By Steve Deace – BarbWire guest contributor
A story from my own backyard perfectly illustrates why Reagan biographer Craig Shirley recently referred to the Republican Party as “a crime family.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, an undocumented Democrat known for growing government and raising taxes more than any other governor in my state’s history, doesn’t like the fact he might be the only sitting governor in America who doesn’t control his own state party. That’s because pro-liberty Ron Paul supporters in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses played the process fair and square to assume control of the party
Now, they use that influence to routinely defy Branstad and the party establishment, like when they used the power of the state chairman’s office to publicly rally Republicans to oppose Branstad’s plans to raise the gas tax
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In return, the Branstad political operation began its 2014 re-election effort by attempting to take back control of the state party. Those efforts were largely unsuccessful, and ended up backfiring by uniting disparate factions of the GOP against Branstad. For example, the lobbyist for The Family Leader, Iowa’s most powerful social conservative group, is now the co-chairman of the state party alongside the former Ron Paul 2012 caucus campaign chairman
But instead of taking the hint and focusing on beating Democrats this fall, Branstad (the GOP establishment) has doubled down
Last week, the Branstad campaign attempted to thwart the nominating process by stacking the state convention with its cronies disguised as at-large delegates
To put in perspective the depth of their misanthropy, if the Branstad cronies on the slate in my hometown alone were sent to the state convention in June, they would represent the fourth-largest county in Iowa by themselves. If successful, this maneuver — which we used to call “cheating” when I was growing up — would allow Branstad to nullify his own base’s activism and gain control of the party during a crucial time
Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District and U.S. Senate primaries have yet to yield a candidate capable of getting the 35 percent support necessary to avoid a nomination fight going to convention — a convention the Branstad people would control. Not to mention these cronies also would have control of the state party during the Iowa Caucus process
Former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn, another establishment figure, was forced to resign after the mess he made trying to rig the 2012 Caucuses for Mitt Romney. Iowa ended up with three different winners as a result of his malfeasance. So the last thing Iowa’s precarious first-in-the-nation status needs is another shot to its integrity
If I didn’t know any better I’d say Branstad is intentionally trying to kill the Iowa Caucuses. He’s already on record opposing the Iowa Straw Poll, which is the state party’s largest fundraiser. Why would a Republican governor oppose his state Republican Party’s fundraising efforts and national influence?
For the same reason we consistently see Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., willing to fight us harder than they fight the Democrats
We have wrongly believed the intra-party conflict threatening to unravel the GOP once and for all was based on ideology. That is a false narrative
The truth is the GOP establishment loves seeing these ideological factions destroy each other. Divide-and-conquer is the oldest strategy in the history of warfare
It is not an ideological rift that existentially threatens the future of the Republican Party. An argument actually can be made that these sorts of vigorous debates are good for a political party because they put the focus where it squarely belongs, on the issues. Vibrant and competitive primaries can be good for the soul. They clean out the cobwebs, allow for the airing of grievances, and make everyone feel as if they had an equal say in the process before a champion is chosen
In reality, it’s a far more basic instinct driving the acrimony the Republican Party is best known for these days: Control
The people currently running the Republican Party are interested in nothing more than control. To them, control is more important than ideology. Control is even more important than beating Democrats, which explains why you often see the GOP establishment and its proxies attack their own base harder than they do Democrats
When was the last time you saw Speaker John Boehner go after President Obama the way he went after members of the Tea Party in his caucus? When was the last time you saw Senate Republican Leader “Ditch” McConnell try to kneecap Obama the way he’s trying to kneecap his primary opponent Matt Bevin? Did you ever see Romney go after Obama the way he tried to destroy Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry during the 2012 presidential primary?
Similarly, Branstad is doing things to his base in Iowa that he’s never done to the Democrats who have controlled the state Senate his entire term. This is drawing fire from moderates, libertarians, and social conservatives alike. In a strange way, Branstad has successfully united his party — against himself
People can overcome ideological differences and find common ground if they believe they’re being treated with integrity and respect. The same party establishment that often lectures conservatives to “get on board” after losing the primary isn’t willing to return the favor if it doesn’t get its way. This level of dishonesty is much more of a threat to the future of the Republican Party than even the most vehement disagreements
When like-minded people deal and disagree with each other honestly, you can still find enough common ground to form a governing coalition. But when you have a party run by people who aren’t honest brokers, forming such a coalition is impossible once trust is broken. Then it’s no longer a political party, which seeks to win elections on the principles in its platform. Then it’s a racket
Has the party of Reagan become the party of Gambino?
Steve Deace is a nationally-syndicated radio host and the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.