- - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Nobody screws up a one-car funeral, or kills the goose that lays the golden egg, quite like the Republican Party establishment.

Such is the plight of a political party lead by people who don’t share the same basic values as its base. This puts the GOP in a constant state of inner turmoil. For example, just six months after a historic midterm election victory only 23 percent of Republicans believe their party’s leaders have kept their campaign promises, according to a new Pew Research poll.

At the epicenter of this dysfunctional family lies my native state of Iowa: Home to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses and packed with promising presidential candidates angling to be the next party standard-bearer. If conservatives lamented our lack of good choices the past few primary cycles, the fear this time around is there are too many desirable options to choose from.

So if there was ever a time for an event like the legendary Iowa Straw Poll to cull the herd, and bring some early clarity to the election process, this would seem to be the year. Unfortunately, though, this is the Republican Party we’re talking about. That means at the very time it is needed the most, the Iowa Straw Poll is dead — whether it happens or not.

And the Republican Party is responsible for doing the killing.

It started a few years ago when Democrat Gov. Terry Branstad – yes, I know he calls himself a Republican but I don’t believe in bearing false witness – immediately went out of his way to publicly undermine the credibility of the Iowa Straw Poll. Mr. Branstad and his ilk don’t like the fact the event seems to energize the party’s conservative base instead of his preferred corporatist shills. Alas, the only political party more offended by an energized conservative base than the Democrats is the Republicans.

Then last year, Mr. Branstad dipped into his own re-election coffers to spend a lot of time and energy retaking control of the state party from an alliance of liberty and evangelical activists. Once more it was Republicans who could not abide their base being in control. Except now that his cronies were running the show, including hot-headed State Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, the Branstad establishment had a dilemma on its hands.

The Iowa Straw Poll is the biggest fundraiser the state party has and its new hacks didn’t want to be seen killing off such a lucrative venture. So they decided to start tinkering instead. It was all done under the banner of “improvements” – as was the Obamacare scam that Mr. Branstad and the GOP establishment favors.

The end result of fixing something that wasn’t broken was moving the event from the friendly confines of conveniently-located Iowa State University in Ames, to the more rural Central Iowa Expo in Boone. A financially-troubled venue that is only still open because of millions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts.

Pay no attention to that self-destructive symbolism emanating from an allegedly limited government party.

The Boone location is also going to be a completely outdoor venue during the absolute hottest time of the year in Iowa. Complete with legions of germ and bacteria silos known as port-a-potties. Let’s see, extreme heat plus less-than-sanitary restrooms, plus loads of elderly Iowans. What could possibly go wrong?

But don’t fret, because Mr. Kaufmann assured skeptics the new site “has fantastic Internet” in an op-ed he wrote for Politico two weeks ago. I’ll take “marketing language no one has used since 1998 for a thousand dollars, Alex.”

The uncertainty has now given presidential contenders all the excuses they needed to bypass the straw poll rather than risk early exposure as a pretender. In a delicious twist of irony, the first to hit the eject button was establishment proxy Jeb Bush — prompting Mr. Kaufmann to take to Twitter to lambaste him. I must admit I enjoyed this wee bout of establishment-on-establishment violence.

However, with Jeb bowing out there’s no reason for any of the conservatives to participate, either. Why should the conservative candidates spend three months slitting each other’s throats on the campaign trail just to win a few thousand voters at a straw poll, while Jeb and the establishment watch unscathed from the sidelines?

As the great prophet Admiral Ackbar once said, “It’s a trap.”

Rather than springing the trap, 2008 Iowa Caucus champ Mike Huckabee decided to go his own way. He became the second candidate to say no to the Iowa Straw Poll last week and I doubt he’ll be the last. The only candidate I know for sure who wants to do it is Ben Carson. Likely to prove he’s not just drawing admirers but supporters. But there’s nothing in it for the rest of them.

If Rand Paul wins, it will be because he was expected to given his early organizational edge in the state. He’s only a story if he loses. If Ted Cruz wins, he’ll be labeled “the next Michele Bachmann” the very next day. If defending caucus champ Rick Santorum doesn’t win, he’s essentially done. Scott Walker is not formally announcing his candidacy until the Wisconsin state legislative session ends sometime in June, which doesn’t give the current media-polling favorite a lot of time to meet expectations in the Iowa Straw Poll. And none of the other candidates have the organization to compete at this point.

Thus, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, even those that choose to participate in the Iowa Straw Poll will go out of their way to lower expectations. They will make sure everyone knows they’re not investing anything in it and thereby strip it of any significance.

There may still be a candidate cattle call in Iowa this August, but it won’t be the beloved conservative lollapalooza known as the Ames Straw Poll. It has been replaced by a “Boone-Doggle.” Full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

In other words, a perfect symbol for the GOP establishment.

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

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