Does Iowa Push Republican Candidates to the Right?

IowaLast weekend’s conservative confab in Iowa has once again drawn the ire of some national political pundits.  Cokie Roberts, a News Analyst for National Public Radio and frequent guest on ABC’s Sunday morning show, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, is the latest to not only criticize the event held by Iowa Congressman Steve King and Citizens United, but to call for Republicans avoid Iowa altogether.

“I think Republicans should stay out of Iowa altogether,” Roberts said on This Week the day after the Iowa Freedom Summit. “What happens to them is that they get pushed so far to the right in those venues that it gives them a terrible time in the general election.”

Stephanopoulos agreed by saying the state hurt Romney in 2012.  Roberts went on to say, “It hurts them all. And, by the way, Steve King, who hosted this, is absolutely toxic in the Hispanic community. And if the Republicans want to get that vote, they shouldn’t be showing up at a Steve King event.”

Okay, let’s break this down.

Frist, I would like to know how Iowa hurt Romney in 2012.  Yes, it’s true that he ultimately didn’t win the Iowa Caucuses, but he lost to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum by just a 34 votes.  Let’s also not forget that Romney avoided Iowa for much of 2011.  In fact, he really didn’t begin to engage in Iowa until a month or two in advance of the caucuses.

We also shouldn’t forget that Romney was declared the winner of the Iowa Caucuses on caucus night.  Sure, it was just a narrow victory, but a victory nonetheless.  It was significant because they initially got a victory despite shunning the state for almost an entire year.  More importantly, with Romney having a commanding lead in the New Hampshire primary, the Iowa win created a real sense of inevitability for him to win the Republican nomination.

It took two-and-a-half weeks for the Republican Party of Iowa to certify the vote and declare that Santorum actually won Iowa, not Romney.  That ordeal hurt Santorum, not Romney, and furthermore it does not discredit what Romney was able to do in Iowa with very little investment.

The 2012 caucuses proved that a national frontrunner and establishment candidate [Romney] can win Iowa if they run a disciplined campaign.  It also proved that hard work, dedication, and retail campaigning [Santorum] trumps huge amounts of money spent on television ads.  And let’s not forget that the 2012 Iowa caucuses proved that a libertarian candidate [Ron Paul] whose views don’t entirely matchup with mainstream Republican thought can do well if he or she works hard and organizes.

The results from the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses proved to the rest of the country that, despite all of the negative things that are said about the caucuses, Iowa is a competitive state.  We saw three candidates, with three different approaches, who represent three different wings of the Republican Party all do extremely well.  We might not be diverse when it comes to color or culture, but when it comes to the diversity of thought, Iowa proved the naysayers wrong.

Second, Cokie Roberts is misinformed or naive if she thinks that the Iowa caucuses push candidates to the right.  As mentioned earlier, the results from 2012 already show that a moderate establishment candidate, a social conservative, and a libertarian type candidate can all build enough support in Iowa to win the caucuses.  The one instance that the media likes to drag out from the 2012 campaign to prove their point is Mitt Romney’s position on illegal immigration.

Romney said that he supported a policy of “self deportation” in a January 24th presidential debate in 2012.  Below is the exchange.

“Governor Romney, there is one thing I’m confused about. You say you don’t want to go and round up people and deport them, but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries and then apply for citizenship. So, if you don’t deport them, how do you send them home?”

Romney answered, “We’re not going to round people up.” He went on to explain that financially struggling undocumented immigrants would choose to return to their home countries of their own volition. “The answer is self-deportation,” Romney stated, “which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.”

So let me get this straight.  Iowa is to blame for Romney’s right of center views on immigration, but he didn’t role out his “self deportation” line until three weeks AFTER the Iowa Caucuses in a debate in FLORIDA.  I’ve never understood how Iowa pushed Romney to the right when he hardly campaigned here anyway.  I don’t doubt that Romney and his campaign advisers chose to that position for strategic reasons, but I never thought it had anything to do with Iowa because they never made it an issue here.

I understand that regardless of what transpires, the caucuses will always be criticized by someone or some campaign.  It’s just the nature of politics.  My only request of those in the media who like to criticize the Iowa Caucuses is for them to actually come here so that they can have an informed opinion of our state and process. I’ve seen a lot of nationally known reporters in Iowa, but I’ve never seen Cokie Roberts.

If you are going to offer an opinion on something, it should be an informed opinion.

Immigration was discussed at last week’s Iowa Freedom Summit, but not all the candidates talked about it.  Scott Walker didn’t talk about it.  Neither did Dr. Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, or Carly Fiorina.  You wouldn’t think that if you had listened to some of the coverage of the event.  As I reminded reporters before the event, Congressman King doesn’t give the candidates talking points and say, “here, read this.”  It’s up to each candidate to deliver the message he or she wants to provide.  If you actually paid attention to the event this past weekend, that was pretty clear.  Maybe Cokie Roberts only watched the highlights on the Jon Stewart show, which wouldn’t surprise me.