Republicans Doug Gross, Craig Robinson, and Tamara Scott

Nov 16, 2012  | 00:27:45  | Ep 4007 | Podcast


Borg: It's ritualistic order.  First it's the political campaigns, then elections, followed by analysis of what worked and what didn't.  With billions of dollars invested, knowing what went wrong is crucial for the next cycle.  We even heard some of it this past week with republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying his campaign was unsuccessful because President Obama was providing what the former Massachusetts governor deemed were "gifts" to key constituent groups.  Whatever the reason for the various election outcomes, republicans are generally doing the most soul-searching right now.  And we're joined by republican activist and former gubernatorial candidate Doug Gross, Craig Robinson who edits the Iowa Republican online news and Tamara Scott who represents Iowa republicans as a national committeewoman at the RNC.  Welcome to Iowa Press.

Good to be with you.

Thanks for having us.

Thank you.

Borg: I know that two of you have been on.  Tamara this is your first time on Iowa Press.  Welcome.

Scott: Thank you, thank you.

Borg: And across the Iowa Press table, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Mr. Robinson, let's diagnose the problem.  Why did Mitt Romney lose Iowa?

Robinson: Well, I think he lost Iowa because he got beat badly in our large metropolitan counties.  Ten years ago, ten, fifteen years ago it was always said that if you can limit your loss in a county like Polk County to 10,000 votes you could win statewide election.  Mitt Romney lost five counties by over 10,000 votes.  He lost Polk County by over 30,000 votes.  So when you allow your opponent to rack up such a large margin in those areas it is nearly impossible to win a statewide election.

Henderson: Mrs. Scott, beyond the numbers, why did Mitt Romney lose Iowa?

Scott: Well, there's a lot of speculation about that and some are suggesting that we moderate the party and I would highly guard against that.  Others are saying that we need to modernize what we do.  Craig mentioned the five counties and I'm just guessing that they are where we have educational institutions in those areas and the urban areas as well.  We as republicans need to reach out I think a little more to those organizations with what we do have and the positive that we have in our party.  But, frankly, Romney himself could have done a better job of reaching out.  Socially on the issues we hear that we should move away from the social issues, every time we face something like this and frankly marriage out-polled Romney and even in the states where marriage lost it out-polled Romney.  And I think that we need to just stick with our base of our party instead of giving on our base every time we come up with something of a controversial issue.

Borg: Mr. Gross, before we hear your comments I want to play something that will help those comments be interpreted.  We have a bit of videotape of you commenting to the PBS Frontline program in which you're describing a conversation that you had a few years ago with Governor Mitt Romney and his wife Ann.  I think it provides insight into the Romney appeal to voters as you see it.

PBS Frontline/"The Choice 2012" - Doug Gross: I was seated right next to him, he was at the head of the table, we had a very fine dinner.  Ann was seated directly across from me and I brought up the three M's.

PBS Frontline/"The Choice 2012": The three M's -- Mormon, Massachusetts, Multi-millionaire.

PBS Frontline/"The Choice 2012" - Doug Gross: I brought out the Mormonism first and it didn’t cause a problem for me but for a lot of evangelical Christians, particularly in Iowa, they didn't consider Mormonism even Christianity so they had a difficulty with it.  He sort of dismissed that as an issue, really clearly didn't want to talk about it. And so then I went to the next one and the next one was money.  Mitt just simply refused to talk about it.  He looked at me quizzically and dismissed it.  Ann obviously felt I was insulting her husband and indicated that I was by asking that question.  And the rest of the people in the room were sort of taken aback and shocked.  And Ann left the room and didn't join us for the rest of the evening meal.

PBS Frontline/"The Choice 2012": It was their first exposure to Iowa straight-talk.  It wouldn't be their last.

PBS Frontline/"The Choice 2012" - Doug Gross: In Iowa they have this old phrase that when you stick a pig it squeals and I think I hit a sensitive spot.

Borg: That sensitive spot --

Gross: Well, I don't think I'm on their Christmas card list.

