Establishment Victories In Iowa GOP Could Impact 2016 Race

A setback for supporters of Rand Paul in the Hawkeye State.


A political earthquake in Iowa over the weekend that resulted in a clear victory for the “establishment” over Tea Party and other forces could have big implications for the 2016 Presidential race:

DES MOINES, Iowa — Establishment forces officially wrested control of the Iowa Republican Party from supporters of Rand Paul on Saturday, a development the victors said would help save the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus from being marginalized and possibly spell the demise of the Ames Straw Poll.

The transfer of power to those loyal to Gov. Terry Branstad — which has been in the works for months but was completed on Saturday — increases the likelihood that center-right GOP candidates, such as Chris Christie or Jeb Bush, will choose to compete in the caucus. It also jeopardizes next year’s straw poll: Branstad said the annual ritual has “outlived its usefulness,” and other critics say it’s become a spectacle that raises a lot of money for the party but has little significance politically. Pro-Paul forces, however, enthusiastically support the event and want to keep it going.

For all the attention showered on the Iowa caucuses in the presidential sweepstakes, they suffer from a credibility crisis. It is fueled by the perception that the competition favors the most conservative candidates in the field or forces more moderate contenders to the right, damaging their prospects in the general election. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee won in 2012 and 2008, respectively, only to lose the nomination.

The battle for control of the party was primarily an effort by Branstad to reestablish himself as the undisputed leader of Republican affairs in Iowa — perhaps most critically the future of the caucuses.

After the 2012 results, Ron Paul supporters mobilized at district-level conventions to take over the party — despite the fact he finished third on caucus night — and wound up controlling the delegation to the national convention.

Branstad, cruising to an unprecedented sixth term as governor, has spent the better part of the past two years sparring with A.J. Spiker, a co-chair of Ron Paul’s Iowa campaign who defeated the governor’s preferred pick to lead the state party in 2012. As chairman of the party, Spiker was publicly critical of Branstad’s legislative agenda. Establishment-minded donors refused to contribute to the state party as long as Paul people were in charge.

Their rivalry came to a head earlier this year.

At local conventions starting in January and continuing through April, the governor’s machine successfully mobilized supporters to elect a slate of 16 people to the GOP central committee, including a few loyal holdovers. This group, essentially the party’s board of directors, took over Saturday night. There is no longer a single Paul-aligned, libertarian on the central committee.

Rand Paul’s supporters in Iowa insist that this isn’t a setback for their efforts because they were intending to concentrate their efforts on campaigning for their candidate rather than controlling the state party in any case. However, it strikes me that this is mostly an effort on their part to sugar coat a loss that could have a big impact on whatever momentum Paul may have in Iowa if he runs. With control of the state party apparatus, Branstad and the party “establishment” will be the ones who set the rules for the 2016 caucuses and the events that lead up to them, including any party debates. Additionally, they’ll be able to use that apparatus to help generate support for whichever candidate they wish. If we end up with a result in Iowa similar to the one we saw in 2012, where the margin between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum was razor thin and, indeed, changed significantly several weeks after the caucuses themselves, this could have a big impact on who has momentum heading into New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Perhaps the biggest impact that these results will have, though, will be in what they mean for the future of the Ames Straw Poll:

The big question now is what happens to the straw poll, a ritual that dates back to 1979. The next one would happen only a year from now, in August.

Right after Romney’s loss in 2012, Branstad announced that he did not think there should be a straw poll in 2016. “It has been a great fundraiser for the party but I think its days are over,” he said then.

The remark drew an immediate rebuke from Spiker, who said the party would go ahead with it.

In 2011, Rep. Michele Bachmann won the straw poll before flaming out and finishing sixth in the caucus. Romney, meanwhile, had invested heavily to win the 2007 version but decided to skip it altogether that year – and then went on to win the nomination.

The feeling is that the straw poll empowers the most ardent activists and thus elevates candidates who could not win in a general election. Iowa political hands say it is hard to imagine someone like Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker winning at Ames, though George W. Bush prevailed in 1999.

