Family feud. Some Iowa republicans calling for leadership changes. We're talking with leaders A.J. Spiker and Steve Scheffler and GOP strategist David Kochel on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Iowa republicans are facing strategically significant elections in the coming year. In November 2014 there is an opportunity to capture the U.S. Senate seat now held by democrat Tom Harkin, and in Iowa holding the Governor's office, not to mention possibly controlling Iowa's General Assembly and, of course, Iowa's upcoming caucus role in nominating a 2016 republican presidential candidate. But with all that and more at stake, internal differences within the state's Republican Party structure are raising questions. What is the party's philosophical focus? And will unity ultimately prevail at the polls? Ames real estate agent A.J. Spiker chairs Iowa's Republican Party and he also serves on the party's national committee. He was nominated for a second term heading Iowa republicans by another national committeeman, Steve Scheffler of Des Moines. But another republican, long-term strategist David Kochel, is outwardly criticizing Spiker's leadership now and a few county republican organizations are asking Mr. Spiker to resign. We're seeking insight. Gentlemen, welcome back to Iowa Press. That's quite a litany and I know maybe an indictment but we're going to get the insight in just a few minutes along with questions asked by Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Mr. Spiker, the Appanoose County Republican Party and the Polk County Republican Party, the largest Republican Party in the state, have called for you to resign. Will you?
Spiker: Well, let me say there's been some misinformation about how we came about a process for moving the convention from June to July and that confused quite a few people.
Henderson: And when you say we, you mean you and the state central committee.
Spiker: We as in the state central committee. Right. And I sent out an email earlier today to several Iowa republicans explaining the entire process because as you get into canvas periods, into certification, it can get quite confusing on why the party might do certain things. So I wanted to address those in full and I have done that and I have addressed the concerns that the two parties have put forward.
Henderson: So why would you assume that every other scheduled state convention with the exclusion of 2008, which was moved because of flooding, was held at the wrong time?
Spiker: Well, we have never had, to my knowledge, a state convention that has nominated someone for governor or for United States Senate. So we have never looked at using a state convention for the purpose of nomination. In seeing the field grow and not seeing the field move in a certain direction the party decided to put it into an area where it was outside of the 27-day canvas period, that I certainly understood the law to provide that we would need to accommodate.
Henderson: So, as I mentioned, Polk County republicans and Appanoose County republicans have asked you to resign. Have you talked to those political parties, the leaders of those political parties?
Spiker: Neither one of them has contacted me or sent a resolution. And I have had contact with two county parties that have had questions about the caucus to convention process, the dates and other than that I haven’t had direct calls from other county party leaders.
Henderson: You mentioned this email that you sent out. Just one point about that email. You describe yourself as a Christian conservative. Aren't you also part of what is known as the liberty movement in that you were active and employed by the Ron Paul campaign in 2012?
Spiker: Yeah, I would say liberty movement, Christian conservative, constitutional conservative, fiscal conservative. I think many of us republicans wear many stripes. So yes, but I would be a Christian conservative as well.
Obradovich: Mr. Kochel, you have raised criticism about Mr. Spiker's leadership and the party management. This isn't really all about moving convention dates and caucus dates. What is the problem that you see?
Kochel: Well, it highlights a larger set of problems, isolation, arrogance and atrophy. Isolation because nobody at the state party, especially Mr. Spiker, went out and talked to anyone about moving the convention dates. We have five announced Senate candidates. None of them were consulted. Governor Branstad, who is the real head of our party, wasn't consulted. And, you know, nobody was talked to about this. They ran it through, they moved it back taking 20% of the effective days to campaign against Bruce Braley and raise money and they did it without any consultation with other republicans. And when the cry went up, when all five candidates signed a letter saying change it back, he dug in his heels. He mentioned in the letter this morning that he talked to the Secretary of State's office for a lengthy period of time following the move into July with the convention and he refused to listen. They told him there wasn't going to be an issue with the Iowa Code. So he dug in his heels, he put out a statement saying we're not going to bring this up again and it wasn't until Matt Schultz, our Secretary of State, came out and said, it was essentially disingenuous and false to say that the convention had to be moved into July, that he relented from pressure from our candidates, our elected officials, all four district executive committees and a number of grassroots republicans to move it back.
Obradovich: We're going to give Mr. Spiker a chance to respond. But I just want to ask you first, what should be done about this?