Henderson: Well, you endorsed Mitt Romney in 2008, 2007.

Gross: I did and I supported him this year.

Henderson: You didn't this time around.

Gross: But I supported him obviously in the general election.  I didn't in the primaries and the caucuses.  I did not.

Henderson: Why?

Gross: I was concerned that he was a candidate who couldn't win.  I have dealt with investment bankers over the years.  Investment bankers are difficult candidates to have particularly when people are hurting because they deal with money and that is what drives them.  And people are hurting because they don't have enough money and if you don't understand that, aren't sensitive to that, don't respect that and don't have a way out for them to get better you're not going to be a successful candidate.  I was concerned that would dog him and I think it did.

Henderson: Mrs. Scott, what about Mormonism?

Scott: I think the poll numbers showed that evangelicals did come out and support Romney in the poll.  Again, I would go back to he didn't respond very much to attacks.  When we talk about the social issues, Planned Parenthood -- when the President says in a debate that Planned Parenthood does mammograms, which it does not do, and he never countered that.  Planned Parenthood had $15 million in messaging and advertisements.  We never countered that.  When you have -- he had I think a dinner with executive morning after pill, Bill Frost, a chairman of the board for Teva Pharmaceuticals thirteen days before he accepted the nomination.  It didn't leave a major part of the base of the Republican Party with a lot of confidence that this man would be right on the issues.

Obradovich: Well, Mr. Robinson, going back to what Dean said in the open about Mitt Romney's comments after the election that basically he lost because Obama had given targeted incentives and gifts to minorities and young people.  I mean, first of all, what is your response to that?  And is there something that republicans need to do to reach out to some of those same constituencies?

Robinson: Sure, look, Mitt Romney lost Iowa and lost the presidential election across the country for a number of reasons and none of -- I kind of disregard the whole gifts notion.  I think Mitt Romney got outworked in Iowa.  I think the President's campaign, if you look at every battleground state and look at the people that they turned out, I was astonished that he was able to generate the type of -- the same support he received in key counties for him in Iowa that he did in 2008 when everyone viewed him as this hopeful politicians.  I mean, he increased his margin in Polk County.  He increased his margin in Linn County by 6,000 votes.  These are huge numbers.  And so it's not just because the President was enticing people with food stamps or other entitlement programs.  They went out and targeted the people who were most likely to support him and the Romney campaign didn't.

Borg: Are you suggesting, Mr. Gross, that the problem is a Republican Party problem more than it is a Mitt Romney problem?

Gross: Well, it's both.  Mitt -- there were a lot of good things about Mitt Romney in the sense that he had a big picture, he understood how to solve problems in a big way, the country needs that.  But at the same time David Axelrod did a brilliant job of defining Mitt Romney in Iowa very early before Mitt Romney had the ability to respond.  He defined him as a rich guy who didn't care about people who were hurting and he did that at the end of the campaign as well.  The late breakers went for Obama.  I think it showed the effectiveness of that messaging.  So Mitt Romney was a problem.  But in addition, we have problems with the party.  I think we have four parties right now.  We have sort of the entertainment component of the republican party which are people in the paid punditry, the radio news talk shows and Fox News that basically get paid to talk to the same people over and over and over again, white males.  And so they're only talking to each other and they don't understand that it is a bigger issue than just white males.  We've got an increasing share of a smaller pie.  That doesn't win elections.  In addition to that we have the Christian conservatives who are a very important part of our party but I think in a lot of cases they felt left out.  We have an increasing role of libertarians represented by the Ron Paul folks who represent, I think, an opportunity for us to appeal to young people but we haven't figured out how to actually incorporate them into the party.  And then we have the traditional republicans who are business oriented.  And frankly those four parts of our party are really not even talking to each other right now and until they do we're going to be a minority party.

Obradovich: Mrs. Scott, you talked about wanting to energize the base and making sure that the base is energized.  Who out of those four groups do you consider the base?  Is it the evangelical conservatives?  Is it the libertarian grassroots folks?  Is it the traditional republican establishment?  Is it the punditry?  Who is the base in all of that?

