A Native Iowan Libertarian-Conservative’s Take on “Iowa Divided”

At National Review Online last week, author Robert Costa penned a piece titled “Iowa Divided,” where he detailed the crevasse between the libertarian and moderate coalitions of the Republican Party of Iowa. As an Iowa native and right-wing individual, I was very interested in the comments of those interviewed and Costa’s take on the divide. And for those interested in the “first-in-the-nation state,” it’s a pretty good read.

It’s not shocking that there’s a slight slant toward the moderate coalition, led by Iowa’s longtime, on-again-off-again governor Terry Branstad by National Review. Throughout their storied history as a highly influential publication of conservative thought, much of their ranks are skeptical of libertarian sentiment. You can sense it in this piece, but it’s not offensive or egregious.

Costa presents the rupture between the coalitions as “Big Liberty” versus “Branstad’s center-right circle.” This presentation is largely accurate. I attended the 2012 State Party Convention as a delegate, and the contention between the two groups was on full display. Nearly every proposed change to the state party platform was met with passionate debate. Proposed rules changes by the moderate bloc garnered a raucous response. I detailed all the antics via Twitter in realtime.

The chairs of the Iowa GOP are A.J. Spiker and David Fischer, both of whom I’ve met briefly in passing. Over the course of the lengthy caucus process in early 2012, the two gentlemen — admitted Ron Paul supporters at the time — took over most of the party by appointing liberty devotees in key positions.

Meanwhile, Governor Branstad’s administration does not comprise of individuals of similar philosophies. Costa quotes him as saying:

There is some concern that you have one faction, and the party should be there to support everybody, all the candidates… I’m a big-tent Republican. I want to include everybody, but we have some people who don’t… When I started in politics, it was the moderates who controlled everything, and I was the conservative. But my approach wasn’t to throw them all out. Instead, I said, ‘I want you to stay.’

It’s very intriguing that the governor uses the term “big-tent Republican” to describe himself. Throughout the course of the caucus, the liberty coalition that was being dismissed by the establishment party officials and governor’s office was claiming the same thing. They wanted the Iowa GOP to become a big-tent party, where the libertarian-leaning members would be heard and respected. When they said no, the grassroots supported and installed the members of “Big Liberty,” as Costa calls it, to prominent party positions. It was a “careful what you wish for, you just might get it” scenario.

This doesn’t mean that I’m an agent for Spiker, Fischer, & Company. The straw that broke the camel’s back between the two groups was a rift on a gas tax issue, where Branstad wanted to raise it, while the state party opposed the measure and threatened sympathetic state lawmakers with lack of support in future election cycles.

I’m in agreement with Branstad on this, actually, because Iowa has some of the worst roads and bridges in all of America. To boot, a gas tax is really a user fee, where only those who purchase gasoline to then use the state-funded roads are subject to the tax. That is something that libertarians should support, in my mind, as an example of a tax done right, rather than have a blanket rule that no tax is a good tax. Unless you’re proposing that you demolish the Iowa Department of Transportation and turn their duties over to the private sector (which should be done, in a perfect world), then you should go for the next best thing.

This is my macroscopic take on the “Iowa Divide.” It’s two sides that are clashing for legitimate — and illegitimate reasons that the politically inclined — should pay attention to, as it’s a precursor of what’s to come for the Republican Party nationally.

There’s other things in there about the Iowa Straw Poll and the U.S. Senate race that was created through Sen. Tom Harkin’s retirement that are worth a read as well.

Content published on the Young Americans for Liberty blog is only representative of the opinions and research of the individual authors. It does not necessarily reflect the views, goals, or membership of YAL. 

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