Staff Columnist

Promise and peril for the Patriot Party in Iowa

Iowa Republicans are still with Trump, but GOP-approved election laws might thwart his new project.

Supporters at a Donald Trump campaign rally at Dubuque Regional Airport, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Dubuque, Iowa. (AP Pho
Supporters at a Donald Trump campaign rally at Dubuque Regional Airport, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Dubuque, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Before he flew away from the capital, former President Donald Trump vowed “We will be back in some form.”

The one-term president has said he may run for the job again in 2024, and he appears to be the early front-runner. Allies serving as anonymous sources to the news media say Trump is exploring the possibility of launching a new political movement, to be dubbed the Patriot Party and aimed at challenging his few Republican detractors.

Trump remains extremely popular among Iowa Republicans. They delivered him an 8-point victory in the state last November, and party activists this month unanimously reelected their boisterously pro-Trump chairman, Jeff Kaufmann. He recently said Trump “still has a great deal of support in this state.”

But there are cracks in the foundation. All five of Iowa’s federally elected Republicans voted this month to formalize the election results showing President Joe Biden won. That prompted backlash from rank-and-file Republicans who hoped Congress would challenge the results.

The Iowa GOP grassroots are interested in the prospect of a splinter party, and some are using the GOP infrastructure to make plans. In an email to members after the presidential election results were certified, one county GOP chairman openly floated the idea of an alternative party, calling Iowa’s elected Republicans “spineless” and “Republicans in name only.”

“I have heard it put this way: We have two options. a) Rebuild the Republican Party and replace the spineless RINOs with genuine patriots; or b) start a new party that is capable of competing with the Republican and Democrat Parties,” the county chairman wrote.

Their refusal to compromise might be admirable, if only it were in service to something valuable.

Trump and his loyalists got everything they wanted from the Republican Party. It became purely a vehicle for promoting and preserving Trump. Voters and elected officials abandoned long-held conservative values such as free trade, limited spending and free-market health care reform.

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They got almost everything they wanted, that is. The vice president, most Republican senators and about a third of Republican representatives finally broke ranks when Trump asked them to throw out legitimate election results and fomented a riot at the Capitol.

Trump controlled the party in every way except that, and it wasn’t enough, so he’s taking his movement and going elsewhere.

It’s not clear yet whether this will be a real alternative party, like the Reform Party formed by Ross Perot in the 1990s, or more of a branding strategy, like the Tea Party movement from the Obama era.

It could be both — Trump’s followers could run as either Republicans or Patriots depending on political factors and election procedures in their states and districts. They are likely to encounter some electoral booby traps along the way.

State governments make it difficult for third-party candidates to get on the ballot. As Trump publicly fretted about Libertarians siphoning off his votes, Iowa Republicans in the past four years have imposed new regulations to stifle third-party competition.

They are barriers erected in part to protect Trump. Now they may stand in his way.

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

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