Kochel: Well, they made the right decision and moved it back but it wasn't until they had to buckle from pressure from our candidates, our grassroots and our elected officials. And so it is the isolation, not talking to anyone. It's the arrogance of digging in his heels after he knew that it was going to damage our candidates. Even our candidates were all unified in saying, no, we need that extra month to campaign, we need that time to raise money. And then I mentioned atrophy as well. In his letter today he said that the state party is not in debt. Well, it's easy to stay out of debt when you're handed $880,000 when you come into office. The problem is 55% of the cash on hand is gone. The party now has under $400,000 in the bank. He is running a deficit of approximately $25,000 a month at the state party. They aren't making, they aren't raising the money that they should. They have had months where they raise less than $3,000 in an entire month. We've got state representative candidates who represent 1/100th of Iowa who do better than that. It's just not --
Borg: I want to get to Mr. Scheffler in just a minute but I want to go to Mr. Spiker here. There's been arrogance and isolation are two words that are used. You've heard what he said, I don't have to repeat it.
Spiker: Yeah, well, let me say as far as the date selection, when Secretary of State Schultz was willing to put in writing that he would certify the nominee of our party, if we selected them at convention, prior to the canvas period, that ended this discussion. Prior to that their office had said, this is a gray area, it's not covered in code. The Des Moines Register had an article they did on the 26th, Secretary of State's office said it was unclear the first day after the primary that we could hold a nominating convention. So this is a gray area. After the Secretary of State's office said it was a gray area I consulted our legal counsel. The legal counsel advised the party and once the Secretary of State was willing to put in writing that he would certify the nominee of our party we moved in that direction.
Kochel: Mr. Chairman, you had all the evidence you needed before that. Congressman Steve King was nominated at a convention prior to the certification date. This has been a tradition for a long time. Also it is in search of a problem that has never happened before. Why did you need to move it back a full month when we've never had this problem before? Were you counting on the worst possible outcome?
Spiker: Well, let's also not forget that we had a caucus in Iowa where Mitt Romney allegedly won by eight votes and it swung back to Rick Santorum winning the state. And when that happened it caused a great deal of embarrassment to not only the state party but to republicans in the state.
Borg: But what has that got to do --
Spiker: Well, what it has to do with this is in my attorney's second legal opinion he points out a scenario, and yes it is a worst case scenario, but these things happen -- if we have a candidate who comes in at 34.99% on primary day and we end up with challenges at the county level we could wind up with two candidates being selected, a primary selection candidate based on that canvas and we could also wind up with a second candidate that is selected via convention. And people had advised go ahead and hold two conventions, let's just get the regular state convention done, hold a second one outside of the window and we can nominate someone for that office. And the problem with that is many of you know that there's been talk that the Lieutenant Governor would see a challenge at the state convention.
Borg: Okay, Kathie. You've heard the answers. Go ahead with --
Obradovich: Well, I want to first bring in Mr. Scheffler because you, first of all, nominated Mr. Spiker. Are you fully confident in his work here as chairman?
Scheffler: Yes, I am. And I've served under more state chairs probably than any other committeeperson there and if I were to call for the resignation of a chairman any time I didn't agree with him on a single issue or a series of issue probably all of them would have had to resign at some point in time. And so, you know, we're all human beings, we all make mistakes occasionally but for this to rise to the level of saying that he should resign I think detracts from us selecting republican candidates. And, of course, the thing that disheartens me about this whole process, and I've seen acrimony, you know, will all factions of the party is these discussions, these disagreements, in my view, should take place behind closed doors because the bottom line is Iowa is not a red state, we're a purple state at best and if we're going to be on the same page I believe we have to do this. And the bottom line is whether you're a social conservative or an economic conservative or a liberty person, whatever kind of republican you are, at the end of the day we have a lot more in common than we do with the far left and Barack Obama so we need to be united. And so we need to --
Borg: Mr. Scheffler --
Borg: Mr. Kochel says it's costing the party not only prestige but money, campaign money.
Scheffler: Well, you know, I was involved in the Pat Robertson campaign 25 years ago and it is not any different, it's a different set of characters but it's the same thing that happened 25 years ago that when certain people aren't in places of leadership in the party there is all this whining and moaning and groaning that if we don't get our way or if we're not in the top leadership positions that we're going to take our marbles and go home. I mean, so it's nothing different than what happened 25 years ago and that is just politics. It's unfortunate some people have that attitude but that's the way it is.
