If Iowa Republicans listen to Kari Lake, they’ll be giving Democrats a gift.
Lake, the failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate, was in Bettendorf on Friday. And, according to Sarah Watson’s account in the Quad-City Times, she urged Republicans in the first-in-the-nation presidential state to quiz 2024 hopefuls about “election integrity.”
"Iowa leads the whole charge when it comes to presidential politics, right?" Lake said, according to the Times. "You guys see everyone come through here every four years. I know you take that responsibility seriously, but you need to start calling out these candidates and saying, 'Where do you stand on election integrity?' "
"If we keep having elections stolen, it doesn't matter how good the candidate is, doesn't matter how good the policy is," Lake said.
In other words, Iowa Republicans, focus on exactly the thing that turned your vaunted Red Wave into a Red Ripple last November.
If there was one thing we learned from the 2022 midterms, it’s that Trump-inspired candidates, like Kari Lake, who harped on so-called voter fraud failed with the voters. Meanwhile, the successful Republican candidates were the ones who turned the page, who moved on from bowing to the owner of the Mar-a-Lago golf club of Palm Beach, Florida.
There are any number of analysts who have pointed out Trump’s drag on Republicans last year.
Nate Cohn at the New York Times quantified Trump’s impact shortly after the election and wrote, “Overall, his preferred primary candidates underperformed other G.O.P. candidates by about five percentage points.”
Conservative Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote that Republicans underperformed “not because voters approve of Biden’s job performance; it’s because they disapproved of the GOP. It’s because in key House and Senate races, Republicans nominated candidates whose main qualification was their fealty to Trump – and voters rejected them.”
Yet, Kari Lake wants Iowa Republicans to push presidential hopefuls to commit to election denialism in 2024.
That may help Lake with Trump and his most die-hard supporters. But I doubt that’s what is at the top of the priority list for Iowa Republicans.
Oh, I’m sure some Republicans here, maybe even a majority, believe against all evidence the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. But in almost 30 years covering politics in Iowa, I know something else: Activists in this state have a strong pragmatic streak. It doesn’t always win out. But it’s especially ascendant if they’ve lost the last election.
More than anything, a loss makes them want to win the next time. It makes their teeth ache they want to win so badly. Which makes them more pragmatic than they might otherwise be.
The thing is, Iowa Republicans don’t have to look too far to find people in the party who won during the last cycle, even as Trump-like candidates were losing. Two prominent examples: Kim Reynolds and Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis and Reynolds demonstrated how to win in 2022.
Trump-like candidates demonstrated how to lose.
The winners didn’t push election denialism. The losers did.
Iowa Republicans want to win in 2024. That is what will likely guide them most when these presidential candidates come to the state. And even though Republicans in Iowa will pack a room to see somebody famous, especially if it’s somebody who sticks it to the media and the Democrats — and maybe they’ll even grouse about “election fraud” when the fleet of presidential hopefuls come here. But ultimately, I doubt they will take their cues from somebody on the losing side in 2022.
If they do, that will be good news for Donald Trump. And for Democrats.
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I for one hope they play the game.