- - Monday, May 5, 2014

Years of betraying its base has the Republican Party in open civil war, and nowhere is that dissention and dysfunction more apparent than the first in the nation caucus state of Iowa where I live.

When I started doing local radio in 2006 on the legendary Des Moines radio station 1040-WHO, where former President Ronald Reagan was once sports director, Democrats had total control of state government. Meanwhile, Iowa Republicans were in the wilderness and the base was demoralized.

However, during the time I was on the air during afternoon drive, I had a front row seat to a grassroots conservative resurgence in the state. A resurgence caused by the Democrats driving the state into the ground and then the arrival of the tea party.

The 2008 Iowa Caucuses easily surpassed the highest voter turnout in the event’s history, with upstart Mike Huckabee almost getting as many votes than establishment contemporaries Mitt Romney and John McCain finished with combined. In 2010, the Republicans defeated an incumbent governor for re-election for the first time in 40 years, went from the minority to a 60-seat majority in the 100-seat Iowa House, improved from 17 members in the 50-seat state senate to almost a tie, and Iowa became the first state in American history to refuse to retain three State Supreme Court justices (firing them for attempting to redefine marriage). Republicans even surpassed Democrats in party voter registration.

As a result, by the time I left for national syndication in 2011, the Republicans had completely changed the complexion of the state.

The message was clear here, when the conservative base is inspired — even in a state a Republican presidential candidate has won only once since 1988 — Republican candidates of any stripe and faction are the beneficiaries.

But just like their national counterparts, Iowa Republicans failed to get that message.

When Democrat Gov. Chet Culver submitted Iowa’s first $6 billion budget in 2008, Republicans blew up my phone lines to complain. But now six years later, Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, proposed a budget 7.8 percent larger than his previous one — taking Iowa government over the $7 billion threshold for the first time. Keep in mind Iowa is a state that lost a representative in Congress recently because of its shrinking population.

Mr. Branstad and the Republicans aren’t implementing the dreaded national Common Core program, because he preempted the Feds by proposing his own monstrosity instead. One conservative activist wrote an op-ed for The Des Moines Register that summed up Mr. Branstad’s statist education program thusly: “take 10 years to accomplish zero reform.”

Speaking of The Des Moines Register, Mr. Branstad added a liberal writer from the notoriously liberal paper as his “special assistant” to help him craft his liberal education program. When conservative upstart Matt Schultz beat Democrat Secretary of State Michael Mauro for his office, Mr. Branstad responded by rewarding Mr. Mauro for his loss with a state government appointment. Mr. Branstad openly campaigned for the end of the Iowa Straw Poll leading up to the Iowa Caucuses, because he believes it gives conservatives an advantage. Mr. Branstad lent the title of his office to an “anti-bullying conference” which advocated for girls to be allowed to use boys’ bathrooms and vice versa, turned perhaps the state’s most popular conservative activist into a comic-book villain fighting a transgendered superhero, and whose keynote speaker starred in “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Mr. Branstad also failed to keep his campaign promise to defund Planned Parenthood and stop using taxpayer dollars to kill unborn children, despite the presence of the line-item veto. Mr. Branstad even implemented Obamacare.

In other words, Mr. Branstad fits right in with the current national “leadership” of the GOP. Has anyone ever seen Terry Branstad and John Boehner or “Ditch” McConnell in the same place at the same time?

By essentially running the Democrats’ idea of state government better than they do, Mr. Branstad and the Republicans are paying a hefty price. Mr. Branstad’s current approval rating basically mirrors President Obama’s, which shouldn’t be a coincidence because their legislative agendas appear to pretty much mirror each other’s: cronyism, Obamacare, bigger government, taxpayer-funding for killing children, and promotion of the radical homosexual propaganda.

Mr. Branstad, like President Obama, even refuses to defend the state’s marriage law. The Iowa Code still lists marriage as only being between one man and one woman, but Mr. Branstad has done about as much to defend the marriage law from activist judges as Eric Holder has.

The seeds of these many betrayals in the heartland are reaping a bitter harvest.

Despite a hefty investment, Republicans failed to gain any ground in the Iowa Senate in 2012, where dreaded Democrat Overlord Mike Gronstal still reigns with an iron fist. Republicans lost seven seats in the Iowa House in 2012 as well, and polls show they could lose control this fall. The “liberty” wing that wrestled control of the state party away from the establishment is completely gone now. Some resigned to join Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign. Others were driven from power at last month’s district conventions. During that fight, Iowa’s Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler was seen on Facebook openly rooting against the state’s most powerful pro-family group, The Family Leader. There are now almost as many registered independents in Iowa as people who voted for Romney in 2012. A record number of Democrat incumbents are running unopposed this fall.

Iowa Republicans have two high-profile primaries this June—retiring Congressman Tom Latham’s seat in the third district and the open U.S. Senate seat vacated by Tom Harkin. Internal polling I have seen in both races put the number of undecideds in each of those contests with less than a month to go at over 40 percent. I spoke with one of the best-connected GOP organizers/activists in Iowa last week, and he told me he expects both races to go to convention with nobody garnering the 35 percent required to win according to state law.

What’s happened here is GOP leadership has successfully mastered the circular firing squad, with its own foot often the target. The leadership of the GOP is trying to force the product it wants to give upon its primary customers, rather than representing the primary customers it really has. It is ashamed of its own base and convinced it cannot win by representing them, and/or doesn’t want to govern the way its base prefers if it does win. This pits GOP leadership in the middle of a two-front war, caught between dissention in its own ranks and its Democrat opponents.

By their own betrayals, they have done this to themselves.

Mr. Branstad is still likely to eke out a victory this fall because the Democrat nominee is frankly a joke, but it will hardly be the resounding statement win he was planning for his swan song. Similarly, Republicans nationally are likely to be the beneficiaries of Mr. Obama’s many failures and amateurish antics. When they’re likely swept into power in this November’s midterms it will be much more a rejection of Obamaism than an affirmation of Republicanism.

In fact, most Americans don’t even know what the term “Republican” means anymore. By their own actions, its obvious most Republican leaders don’t either.

Last week, I conducted a focus group of Iowa conservatives who are undecided in the U.S. Senate primary. When I asked them if they would bolt the GOP for a viable third party that represented their interests every single hand in the room went up. A recent headline at one of the most influential sites in the conservative blogosphere, Red State, had the title “They Lied to Us” in reference to Republican Party leadership. Such discourse is common now throughout conservative media online and on the radio.

If the establishment ends up winning the current existential battle for the soul of the GOP, the GOP itself could end up losing the war and go the way of the Whigs from whence they came.

(Steve Deace is a nationally-syndicated talk show host and the author of “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)

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