Since the Branstad-led moderate takeover of the Iowa GOP in April of this year, social conservatives have found themselves pushed into the same corner of the room as the Liberty Movement – unwanted by the very party whose base they form. Several social conservative and tea party groups worked together with my organization, Liberty Iowa, to try to stem the tide of the establishment pushback, but to no avail.
It was too little, too late, to hold our ground in 2014.
But there’s no faster way to build alliances than being thrown into the same foxhole together when the bullets are flying. As conservatives around the state began to realize that the animosity supposedly directed only towards the libertarian-leaning state party leadership would soon be turned toward them, discussion and coordination began to take place between different conservative groups and leaders who saw that they, too, would be swept aside by a calculated and well-organized group of power brokers looking to silence dissent. The realization brought with it a stiff shot of reality a la Martin Niemöller:
“First they came for the libertarians, and I did not protest because I was not a libertarian…”
Conversations started happening between different factions within the conservative alliance here in Iowa, and many of us held hope that perhaps the Establishment’s overreach would actually result in a stronger and more unified resistance.
Unfortunately, amid the rejoicing in the moderate ranks, some were considering that same worrisome possibility. Wheels started turning, and they began to hatch new plans to divide the conservative alliance by appeasing social conservatives and marginalizing the Liberty Movement. And to give the devil his due, it’s a plan that has already proven effective against us.
Their first move was to spur a fight over marriage in the GOP platform, a typical sore spot between social conservatives and Liberty people, by removing support for traditional marriage from the platform. When socially conservative Republicans erupted, the blame was placed on the Liberty Movement, despite the fact that our leaders in the district actually fought to keep marriage in the platform.
Thanks to this fabrication, rather than the moderates getting their hand caught in the cookie jar, news of the supposed inter-conservative tiff dominated the cycle, and cleverly hid the fact that the leadership slate backed by our Republicrat governor had just swept the power positions within the Iowa GOP.
Their next move was to recruit and run a well-known social conservative against a Liberty candidate for State Treasurer. The real irony of this move was that the social conservative stalwart in question ran at the behest of some of the very people who had squelched his earlier US Senate campaign and funded his opposition. Republican power brokers knew that without including at least one recognized conservative, Evangelicals and Tea Partiers might not turn out in support of a largely moderate GOP ticket.
If not for a great show of class and humility at our state convention that resulted in the liberty candidate dropping his candidacy, this move would have resulted in a major rift between the groups on the convention floor – exactly what the bad guys were hoping for.
Another example of their divide-and-conquer strategy happened a little over a week ago, when they managed to use the endorsement of a respected conservative to throw a congressional nomination to an establishment candidate who placed fifth in the June 3rd primary.
That’s right, fifth.
The leading candidate – who placed first in the primary and led throughout most of the nominating convention – was a state senator whose stellar record had earned the support of the Liberty Movement as well as a broad swath of other conservatives.
But just as the finish line came into view, the best-known conservative in the race, having fallen behind and been eliminated from contention, unexpectedly offered a glowing endorsement of forgotten fifth-place finisher David Young, and encouraged his delegates to join him in support of Young.
Those of us who had followed the campaign of this high-profile conservative were shocked. His sizeable contingent of social and tea party folks were hardly the type to support moderates, and many of them had helped defeat the establishment’s top pick just moments before. But most of them followed the endorsement, and (after picking up the moderate votes already in the bag), the fifth place finisher – an establishment regular with several properties in DC – beat out a Constitutional Conservative who had been in first place the whole time.
A Cinderella story?
While speculation abounds as to the reasoning behind the last-minute endorsement that effectively cut the legs out from under the surging liberty candidate, what cannot be questioned is the result. Unfortunately for the whole conservative alliance, this action drove yet another unnecessary wedge between the Liberty Movement and mainline conservatives and left Republicans with a nominee who proved incapable of capturing even 7,000 votes in the primary.
Already, some disenfranchised conservatives and libertarians have taken to social media to announce their intentions to leave the GOP after witnessing this latest fiasco. Others insisted they would rather write in a candidate this November, than support yet another unpopular Republican nominee who will not be a conservative standard-bearer. Either way, it is becoming likely that this latest dismissal of the conservative base will result in the election of another toxically liberal Democrat to Congress this fall.
In what portends to be a heavy Republican year, my congressional district could swing from red to blue, in part because many conservatives followed one man and his big-name endorsements, rather than siding with a limited-government candidate.
And then just this past Saturday, the Republican Party of Iowa’s new State Central Committee completed their rout of conservatives by ousting evangelical Chairman Danny Carroll in an unprecedented move that left members of the conservative alliance furious statewide.
I attended the meeting, and listened to the proceedings. I watched as each of the members preparing to bury a conservative Christian leader without cause, went to great pains to establish their credentials as both Christians and conservatives. The ouster, they assured Republicans, had nothing to do with ideology, just practicality.
After removing Danny, the committee proceeded to install a new Chairman who bragged about his “establishment” title and marginalized the importance of other factions within the Party. Once again, the majority of the votes for this betrayal came from folks who consider themselves solid conservative Christians.
In a state where the GOP voter lists are still dominated by the Religious Right, I had expected to see social conservatives leverage their numbers and bring a crowd to the meeting in support of the Chairman. Almost none came. In fact, of those grassroots activists who did show up in support of Chairman Carroll, most were not even from the social conservative wing of the party, but from the Liberty Movement.
Each of these occasions has underscored the fact that many conservatarians in Iowa are struggling to differentiate between friend and enemy. Too many of our leaders share allegiance with the other side, having been convinced that pragmatism trumps principle. Too many of our activists are so busy shooting each other that they become casualties before the war even starts. And too many voters watching the chaos are ready to give up on the whole process.
Unless uncompromising conservatives and libertarians are able to establish cohesive identities and consistent priorities, we’re going to continue to be played against each other by people who share our names and affiliations, but not our goals or convictions.
The moderate political monopoly that is now the Iowa GOP figured out long ago that the enemy of their enemy is their friend.
When will we?