Borg: But are you worried that this dispute, which is open, it has been open for months and months playing out in the press with disputes between the Governor and Mr. Spiker, other people saying that the party is not doing its job. Are you worried that this is going to hurt candidates and possibly Iowa's role in the 2016 caucuses because this is playing out on the national stage?
Scheffler: Sure I'm concerned but the bottom line is some of the same people that talk about party unity are some of the same people that want this played out in the public arena whether it's on Simon Conway's program or whether it's on talk shows or whether it is passing resolutions. And, again, I'm not opposed to somebody having a disagreement or even having a very vigorous conversation but for this to play out in the public arena by some people that want party unity it seems like a double standard.
Henderson: When you say some people are you specifically --
Scheffler: I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Kochel: Let me tell you why this needed to be played out in the public arena. Because when the private phone call happened between A.J. And the Secretary of State's office he wouldn't listen, he dug in his heels. His first instinct was to cut the legs out from under our Senate candidates and it was the wrong thing to do. I would much rather this be done in private as well. But this really gets to what the priorities are for a party. You know, we do have a Christian conservative wing, we have a liberty wing. I'm from the candidate wing. I care about whether or not our candidates are best equipped to run and win elections. And when I see 25 tweets on Syria, 4 tweets on common core, 0 tweets talking about our United States Senate candidates I'm disturbed. When there are 18 retweets of A.J., Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Donald Trump and 0 retweets on their social media of Governor Branstad, Kim Reynolds and Iowa's team and any of our five Senate candidates I think our priorities are in the wrong place. I want to see us be in the best possible position where our candidates can run and win elections. That's what we're here for.
Henderson: Mr. Spiker? What is your response to that?
Spiker: Well, you know, David was the advisor to Mitt Romney's campaign and I'm not going to take advice from the advisor to Mitt Romney's campaign. This party needs to move forward and stand on principle and we're going to win. You look at Ted Cruz in the well of the United States Senate, he is charging up the grassroots, people who have been ignored for years and there's absolutely a tsunami ready to go to work for the GOP. And we have people that say, oh we shouldn't stand on issues. I couldn't disagree more. The sanctity of human life --
Kochel: I've never said we shouldn't stand on issues. In fact, the grassroots have been charged up to get you to change the convention date. That is what has charged the grassroots up. We're seeing county parties all over --
Spiker: You know, the sanctity of human life, Second Amendment, the defense of traditional values, these are things that our party stands for and you're bringing in people like Ken Mehlman trying to get the party to move towards acceptance of gay marriage. These things aren't going to happen. The party is going to stand for its values.
Obradovich: Let me ask you this, Mr. Scheffler, let's say we have three types of republican candidates, one would be a constitutional focused person focused on civil liberties and the constitution of small government. Second would be a fiscally oriented business conservative, okay, a business oriented fiscal conservative. The third would be primarily someone who is interested in promoting Christian conservative values. Which of those three types of candidates would have the best chance of winning the White House for republicans?
Scheffler: Well, I think for any candidate to win the White House they've got to basically combine all of those elements. Basically, and I agree with what A.J. said, if our party and our candidates don’t' stand on principle we are going to lose. I mean, when Governor Branstad first ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1978 he was perceived as far to the right as he possible could, he talked about life, people like Chuck Grassley, these people got elected. And so based on all the hearsay that candidates can't get elected when they talk about a full menu of both social and economic issues is just, is malarkey.
Obradovich: Is that realistic though to have one person embody everything that everyone in the Republican Party wants -- you're still going to have to have somebody who probably has a primary focus on one of those areas right, A.J.?
Spiker: You're going to have candidates that appeal to a wide range of people. But what you see more than anything is people are sick and tired of what they're getting. They're sick and tired of us putting up candidates who say they're going to do something and they don't do it. And if you look at people, you look at Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in the Senate right now, never in the history of the United States Senate have people with so little tenure in the Senate been so powerful. And why? And the reason is people are sick of what they're getting. We've put up candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney where we have to wonder are they the Etch-a-Sketch candidate? Are they going to be this today and that tomorrow? We need candidates who we know where they are, they're solidly grounded and those candidates of principle win.
Obradovich: Who do you think fits that bill right now?