Doing away with the straw poll might hurt Paul and Ted Cruz. The Texas senator would like be able to both raise enough money to bus people in and could demonstrate the intensity of his grassroots support.

Still, even within Team Branstad, there are differing opinions. The straw poll is a huge fundraiser for the state party, and it’s a fun time for those who go. Reporters love to cover it because it’s colorful and offers an early read on the GOP horse race.

Several substitute options are being discussed, such as a cattle call in each of the four congressional districts or another big event in Ames, but with no balloting. It’s also possible that the straw poll will go on just as it has before.

Branstad has spoken about eliminating the Ames Straw Poll in the past, and the Bachmann victory in 2011 is certainly a strong argument in favor of doing so. As the article notes, though, the poll is also a huge fundraiser for the state Republican Party. In 2011, the state GOP pulled in $113,000 in space rental fees alone, with Ron Paul’s campaign spending the most for their space at an astounding $31,000. For better or worse, the straw poll draws political media from all over the country into Iowa for an entire week as candidates come out to meet and greet people attending the Iowa State Fair in what is, in many ways, the beginning of the campaign for the caucuses that will be held the following year. Most of all, though, it is the single biggest fundraiser for the party throughout an entire four year cycle, so it seems unlikely that the Iowa GOP is going to totally give up the idea completely. Instead, we’re likely to see the rules for the poll modified to make it more difficult for candidates to stack the results in the manner that Bachmann and Ron Paul did in 2011.  However it turns out, though, we’re likely to see a much more conventional caucus in 2016 than we did last time around, and that could pose problems for unconventional candidates like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. edmondo says:

    In other news…..
    Deck chairs on the Titanic were rearranged today. It probably means big things for the ocean liner.

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Doug, I’ve let slide a lot of your pro-Establishment hackery slide, and I’ve forgiven a lot of your “the GOP is bad, see examples A-Z, and oh yeah, the Dems are even worse, did I mention that?” shenanigans, but now you have crossed a line that I can not leave unremarked. You have reached the epitome of hackery.


    That is truly unforgivable, proving that you are lost to the same stupid gamesmanship that the most worthless of lazy political writers.

    And may God have mercy on your soul.

  3. Peacewood says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: A wise person once said, “Verbing weirds language.”

    That statement accords with me.

  4. Matt Bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Yup, using “Impact” as a verb is typically like fingernails across a chalkboard for me.

    Though, for Rand Paul/Ames Straw pole supporters, this usage might reflect their coarser feelings about what just happened to the system.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    You are, without a doubt, the dumbest mother-f’er on the entire planet.

    verb (used with object)
    6. to drive or press closely or firmly into something; pack in.
    7. to fill up; congest; throng: A vast crowd impacted St. Peter’s Square.
    8. to collide with; strike forcefully: a rocket designed to impact the planet Mars.
    9. to have an impact or effect on; influence; alter: The decision may impact your whole career. The auto industry will be impacted by the new labor agreements.
    verb (used without object)
    10. to have impact or make contact forcefully: The ball impacted against the bat with a loud noise.
    11. to have an impact or effect: Increased demand will impact on sales.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Your daftness may impact your ability to comprehend the Tragedy of the Commons.

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: You are, without a doubt, the dumbest mother-f’er on the entire planet.

    Thank heavens you just called me a mofo. If you’d called me a “bitch,” you’d have been warned for violating the Terms of Service for this site.

    And thanks for reasserting that you are not only Clue-Resistant, but Clue-Impervious.

  8. Matt Bernius says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Your daftness may impact your ability to comprehend the Tragedy of the Commons.

    Dude, that joke has run its course.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    @Matt Bernius:
    Perhaps if he/she was able to admit his/her error…then it would be a joke that had run it’s course.
    As it is? Simply a convenient cogitation of all that is Jenos.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Matt Bernius: Never.

  11. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: Cliffy, the only reason I can’t cite a dozen or more examples of you saying incredibly stupid stuff is because nothing about you is memorable. At least, not in specifics.

