Wednesday, August 17, 2022

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Guest Commentary

Straw Poll kept alive by money, press and religious right


Brace yourself: The Iowa Straw Poll, endorsed by the State GOP, will return this summer in its role as a quadrennial horror story. Given how the maligned Poll was brought back to life, perhaps Zombie Burgers will be catered in.

The Iowa Straw Poll, which, even Republicans admit, gouges presidential wannabes as a fundraiser for the State Republican Party was thought — or better “hoped” — to be dead. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and others called for the end of the Straw Poll because of its greed, because the likes of Rep. Michelle Bachmann was the presidential nominee of choice four years ago, and mostly because the Iowa caucuses had enough credibility problems without the Straw Poll threatening Iowa’s status as a harbinger of presidential elections.

We should have known better. Those thinking the Straw Poll was dead forgot that no amount of money is too much to throw away in today’s elections; those thinking the Straw Poll was dead forgot how gullible the press is; those thinking the Straw Poll was dead ignored the clout of the religious right in Iowa politics.

All this ties in with what political analyst Charlie Cook talked about when he offered insights on the 2016 presidential campaign on a visit to Drake’s Harkin Institute last fall. Cook said American politics is now the “Wild West” with no real controls over campaign spending and no discipline in political parties.

So give a big Yippie-yi-yo-ki-ay and saddle up for the Straw Poll, partners. The State GOP will again set up the cash registers and ring in the contributions from candidates who, with good reason, think they can buy their way into the presidential race by getting votes in exchange for contributions to the Iowa GOP.

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The gullible press will give the Straw Poll all the coverage it needs to be taken seriously because — as reporters will tell you — “We don’t have anything else to do this summer.”

But even without the wild spending in today’s politics and even without a lapdog press, in hindsight the resuscitation of the Straw Poll should have been obvious.

That’s because of the influence of the religious right in the Iowa Republican Party. The inference to be drawn from the Christian conservative Iowa Family Leader organization was “Go ahead and not have the Straw Poll. We’ll do it for you!”

Surely, if the Iowa GOP decided to distance itself from the Iowa Straw Poll, Iowa Family Leader or a similar constituency would have stepped in to meet the demands of the press and the desires of some candidates, to have a poll of its own. Only all the hundreds of thousands of dollars coming in would be under their control and not the establishment GOP.

So much for all the GOP efforts to suggest to independent voters and moderates that the party is not driven by the social agenda of the religious right. So much for Iowa efforts to suggest that the Straw Poll welcomes all GOP candidates and not just those who pander to the religious right.

Small wonder that the governing board of the Iowa GOP had little choice but to continue the Straw Poll. There will be cosmetic changes in token response to those who say the Straw Poll is phony and counter productive when it comes to informing voters about who is deemed qualified to heal the nation and get about the business of governing. But the Straw Poll will again be won by the best panderer to the religious right, the best gunslinger in Cook’s Wild West.

Yippie-yi-yo-ki-ay. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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