Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I Am Not an Ames Straw Poll Apologist

...but FHQ is among the most skeptical of skeptics when the conversation turns back toward the "Is Ames Dead?" discussion.

Look, I thought Jonathan Martin's piece Sunday in the New York Times was illuminating. This -- the "Is Ames Dead?" discussion -- is absolutely an ongoing topic within and outside of the Republican Party of Iowa and it has at least some tangential bearing on the progress of any Republican presidential nomination race (Results may vary.). But when it comes to actually killing off the straw poll -- the quadrennial August Republican rite in the year before a presidential election year -- well, it is a bit more complicated than the straw poll is on its death bed.

...and there are certainly more perspectives within the state party about the event than it being like a "Civil War doctor amputating a gangrenous leg to save the life of the patient".

Let's take Mike Murphy's comment from the article first because that is a great place to start. I don't know whether Murphy was channeling Wallace Shawn in Princess Bride or not, but invoking land wars in Asia is a good analogy in the context of an establishment candidate wading into a supposedly ultraconservative affair in Ames. The line is also analogous in a great many ways to attempting to put the halt on the straw poll altogether.


This is something FHQ will revisit later this week in a slightly different scenario, but in this instance there currently is a veto point within the Republican Party of Iowa concerning the Ames Straw Poll. Yes, it is significant that Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) has openly called for an end to the practice. Very significant. Rare are the times when states volunteer to lose attention in the presidential nomination process. But the party infrastructure itself is not -- at least on this issue -- on the same page with the governor. That makes it quite difficult to stop the practice.

Not impossible, mind you. But difficult.

An example...

Take Obamacare. Republicans on the Hill and nationwide have made no bones about wanting to repeal what is considered by some to be among the signature pieces of legislation to work its way through Congress on the president's watch. However, the law is in place, it is taking effect in the staggered way in which it was intended (and in some cases not initially intended), and there are also veto points within the process of reversing the legislation. There is a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Democratic president standing in the way.

The institution has been erected in other words and is increasingly difficult to tear down the more it becomes, well, institutionalized over time.

Back in the Iowa context, then, there are interests that want the institution that is the straw poll in Ames to continue. And those interests pull the strings within the state party now, too. That makes the interests (ending the straw poll practice) of the governor and other Republican officials and operatives in the Hawkeye state -- those somewhat echoed by the national party or vice versa -- harder to bring to fruition.

Institutionally speaking, there are roadblocks -- prohibitive ones at this point in time -- to putting an end to the straw poll.

At one point -- nine months ago when this issue was last raised so prominently nationally -- there was talk of "tweaking the event" involved in this discussion as well. That sentiment has not disappeared, FHQ would wager. And really, that is where this is likely to end if change is in the offing for the Ames Straw Poll. It is an event -- a fundraiser at its core -- for the party. It is an event that is also somewhat insulated by the fact that Iowa has and will continue to lead off the presidential nomination process in 2016. That is not going to change. In fact, Iowa and the other three carve-out states have received additional protection from the RNC since the 2012 caucuses. And the order of those states is codified in the DNC rules that are likely to carry over to 2016. Iowa's caucuses have no real threat -- not of losing delegates anyway -- on the Republican side from non-carve-outs and have rules-backing on the order of the first four contests on the Democratic side.

Now, FHQ is not saying that there is no way for the Ames Straw Poll to die. But institutionally there are obstacles within the Republican Party of Iowa to that happening. More to the point, there is division within the party about whether holding the event is good or bad for the caucuses early the following year. The space between the two camps and the balance of power there is such that change is unlikely now, and if it occurs, is likely to be somewhere between holding the straw poll as usual and killing it.

And if it isn't totally dead in 2015, that means it ended up tweaked in some way.

...a way that likely favors those holding most of the cards on the decision. The state party.

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