    And look here. I made a light-hearted poke at our host, noting how trite and cliched the use of “impact” as a verb is (outside of dentistry), and you decided that this is a grand opportunity to continue your personal vendetta against me. (Given, to you EVERYTHING is a “grand opportunity,” as you stalk me thread to thread.)

    This use of “impact” may be grammatically correct, but it’s BAD WRITING. It’s lazy writing. It’s right up there with overuse of the passive voice.

    I’d tell you to grow up a little, Cliffy, but I fear you’ve reached your maximum maturity.

  12. C. Clavin says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    I stalk you from thread to thread? Aggrandize yourself much?
    Your comments are consistently the dumbest and most counter-factual on any thread.
    You are a low hanging fruit…as it were.

  13. humanoid.panda says:

    Since the party platform still calls to ban sex-ed, pass a constitutional ‘marriage’ amendment and overthrow Agenda 21 (cue evil music!), I’d say the demise of the extremists you are heralding you are celebrating is somewhat overstated. Sane people catering to lunatice are more dangerous than the lunatics themselves.

  14. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: Cliffy, do NOT make me cite threads where your FIRST comment was only to insult me for my on-topic comment. It will not go well for you.

  15. C. Clavin says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Again with your reading comprehension issues.
    What exactly does on-topic have to do with dumb or counter-factual?

  16. anjin-san says:

    Does anyone else pine for that brief, happy indian summer when Jenos was mercifully absent from OTB?

  17. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: Two others above agreed that the use of “impact” as a verb is bad writing. No one argued that it was grammatically incorrect, but you still set up your straw man and set it on fire.

    Safety tip: next time, make sure your straw man isn’t too close to your pants next time.

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    of Doug you said:
    That is truly unforgivable, proving that you are lost to the same stupid gamesmanship that the most worthless of lazy political writers.
    And may God have mercy on your soul.

    Your complaint is almost the equivalent of “damned kids, get off my lawn!”
    I believe that one of the great things about English is that it is nearly an open source language. Yes, some of the changes are at first irritating … then some of the changes become commonplace and we find ourselves using nouns as verbs and so forth too.

    One thing is certain when comes to English – change is constant, and those changes are going to come whether we’re open to them or not.

  19. jd says:

    ‘Impact’ is not an example of verbification. It’s an example of nounification. It’s been in use as a verb since the 1600s and started life as a verb.
    Language changes. All you grammar-hammers best get over yourselves.

  20. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: @C. Clavin:
    Get a room you two.

  21. Tillman says:

    @Matt Bernius: I remember playing a flash game three(?) years ago that taught me about the Tragedy of the Commons with playful animated bunny rabbits that I’d poach for some amount of profit. It was filled with pop-ups that would discuss the sociological implications of how many bunny rabbits I’d poached. Neat little concept; didn’t think about it again.

    Then Jenos publicly screws up the interpretation of the Tragedy of the Commons once, and it’s all I hear about for two damn weeks! I sit here figuring it has to eventually run its course, but it doesn’t! Jesus Christ, if you hadn’t pointed it out this thread I would’ve written a comment forever locked in the moderation queue full of profanities.

    I mean, Jenos says stupid crap all the time, you don’t need to resort to the one thing he screwed up half a month ago! Put it away in some sinister Notepad file, save it for a big moment with a link or something.

  22. Tillman says:

    tl;dr Magnanimity, bitches! Learn to use it!

  23. Grewgills says:

    To be fair, he came back and screwed it up multiple times after being repeatedly corrected, then ran off. It is the most blatant and easily referenced example of his propensity for getting something terrifically wrong, doubling down, then running away. That said, the joke has worn a bit thin.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    That said, the joke has worn a bit thin.

    No worries…another similar opportunity will present itself soon enough…

  25. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @al-Ameda: Your complaint is almost the equivalent of “damned kids, get off my lawn!”

    Of all the things said about me on this thread, that one hurt the most.

    I was trying to EXCEED that level of absurdity, and you tell me that I didn’t even match it.

    Oh, the pain and shame…

  26. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “This use of “impact” may be grammatically correct, but it’s BAD WRITING.”

    Finally Jenos is talking about a subject he knows something about!