We all know Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Fred Thompson, and Tom Tancredo are conservatives. Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain also called themselves conservatives. Sometime in this past year I wrote about how the word conservative doesn’t mean anything anymore. I was frustrated then, and remain so still today.
I get a little peeved when I read articles like Mike Glover’s AP piece that wonders if Iowa’s social conservatives err evangelicals have rendered the Republican Caucuses in Iowa obsolete. Equally frustrating is the Fly Over Boyz recent post on the same topic. The Mike Glover’s and Fly Over Boyz of the world still have a hard time comprehending how someone like Huckabee won last January, and instead of learning from that election, they instead seek to discredit it.
I think this is an interesting subject that ties in well with the conversation we have been having over the past few weeks. While I respect people like Doug Gross, Dave Roderer, and by other friends in the blogosphere, they are simply wrong when they accuse the social conservatives of ruining the caucuses. The truth is that the moderates who came to Iowa ran bad campaigns, including Mitt Romney.
First let’s set a few things straight.
First, John McCain did staff up early here in Iowa, his collection of talent was very impressive. What drove McCain out of the state was his lack of money, and Mitt Romney’s perceived strength, not social conservatives.
We all know McCain ran 100 million dollar primary campaign; the only problem was he couldn’t raise that 100 mil. The result was a huge June reorganization where he cut his staff drastically, and cut back his activities in multiple states. His rough going in Iowa had much more to do with the fact that he blew us off in 2000 than the social conservatives being against him early on. Let’s not forget Marlys Popma and Maxine Sieleman were on staff, and people like Norm Pawlewski (ICA), Barb Taylor (IFPC and ICA), and Stacey Cargill (anti-gambling activist) were all on board the Straight talk Express early.
Additionally, people thought that Romney was going to turn out 10,000 or so supporters to the Straw Poll, far less than the 4516 votes he actually received. There were a number of former McCain staffers who said that if they would have known the winner needed to be around 5000 votes that probably would have participated. Simply put, McCain’s treatment of the Iowa Caucuses in 2000, his poor fundraising in 2007, and Mitt Romney’s chest pounding all had a part in driving McCain out of Iowa. Not Iowa’s social conservatives.
Secondly, Mitt Romney came into to Iowa and tried to be something he’s not, a social conservative. I have a lot of problems with candidates who try to paint themselves in a different light when it comes time to run for President. Now what I find frustrating is that Mitt Romney didn’t need to change who he was to win in Iowa, his campaign made a strategic decision to go after the social conservatives rather than go after those fiscal conservatives who should have been his bread and butter. Seriously, where was the Mitt Romney who wrote this yesterday about the Auto industry Bailout? A candidate like that can find traction anywhere.
The problem the Romney campaign ran into was their unwillingness to look outside of your typical Republican caucus goer. I remember in the days and weeks leading up to the caucuses, the Romney campaign, particularly Doug Gross, thought the Republican turnout was going to about 70,000 which would have been an all time low turnout in a contested year. The Romney campaign wasn’t off just a little; they missed the mark by almost 50,000 votes as Iowa Republicans turned out in record numbers on caucus night. How could the brightest minds in Iowa politics be so wrong? Simple, they didn’t any campaign was going to turnout new caucus goers and they got steamrolled.
The amazing thing about Mike Huckabee’s Iowa victory was the fact that he was left for dead time after time. The Republican politicos in Iowa laughed at his staff and they laughed at him. Yet only the Huckabee campaign went outside of the box to build its support system. Huckabee went out and did what every Democrat candidate does when they campaign in Iowa; identify supporters from all walks of life. The only other candidate who was able to draw new people into the Republican caucuses was Ron Paul. So while the Romney campaign worked the State Party’s Caucus Attendees list over and over again, Huckabee who probably couldn’t afford the list ,went ton to town and said if you like me, vote for me.
I believe that a moderate Republican could win the Iowa Caucuses, but to do that they can’t limit their campaigns to only those people who have attended caucuses before, or who vote regularly in primaries. In my opinion this is why Republicans have seen their voter registration numbers fall since 2004. What has happened during that time, two huge Democrat caucus cycles in which every one of their candidates go out and find new people to participate in their process. On the other hand our Republican campaigns only go after the low hanging fruit, those who have gone before.
So it is no surprise that Doug Gross and Dave Roderer blame the social conservatives, because it was them who trounced their candidates last January. But the reason they were able to do so was because only their candidate went outside of the box to build their grassroots organization. Maybe instead of discrediting Huckabee’s accomplishments, they should learn from it. But if you know people like Doug and Dave, they will never admit that they got their asses kicked by some hick named Huckabee.
I believe the Iowa Caucuses are alive and well. I think the next go-around we will see campaigns go out and do more heavy lifting when it comes to getting new people involved in the process. All of which will help our party greatly.