In Iowa, national GOP chair says she's unfazed by Democratic victories

(Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau) Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, answers questions from Iowa reporters as state GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann looks on before the start of Wednesday evening’s Reagan Dinner fundraiser in Des Moines.
(Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau) Sean Spicer, President Donald Trump’s former White House press secretary, addresses about 550 Iowa Republicans Wednesday night at the party’s Reagan dinner fundraiser in Des Moines.

By Erin Murphy and Rod Boshart, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — Republicans have complete lawmaking control in the nation’s capital, and they want that arrangement to last longer than two years.

So there’s no letting up, the party’s national chairwoman said Wednesday night in Iowa.

“This is not a time to rest,” Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, told reporters before speaking at the Iowa GOP’s annual fall fundraiser. “There’s no saying, ‘Hey, we won, now we can sit back.’ We’ve got to keep driving forward if we’re going to protect our majorities.”

McDaniel and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer were the main speakers at the Republican Party of Iowa’s Reagan Dinner, which was attended by 550 party faithful at the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines and held, coincidentally, on the anniversary of the 2016 election that put Donald Trump into the White House.

Spicer happily noted that anniversary with Iowa Republicans, who played a critical role in the outcome. Iowa went for Trump by 9 percentage points after going twice for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Spicer drew laughter when he said he would not stand behind the lectern after being parodied on network television during his stint in the White House. He mirrored McDaniel’s message that Republicans have to fight to keep their majorities from unraveling in the 2018 midterm elections.

“We cannot let our success get to us,” Spicer said. “It is our party that has the better ideas. There is a stark difference between the worst Republican and the best Democrat.”

McDaniel acknowledged that, historically, a political party suffers losses in the first non-presidential election after taking power.

But she said she does not think the results of gubernatorial and statehouse elections this week in Virginia, New Jersey and Washington — which featured strong Democratic performances — represent a prediction of what is to come in 2018.

She noted previous special elections this year in Congressional districts that stayed in Republican hands, and said Virginia is a state that has been trending to favor Democrats and that the New Jersey gubernatorial election was not a surprise given how unpopular Republican Gov. Chris Christie had become there.

“It means that we’re at the status quo, and I think it means that we’re going to go into a very competitive 2018,” McDaniel said. “Those races were very state specific. I don’t think you can put everything at the president’s feet when it comes to these elections.”

Democrats respond

Democrats, naturally, saw this week’s election results differently.

“(Tuesday) night was a referendum on our values, and the American people spoke loud and clear that their values are the Democratic Party’s values,” Tom Perez, chairman of the national Democratic Party, said Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

“(Republicans) paid the price for their disastrous agenda last night. ... Our values were on the ballot, and they won. Republicans attempted to put fear and division on the ballot, and voters rejected them.”

GOP support from Trump

Democrats are framing their victories this week as voters repudiating Trump. McDaniel said Republicans and the GOP’s candidates should embrace the president despite his low approval numbers — just 33 percent in a Quinnipiac Poll in August and a 38.2 percent average in polls tracked by Real Clear Politics. As evidence, McDaniel said the national GOP has experienced record fundraising this year, surpassing $100 million for the first time in a non-presidential year.

“That’s enthusiasm for the president,” McDaniel said. “There’s no problem running as the party of Donald Trump.”

State party chairman Jeff Kaufmann said Iowa Republicans are not shying away from the president.

“We are staunchly for Donald Trump,” Kaufmann said. “We don’t bend here and we’re not going to bend here.”

McDaniel also said she expects Iowa’s presidential caucuses to remain first in the nation. She said the national party will go through its normal process, but she does not anticipate any changes in the order of early voting states.

“I don’t see anything changing,” McDaniel said, recalling the time she spent in Iowa during the 2012 caucuses with her uncle, Mitt Romney. “I saw firsthand how seriously the voters took it here when I came in for the straw poll. I think it’s an important state that takes that role very seriously, and I don’t see any changes happening.”