recipe for disaster.”
After years of electoral defeats in Iowa, the GOP finally has the issues on their side, Oleson said. But now a “jihadist sleeper cell of so-called GOP leaders” is “refusing to work towards post-primary unity.”
Isaiah McGee, a member of the Republican Party of Iowa’s central committee and also a supporter of Branstad, used his Twitter account to express his frustration, saying that the party is trying to “snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.”
“While Gov. Culver’s [Condition of the State] speech flops, Republicans bicker,” he wrote.
Vander Plaats’ pledge to sign an executive order stopping same-sex marriage until a public vote on the issue could be held is one of the core reasons why social conservatives have rallied behind his campaign. Legal scholars say the idea isn’t plausible and would lead to a constitutional crisis, but Vander Plaats insists he will go forward with the order on day one of his administration even if it leads to his impeachment.
“It’s frustrating that leading Iowa Republicans do not recognize any acceptable position other than a poorly-advised executive order to somehow overturn the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court against all reason and junior high government class-level knowledge of separation of powers,” said Jeff Patch, a longtime Republican activist and former press secretary for U.S. Rep. Tom Latham.
If they truly believed in limited government they would be open to voices in their party who are skeptical of allowing politicians to decide what constitutes marriage, which is fundamentally a civil contract involving families and faith groups, Patch said.
“Instead, anyone who doesn’t support the exact agenda of some social conservative leaders is vilified as a ‘Republican In Name Only (RINO),’” he said.
In fact it is Carroll, Vander Plaats, Sorenson and the IFPC who are RINOs, Oleson said, if they refuse to support the party in the fall.
“They are not logical at all,” he said. “They are basically saying ‘If I don’t get my way I’m taking my marbles and going home.’”
Some Republicans are concerned that if Vander Plaats loses the nomination in June he will seek the state’s highest office as an independent. The Sioux City Republican re-enforced those fears last September when he endorsed an independent candidate running in state House District 8.
“Bob Vander Plaats needs to disavow this and he needs to do it soon,” Oleson said.
Ultimately, Oleson believes Branstad will be able to unify the party after the primary is over because “he’s done it before.” He’s referring to the 1994 GOP gubernatorial primary, where Branstad was able to win his fourth term in office after fending off a tough primary challenger.
“I’m glad he’s running,” Oleson said. “He’s providing adult leadership.”
But in 2002, while GOP candidate Doug Gross squeaked out a victory in a three-way primary the nearly two-thirds of Republican voters who didn’t support him never truly came home. Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack was able to easily win a second term in office.
Patch said the party doesn’t need to change its platform position on same-sex marriage but must at least be open to those who think government has more pressing problems to handle.