Scott: Well, I think sometimes it's a combination of folks.  And I think we're in a great position, you outlined it very well, and I think we're in a great position --

Gross: Thank you, Tamara.

Scott: You're welcome -- as a party if we can come past this, just as our founding fathers had to do.  I mean, we understand the differences that they overcame when they were even federalist and anti-federalist.  So if we can overcome some of these communication issues, learn how to utilize the resistance movement of the Paul people, who we need right now to resist some of these unconstitutional things that are being foisted on the American people -- if we can bring in the business sector again to support some of those socially strong candidates because we can't, we've proven 2008, now 2012, we've proven you will not win republican elections when you put up a candidate that is seen as moderate and doesn't appeal to the base of your party.  And I would guess that would be the platform that we see before us which is very conservative.

Obradovich: Gary Johnson got 12,000 votes in Iowa.  Are the Paul people actually in the tent at this point?

Scott: I don't pretend to speak on behalf of the Paul people.  I welcome them because I think we have a place for them.  I think they were instrumental in Tampa when the rules change came down before the convention.  And I also think that they also have some issues that we need to overcome as well, learning to work with others on your team.  There has to be compromise there.

Gross: Well, they control the apparatus of our party so they clearly are in the party.  Whether they voted with us is another matter.  But they clearly are in a position of some control of the party.

Obradovich: Should that continue?

Gross: We need a libertarian element to our party because if we're going to appeal to young people we're certainly not appealing to them based on social issues.  That is one of the reasons why we have our difficulty with young people.  They think we're --

Scott: I would disagree with that.

Gross: I understand but we're -- I think a lot of young people think that we're out of touch on social issues.  Whether that's true or not I think they think that.  However, they have a libertarian strength -- streak, because they don't believe government is the answer to all of their problems, they are concerned about our foreign policy that got them into wars and killed a lot of their friends.  And as a result of that they're an important component of our party if we're going to rebuild it particularly with the young.

Henderson: Mr. Robinson --

Borg: Tamara, I'd like to have you, you responded, you said I disagree with that.

Scott: We have an increasing number of Americans who are pro-life that were not pro-life 20 years ago.  In our colleges we're now seeing pro-life groups pop up.  The Iowa republicans at the University of Iowa were incredibly strong this year and I think social issues are important because they're seeing the correlation you will not have sound fiscal policy until you have sound social policy.  We understand it costs this country $280 billion a year for fragmented families alone.  We understand that it costs us when we don't have sound social policy as well and these young people are also missing a large number of their own population that was killed in the womb and they get it and they don't like it.

Henderson: Mr. Robinson, do you agree?  I've seen democrats argue that one of the ways they were successful was by focusing on the issue of contraceptives, especially in Iowa.  Iowans who watched Lifetime and HGTV saw Barack Obama commercials featuring women talking about reproductive health.

Robinson: Yeah, Barack Obama ran a campaign that was aimed solely at his base and won with it.  And so I kind of find it ironic that the losing side is the one that doesn't want to adapt the strategies of the victor.  Instead they want to find a new position or just placate to certain elements of the electorate.  And I think we have to be careful with that.  In terms of the social issues, I'm kind of in between these two.  I think that on the life issue I think that there is more people -- I think the life issue is moving forward but we have to be mindful of how we talk about it.  The one issue that was very strong in the congressional session was defunding Planned Parenthood.  That argument doesn't say that we want to close down Planned Parenthood.  That just says our government dollars, our taxpayer dollars shouldn't go to fund it.  It's an argument that our national candidate didn't pick up.  And that is a way that we fight back on this cultural war and we should remember that that cultural was kind of -- it's not a result of Iowans asking that, that's a congressional issue that sprouted up and that all of our candidates had to deal with and they have to know how to talk about those issues.

