Staff Columnist

Branstad's back. But Iowa belongs to Trump

President Donald Trump (right) and U.S. Ambassador to China and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad walk down the stairs of
President Donald Trump (right) and U.S. Ambassador to China and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad walk down the stairs of Air Force One at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jun. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Terry Branstad is coming back. He always does, whether we like it or not.

Ambassador Branstad is leaving China next month to return to Iowa. Our former governor says he will hit the campaign trail for Republican candidates, including U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. She’s in a tight contest with Democrat Theresa Greenfield. Whatever other reasons led to his departure remain a mystery.

All I can say is welcome back. Also, Iowans, remain alert. His comebacks have consequencs.

Previously on “Branstad!”

Branstad won back the the governor’s office in 2010. Upon being sworn in, he swiftly denied felons the right to vote. His first budget sought to slash state funding for preschool.

He went on to sign bills abolishing local minimum wage increases and gutting collective bargaining for public employees. Branstad vetoed bipartisan funding for clean water and increased funding for public schools. He closed mental health facilities and workforce development offices. He unilaterally privatized Medicaid without asking anyone involved if it was a good idea.

He did help create 200,000 jobs, but only if you don’t subtract jobs lost. Not even math was safe.

Gone was the seemingly more pragmatic Branstad 1.0, who served as governor during the 80s and 90s, the guy who signed a minimum-wage increase, signed legislation creating the Resource Enhancement and Protection program, or REAP and made compromises.

But that brand of Iowa Republicanism is long gone, too. Branstad remains a popular and nostalgic figure for many Iowans, a throwback to calmer, saner times. His 2010 running mate, Kim Reynolds, is now governor. Ernst and Chuck Grassley fill both Senate seats.

An impressive slate of leaders. But, unfortunately, the true leader of Iowa Republicans is Donald Trump.

Nowhere have top Republicans clung more tightly in unison to the president than in Iowa. Through his trade wars that harmed agriculture, his mishandling of the pandemic, his daily lies and national embarrassments, Iowa GOP leaders have kept their front row seats on the USS Trump. Not even a distinct sinking feeling can sway their loyalty.

So now, Trump’s ambassador is coming home to save a senator who stuck by the president and now risks losing her once safe seat. Trump-endorsed congressional candidates are traversing their districts screaming “socialism!” at anyone who will listen. The GOP controlled Legislature made it harder to vote by mail, citing Trumpian delusions of voter fraud, and the Republican secretary of state is carrying out lawmakers’ orders, with a big assist from lawsuits filed by Trump’s campaign.

Reynolds, who has followed Trump’s erratic lead in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, is now presiding over one of the nation’s virus hot spots.

But, surely, all of this loyalty has been worth something to Iowa.

Well, after politely begging for more than a year for the president to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from granting waivers to refineries trying to skip ethanol blending requirements, the president finally came through this month. Just before the election and only after significant damage had been done to an industry already struggling with dropping demand.

Iowa Republicans, of course, lavished high praise on the president, who burned down their house but heroically saved the garage. What will happen if he gets reelected? Keep the hose handy.

Remember during the farm crisis of the 1980s when Branstad 1.0 stood up to President Ronald Reagan, telling him to not come to Iowa until he bailed out the farm credit system? It was a very long time ago.

It’s all Trump’s show now. Iowa Republicans face the prospect of defeat with him, but they can’t win without him. They all see trouble ahead. But they’re playing it down. No sense causing a panic.

Branstad’s returning to save the day. He’s undefeated, knows Iowa better than almost any politician and is a tireless campaigner. He’ll likely bolster the GOP’s contention that all of our problems are caused by China.

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But he’s also a living reminder of how dramatically Iowa politics has changed, and not for the better. We now mirror the nation, where extremism, outrage and misinformation flow freely in our civic veins.

It’s Trump’s Iowa, and Trump’s America. The election will decide if the country can come back.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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