Staff Columnist

Actually, we need more candidates running for president in Iowa

Three nationally recognized challengers to Trump have spent less than a dozen days publicly campaigning in Iowa this year.

A group of Republicans vote for their precinct delegates in a packed convention center at the DoubleTree Hotel and Convention Center in downtown Cedar Rapids for the GOP Caucus on Feb. 1, 2016. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
A group of Republicans vote for their precinct delegates in a packed convention center at the DoubleTree Hotel and Convention Center in downtown Cedar Rapids for the GOP Caucus on Feb. 1, 2016. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

As we all lament the perpetual growth of the gaggle of Democrats running for president, take a moment to reflect on the regrettably shrinking Republican field.

Last week, former U.S. Rep. and Gov. Mark Sanford announced he is ending his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Sanford had billed himself as the fiscally conservative alternative to President Donald Trump’s agenda of big spending and international trade restrictions, but nobody would listen.

“Impeachment noise has moved what was hard to Herculean as nearly everything in Republican Party politics is currently viewed through the prism of impeachment,” Sanford told journalists at a news conference in New Hampshire.

That marked an abrupt end for a campaign Sanford launched only about two months ago. He acknowledged all along that his campaign faced long odds, but he was optimistic nonetheless, up until last week.

“I think that when you have longer conversations, they are surprisingly good,” Sanford said in an October interview on former party chairman Michael Steele’s podcast.

Unfortunately, Sanford’s presidential campaign didn’t turn out to be a very long conversation, especially here in Iowa. It appears that none of Trump’s primary challengers is serious about running in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

The three nationally recognized Republican challengers — Sanford, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh — have spent, combined, less than a dozen days publicly campaigning in Iowa this year. Democrats running for president, meanwhile, have held more than 1,000 events in Iowa, according to Caucus Watch.

Of course, one would expect the angry and energized Democrats to be significantly more active this cycle than Republicans, who have an incumbent president. But for long-shot Republicans to make any impact at all, they need to make more than a couple trips to Iowa. An active campaign schedule is not a sufficient condition for a meaningful campaign, but surely it’s a necessary one.

Barring some new factor, it seems all but impossible that another Republican could wrestle the nomination away from Trump. The president remains overwhelmingly popular in polls of Republican voters — 89 percent in Gallup’s latest tally.

But winning the nomination is not the only path to success for intraparty challenges. Ronald Reagan wasn’t nominated in 1976 and Pat Buchanan wasn’t nominated in 1994, but the movements they built in their failed candidates had immeasurable influence on conservative politics in the ensuing years.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Bernie Sanders lost the famously contentious 2016 nominating contest, only to see several parts of his policy platform widely embraced by Democrats.

What happens to the Republican Party after Trump? Unless someone starts organizing Trump-skeptical Republicans, our party will emerge from this era both spineless and driftless, with a reputation badly damaged among several groups of key swing voters.

Journalists in Washington, D.C., tell us there are unnamed Republican members of Congress who are deeply troubled by Trump’s conduct in office, but they won’t go on the record for fear of political retribution.

These rumored Trump critics won’t endorse impeachment because there’s an election in sight. They won’t endorse a primary challenger or third-party candidate because it’s a lost cause. They won’t endorse a Democratic nominee because that party has lurched too far left.

So what will they endorse? Only our dear leader, Donald Trump.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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