Borg: As long as we're talking about social issues this may be a time when we want to call in our guest from last week.  On Iowa Press last week Congressman Steve King in effect told us that after reviewing election returns on retaining Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins he sees that Iowa's predominant attitudes on same-sex marriage appear to be moderating.

Iowa Press - November 8, 2012 - James Lynch: Is same-sex marriage here to stay?

Iowa Press - November 8, 2012 - Steve King: That is I think the kind of prediction that I think we can expect from looking at these results around the country.  Here in Iowa there's not going to be a vote on it that I can see and if that is the case another two years go by.  Things can change quickly and so I wouldn't rule it out but it doesn't look very optimistic for the people who believe in traditional marriage such as I do.

Borg: Steve King said that he sees the, based on the Wiggins retention, that same-sex marriage appears to be moderating here in Iowa.

Gross: You saw the vote.  I mean, Wiggins won with 55% of the vote.  Now, I think in large part Wiggins won because the Obama turnout machine was awesome.  The Obama campaign ran as good a campaign as I've ever seen and I've been around a while.  They did micro-targeting of their people with door-to-door contact with those folks, persuasion, door-to-door contact, micro-targeted with ads as well as individual contacts and got their people out and that helped Wiggins.  Now, what does that mean for the social issues in Iowa?  We need social conservatives, we need libertarians, we need the punditry, we need Fox News aficionados and we need the business community, we need them all, we need everybody in the tent.  If you pull one of those out of the tent it doesn't work.  We can't become a majority party.  So I think we have to be careful with our messaging particularly with regard to social issues.  We lost Missouri, we lost Indiana Senate seats because of the way in which folks talked about their position on rape, incest and life of the mother exceptions.  We cannot do that and win elections.

Obradovich: Karen Hughes said she's like to cut the tongues out of the next republican man who referred to rape as something other than a violent crime.

Scott: And yet he admitted and apologized several times.  He had the wrong phrasing but his stance was right.

Henderson: Who he?  Which one?

Scott: Akin.  His stance was right -- a life is a life a life.  That is the question at hand, is a life a life?  And are we going to perpetrate the innocent life of the victim, the unborn victim? Or are we going to be harsher on the criminals?

Obradovich: Mrs. Scott, on gay marriage though, as a practical matter the Senate is still in democratic hands for at least the next two years.  Nothing is going to happen on a constitutional amendment.  So -- the way the poll lines have gone the trend is that people are more and more accepting.  They are less and less likely to vote for a constitutional amendment even if it gets to the voters.  So practically speaking is this still a battle worth fighting?

Scott: Yeah, and I want to come back to along with the messaging on the Planned Parenthood issue, we allowed the democrats to parade Sandra Fluke around who is paying $40,000 a year for a college tuition and yet she can't afford $9 birth control pills.  I mean, there's a real disconnect with that message and the press never called her on it and republicans never called her on it.  That's what we're saying, Romney never came back and attacked on any of those issues.  But on the marriage issue, again, marriage polled, out-polled Romney in those states where the marriage amendment didn't pass this time.  When you consider it was out funded eight to one in those states and they are very liberal states to begin with.  In Iowa, even where the no Wiggins vote came in, it was a vote on judicial retention and it should have been on constitutional processes and the overstepping of an activist judiciary rather than a gay marriage referendum.  But even in very liberal areas like Ottumwa which is not a republican stronghold, no Wiggins won.

Obradovich: Did they make a mistake in focusing on Wiggins instead of putting their resources into Senate races that actually could have been, possibly affected --

Robinson: They actually did play in some of those Senate races.  And if you want to, you can Monday morning quarterback a lot of things but the reason we lost a lot of these Senate races that we might have won and the reason we're not in the majority in the Iowa Senate as republicans is we had two incumbents lose.  And where did we suffer our defeats?  It was in eastern Iowa where Obama just ran away with it.  And so I think we can't look too much into that in terms of where -- I don't know if more resources would have made a difference in those Senate races.  I just think you can't out perform the top of the ticket.

