Standing in a side-room at the Embassy Suites election night, watching the results come in, I remember many thoughts swirling around in my mind. Being a fairly straightforward person, I couldn’t ignore the obvious in an attempt to be optimistic.
We got beat.
Iowa voters helped send back the most radically liberal President that our nation has ever seen, and joined the rest of the country in ensuring the continuation of class warfare, massive deficits, a schizophrenic and dangerous foreign policy and most frightening of all the final implementation of the socialist monstrosity known as Obamacare. Here in Iowa, we failed to unseat Sen. Gronstal, and retained a court justice whose overreach not only radically redefined marriage in Iowa, but overstepped the constitutional boundaries of the court. While many have already set about Monday-morning quarterbacking and playing the blame game, what became very clear that night to all of us is that the Democrats have a machine in place, and to defeat them in the future, we are going to have to dismantle that machine.
The Democrats have spent years fighting the small battles in city councils and school boards, making decisions that everyday Iowans have to live with and defining “normal” in such a way that an entire generation cannot imagine any benefit to an environment in which government DOESN’T tax everything, subsidize everything, and control every aspect of life and business. Their success did not come mostly in quick strokes like the passage of Obamacare or Dodd-Frank. It came slowly, through the pervasive cultural influence of the pillars of the left: the liberal media, the academic elite, and the unions. The national successes of the liberal machine have been the result of these influences and the growing entitlement mentality at the state and local level, not the other way around. As it took years to get ourselves in this position and to shape the mindset of the nation to their advantage, it will take time and commitment to retake the initiative and educate the American public on the benefits of freedom and opportunity. But this election made it clear that our success must come from the bottom and not the top. We will not be able to roll back the abuses of the Obama administration – many of which are still to come – until we can win the battles in our towns, counties, and state. There is a broad feeling within the party that not only do we need to shift our strategy to place more emphasis on the state and local battles that we have neglected, but that we must do so quickly, in order to insulate our state from the far-reaching failures of a hopelessly out-of-touch federal government. As a state party, I think there are two major goals that we have to reach to give ourselves the necessary strength to successfully promote a state-first agenda and foster the independent mindset that once defined Iowa:
1) Reach out to disillusioned conservatives and re-engage them in the party by holding our elected officials accountable to the platform.
2) Learn to communicate our message of limited government and individual liberty in a way that places the American Dream within the reach of average people who have come to feel that they have to settle for entitlement programs and perpetual debt.
Many conservative voters and even some Republican activists sat this election out and chose not to support Mitt Romney and our other candidates, and many cited disillusionment with what they see as a party that does not hold politicians accountable and is no longer effective at advancing and protecting the principles in our platform. At every level of the GOP, we have to re-engage our important conservative base and show that we are serious about advancing what we believe in, during and between elections.
Beyond this, we have to reach out to new voter groups, some that we have simply ceded to the Democrats for years. I believe that the barrier between the Republican Party and these voting groups – young people, minorities, and single women – is not one of message substance but of presentation. Many of us have become accustomed to criticizing the left without offering substantive reasons why our ideology holds the solution to the problems of struggling individuals, families, and businesses. We don’t need to change our positions or pander to groups that we want to win support from. We just need to re-tool our message to show the recent college grad or the newly-arrived immigrant why they will benefit more from lower taxes, less regulation, and a free market economy, than from food stamps and socialized health care.
When we start winning the idea war in this way, we will be in a position to employ the last line of defense left us by the Founding Fathers: the States. The Republican Party has long stood for States’ rights and against Federal overreach. In the event that we fail to rein in Washington’s spending and power grabs, it is up to our state officials to protect the rights of we, the people. Since it’s clear that – at least for another four years – Washington isn’t going to pull away from its collision course with fiscal ruin, there should be a sense of urgency for our state party to fight to install representatives at every level that will assert the rights of the State of Iowa, and fight to remove us from the grip of the trap that is Federal funding.
This is a goal that we can reach in 2014, and I stand ready to fight alongside each of you to reach it. But this train will only go as far as we push it. Become active in your county party. Talk to your friends and neighbors; not just about how they voted, but about what they believe, and why. Consider running for local office, where you can effect immediate and meaningful change in your communities and school districts.
This election will only set us back if we do not learn from it, so let’s take the lesson to heart. Let’s shift our priorities to make time for the important discussions, and fight to turn Iowa back to the kind of independence that will again declare to the nation that “our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.”