Spiker: Well, I think Senator Grassley is a wonderful example.
Obradovich: Senator Grassley for President?
Spiker: Yeah, absolutely. Senator Grassley is someone who has, he has kept his faith, he minds the constitution.
Obradovich: What about somebody in the 2016 hunt at this point?
Spiker: 2016 hunt, I think it's wide open. But I think people want somebody who stands on principle.
Borg: What about, Mr. Kochel, candidates, the republican party has not had good success with presidential candidates in the recent cycles and Mr. Spiker is saying it's the fault of nominating the wrong person. Who are you seeing in 2016?
Kochel: Well, I think it is far too early to know even who is going to run and to say who should be our nominee. You know, Mitt Romney wasn't not conservative enough to win an election. In fact, he ran ahead of Steve King in the fourth congressional district in Iowa. He had the support of social conservatives, he had the support of economic conservatives, we didn't run a good enough campaign. I take my share of the blame for that, of course, as the Iowa advisor for Governor Romney. We got beat by a turnout operation that was second to none. I give credit to the Obama campaign, they were also very successful in defining our candidate as a Wall Street outsourcer and we suffered from it at the ballot box.
Henderson: Mr. Scheffler, your body language and your exclamations seem to indicate you have something to add?
Scheffler: Well, first of all, Mitt Romney was our nominee and certainly he was far, far preferable to the alterative and so we all supported him enthusiastically. But he, like John McCain, had some people here in Iowa who basically I don't think had any recognition that grassroots people mattered and the campaigns were just not run very well. And the bottom line is when you have candidates who are not willing to talk about a broad range of issues you're going to get your clock cleaned. And whether it has been Bob Dole or whether it has been Mitt Romney or it has been George H.W. Bush, we've had a procession of candidates who just don't want to talk about issues and then unfortunately after some of them get out of office, you know, then they begin to talk about issues that are not popular with the base at all. So --
Obradovich: Issues such as --
Scheffler: Well, let's just take an example, Laura Bush talked about supporting the so-called marriage equity, you've got people like Dick Cheney, you've got people even like Dave Kochel talked about after he was done with the Romney campaign talk about it and these things are just not productive. And that is what gives the base reason to wonder are candidates genuine when they run for office or are they telling people what they want to hear when they're running for office?
Henderson: So, I'm interested in what your reaction may be to what Pope Francis said about the Catholic Church in that the church needs to not talk as much about abortion and gay marriage and focus more --
Scheffler: I haven't studied his, what he had to say all together but I don't think he was in any way, shape or form talking about diluting the message of Jesus Christ that marriage is between one man and one woman and that life is precious from conception to natural death. I think probably what he was alluding to the fact was the church needs to talk about the full menu of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Borg: And given that, would you support the republican party of Iowa doing the same?
Scheffler: Doing what?
Borg: What you just said, and that is talking, deemphasizing abortion, same-sex marriage and talking more about broad issues?
Scheffler: I wasn’t talking about the Pope deemphasizing issues. I'm just thinking he was talking about other issues that needed to be brought to the table that were dealt in biblical terms. I don't think that they should be -- in fact, if you remember Mitt Romney's campaign and you remember John McCain's campaign, how many times did they ever talk about social issues like life and marriage? I don't think they talked about it very much at all.
Borg: I'm going to go to Mr. Kochel. Mr. Kochel, the same question to you. Would you support Kay's question on deemphasizing some of the hot button issues and going more to a broader litany of issues?
Kochel: I think it depends on where the election is being held, the candidates that are involved in the election. I did work in 72 congressional districts in 2010 where republicans won office from democratic office holders, almost all of them were pro-life, all of them I believe supported traditional marriage. What I'm saying about issues like that is what, first of all, we should make the party hospitable to people like me who support marriage equality, who support the freedom to marry. We shouldn't run us out of the party. We shouldn't do as you did, A.J., which is go on The Insiders the week after I said I would support same-sex marriage and call the Democratic Party the party of gay marriage. That only upset thousands of younger Iowans, many of whom supported Ron Paul, who support the freedom to marry. That's the wrong thing to do. We need to make the party hospitable to all points of view, people who are willing to embrace our values and our issues as broadly as we can write them.
Henderson: Mr. Spiker, what is your response?