Gross: The only way we're going to win is we can't focus though solely on our base and if you look at -- Obama did us a favor.  In many respects, in my opinion Dean, what he did is he fast-forwarded the demographic trends that are overwhelming in our country right now, the importance of minorities, the importance of single women.

Borg: How did he fast forward that?

Gross: Because he is a minority and as a result of that he generated their turnout probably greater than any other candidate the democrats could have put up.  But nevertheless there is an inexorable demographic trend where the number of white went down to 72%, it's continuing to decline.  The numbers of Hispanics went up to record high levels.  And by 2030 Hispanics will double their numbers from where they are today.  And we're getting beat very, very badly with them.  We got beat worse than we've ever had.

Borg: What does the Iowa Republican Party, in your estimation, have to do in order to appeal to those groups?

Gross: First of all, we've got to have policies that make sense and simply having policies that say that we're going to round up 12 million people and ship them out of the country doesn't make any sense and people know it.  And secondly we need to talk about it in a reasonably way.  We're all sons and daughters of immigrants.  We all believe in opportunity.  The Republican Party has a good message.  We are the party of opportunity, not entitlement.  We're the party of opportunity.  We can appeal to minorities with opportunity so long as we don’t call them takers and not makers.

Henderson: In 2014 it looks like Terry Branstad will seek re-election.  Mr. Robinson, is that healthy for the party?

Robinson: That is great for the Republican Party.  Look, we do well when we have good, reasonable candidates on the top of our ballot and Terry Branstad and Chuck Grassley proved that republicans do very well in election years where they're on top of that ballot.  So if he runs for re-election it is a very good thing for Iowa republicans.

Borg: Tamara, he appears and in fact he has said grooming Kim Reynolds to be the candidate to replace him eventually whether it is next two years or later.  Wise?  And can she do it?

Scott: Well, that will be up to the people.  That will be up to the people to decide who they put forward.

Borg: But is Iowa ready for a female governor?

Scott: I think Iowans have always been very accepting of the ability over a sex or a race.  Iowans are studious people and they will not hold this as to someone's sex.  This is a much more important election than that.  They'll base it on her ability.

Borg: Mr. Gross?

Gross: I think Kim is doing a great job and clearly the Governor would like to get her in position to be the first female governor of Iowa.  I think it would be great if it were a republican.  I think it should be.  But I also think he's running again so I think she's going to have to wait longer.

Obradovich: And talk about, we've had some very long serving candidates which have been obviously good for the seniority of republicans in Congress, etc.  Senator Tom Harkin is up in 2014.  He may or may not run.  He hasn't said for sure one way or another.  But what kind of bench do republicans have to run at this point for Senate and who do you think might run?  We'll start with you, Mr. Gross.

Gross: That's a great question.  That's a really good question.

Obradovich: Do you feel like running perhaps?

Gross: No.  I really don't think Steve King is going to run.  I think Steve is a really smart guy and he knows he can be a Congressman up in that district for the next ten years pretty comfortably.  It would be much more difficult to him, for him to win a statewide race.  I think he's seen the numbers and knows that.  Tom Latham would probably be our best candidate but Tom is also a very smart guy.  He's going to be a Congressman from this district that he just won as long as he wants to be.  He out-polled Obama in Polk County by 28,000 votes, out-polled Romney by 28,000 votes.  So I think he'll stay there.  So I think it's totally, totally wide open.  I really don't know.

Obradovich: Mrs. Scott, do you have anybody in mind?  Would you like to run?

Scott: No, I don't see that on my plate.  I just hope that we have somebody who will, again, take the message forward.  It is not the republican message, you made a great point, we are the party of opportunity.  There is no reason that the minorities and the other groups aren't in our camp other than from the product to the people we lose the message.

Obradovich: And just really quick, what kind of candidate --

Robinson: I think we need a candidate that appeals to the four segments of the party that Doug has been talking about.  Someone that --

Obradovich: Is that possible though?

Robinson: Absolutely.  I'll throw out a name and I hate to put him on the spot and he'll maybe call, you know him.  I think a guy like Steve Sukup is a great type of candidate where he is a business person, he has a strong social conservative background, he's a former legislator.  A person like that would be appealing to all sides and if you look at Congressman Latham and Congressman King's campaign we didn't have any problems with the base, we didn't have any problems with the different fractions of the party not working together on those races and I think guys that get that mold like a Steve Sukup would be an ideal candidate.

Henderson: Mrs. Scott, in August of 2015 will there be a straw poll in Ames or is that an antiquated notion that we should just never have one again?

Scott: I can't answer that.  That would be up to the matters of the party to decide.

Henderson: But aren't you a party leader now?

Scott: I am the national committeewoman but I don't think I get that kind of authority yet.

Henderson: Do you think it's a --

Borg: You have a personal opinion on it.

Scott: I think it served a purpose.  In 1998 I was thrilled to be there. It got people out.  It got involved, people were involved.  It was good to see the numbers.  I think obviously in the last year it became a little more of a who had the money to purchase what spot where and bring in what entertainer and I hate to see politics reduced to that.  I think that we have lost some of the issues and some of the ground because it has become such a long, drawn out process here in Iowa and I think that feeds to the apathy of the Iowa people.

Henderson: Mr. Gross has made his thoughts on this well known.  He thinks it should end.  Mr. Robinson, do you think the nail should be driven --

Robinson: I do agree and in fact, I actually think it is the candidates themselves who will determine if there is a straw poll that year, not the party.  And I think its time has come and I think there are things that can replace it that would be similar but we can't have something that culls the herd, so to speak, like it is now.

Obradovich: Why not have a big event, let them all speak and not take a vote?

Robinson: Right, no I think you have to eliminate the vote.  The idea to bring in a presidential debate was kind of born right after the 2007 straw poll where you can kind of give candidates a different way to play it.  And so I think we have to reassess and maybe change our approach on some things.

Obradovich: But what about the Iowa caucuses?  There's been criticism that Iowa caucuses help draw Mitt Romney perhaps too far to the right or is Iowa the best place to start to get a candidate who can prevail in the -- Mr. Gross -- in the general election?

Gross: I think it is or not it's going to be.  Same thing that Churchill talks about democracy is the worst form of government except for all others and Iowa is the worst place to start this except for all other states.  There is no other alternative and that's why we're going to continue to do it.

Henderson: But what do republicans need to do differently?

Gross: I think what the republicans need to do if we want to play a better or a more constructive role nationwide in nominating the right kind of candidate is increase the participation of more people in the caucuses than what we've done in the past because if you don't do so you can become captive to extremists and relatively small groups that force your candidates into positions that they can't win on in a general election.

Borg: And a candidate though looking at the possibility of coming into an Iowa caucus four years from now is going to look at what the environment is.  So the Iowa Republican Party is going to have to do some changing in order to change that environment to make it attractive for a candidate not to skip Iowa.

Scott: Well, we've talked about several things here about what the Republican Party needs to do but let's look beyond just the Republican Party.  We've got an uphill battle.  We go against unions every election, people who put paid people on the streets to door knock and in Ames, Iowa I'm told that families hosted Obama workers for several months who did nothing but knock on doors and do persuasion, persuasive politics.  So we're up against -- we've heard Branstad on a national talk show the day after the election mention that Johnson County, our most liberal area, signifying that because of the University of Iowa we know wherever those educational institutions are our children, our students are being indoctrinated, not just educated, but indoctrinated in very anti-constitutional practices and very anti-American historical practices.  We know that there's revisionist history in the schools.

Borg: I'm going to have to leave it there because we're out of time. We’ll have you back because we just got started.

Gross: To be continued.

Borg: Right.  Thanks so much.  Next week on Iowa Press we are continuing, we're convening an Iowa political reporters' roundtable for insights on messages coming from the elections.  That reporters' roundtable at the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and a second chance to see the show at noon Sunday.  I'm Dean Borg.  Thanks for joining us today.

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