Spiker: Well, my response is that you're correct in that we need to welcome new people into the party and people we disagree with. I completely agree with that part. What I disagree with is that somehow the party needs to abandon its core principles and marriage is one of those principles of the party that is a cornerstone. And the largest group within the Republican Party is committed Christians. So if you want to abandon one of the major tenants of Christianity, which is marriage as a sacrament for most people, then you are going to drive people out of this party who are committed Christians. So I'm not willing to go in that direction as the chairman of the party. And as far as going on, I can't remember if it was this program or another program, calling the democratic party the gay marriage party, I can tell you that you and Ken Mehlman brought probably 50 to 100 telephone calls to RPI, way more than I've gotten regarding this Senate race, saying what the heck is the state party doing? Why are you embracing gay marriage? So people take you and some other people doing a gay marriage event as if it is the state chairman of the republican party of Iowa. So I'm happy to put some distance between us on that.
Obradovich: Mr. Scheffler, Ted Cruz got a lot of attention with his talk-a-thon. We're heading toward a showdown on whether to defund Obamacare, possibly with complications for the federal budget. Did Ted Cruz help republicans generally speaking or did he hurt?
Scheffler: Absolutely and I think the reason why he is such a rock star is because republicans in the past, whether it is John McCain or Lindsay Graham in the U.S. Senate have basically deemphasized the base, they have slapped the base in the face repeatedly again and again and when they see somebody like this who is willing to take a stand knowing that they're going to take all the pot shots from the left and people within their own party, then people in the ranks in the base are saying go for it and we need more like you. Same thing when Rand Paul led the filibuster on the drones. So you bet, it's absolutely what is needed, we need more people like that.
Obradovich: Do you agree Mr. Spiker? Ted Cruz is coming here to Iowa.
Spiker: Oh, yeah, Ted Cruz is headlining our fall dinner. It's going to be a wonderful event. We had a huge reaction based on his filibuster and I can tell you that is the kind of thing, the Republican Party needs that energy right now and people like Ted Cruz are bringing that energy into the party.
Obradovich: And Mr. Kochel, do you agree? Is Ted Cruz helping or hurting?
Kochel: I think he is helping himself a lot. He has raised his profile and he has put some spotlight on Obamacare. The thing is we were already having a full conversation about Obamacare. Unfortunately what he did didn't do anything to slow it down in the Senate. So that is the real issue.
Obradovich: If the government shuts down who gets blamed?
Kochel: Well, hopefully the President takes his share of the blame because he certainly has his share of the blame because he is unwilling to compromise on spending, which is where we all agree.
Henderson: Mr. Scheffler, this past week Congressman King said you need everybody pulling the same harness. To listen to you guys talk, that is not happening in the Iowa GOP. Do you have any advice for Iowans who look at this discussion and think that there are irreparable divisions within the party that can't be healed with the current leadership?
Scheffler: I don't think they're irreparable at all. In fact, what I've been doing is I'm on the road three and four nights a week repeatedly telling people that we have much, much more in common whether you're a mainline republican or a social and economic conservative or a liberty person. But those differences that we have one another that have to do with logistics or even issues, issues I think are a fine thing we can talk about openly and vigorously, again, without eliminating anybody out of our party. But in terms of logistics or a disagreement with somebody, again, those kind of disagreements need to take place behind closed doors. And, again, it's a very small minority within our people that like to raise this rhetoric to its highest level. But, again, I want to repeat this -- some of the same people who talked about party unity are the same people that seem to thrive on spending the biggest share of their time trying to divide by raising the rhetoric and making public statements hoping it's going to make the press.
Borg: I'm going to interrupt, Mr. Kochel, yes, thank you very much. Mr. Kochel, you get the final word. 30 seconds is what we have left.
Kochel: Well, this coming January 2nd marks the 30th anniversary of when I first walked into the republican party of Iowa headquarters on High Street. I started as an intern. I worked my way up to field staff the year that Ronald Reagan was re-elected, I was the executive director in 1995 and 1996. I've never seen the state party in worse shape. For heaven's sakes, we don't even have a paid professional finance director at the party. You can't even raise enough money to afford someone to raise money. We've got to do a better job at the state party. I think there are two or three paid staff people at the party. When I was there it was eight or ten or twelve people, busy, working to elect republicans.
Borg: And we are out of time. I think we could have gone for an hour. Thank you very much for being with us today. And we'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next weekend, same times, 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.