It’s Donald Trump’s party now.
So much so that one of Iowa’s Republican National Committee members is proposing a rule change that could freeze out any GOP challenger to the president in 2020.
Whether it’s Republican opposition to Hillary Clinton and Democrats in general or a desire to end business as usual, a pair of high-profile Iowa Republicans agreed Friday that Trump may be more popular in the GOP than the party itself.
“You look at the numbers, Donald Trump gets 80 percent to 90 percent approval ratings from Republicans,” former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Doug Gross said during recording of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.” “The one thing they’re united on is being against Democrats and being for Trump. That’s kind of what unites Republicans right now.”
Gross and RNC member Steve Scheffler acknowledged that despite the president’s popularity among Republicans, some are critical of the style and substance of his 10-month administration. They in the minority, Scheffler said.
“Well, first of all, I think they were in shock when Donald Trump was elected,” said Scheffler, a leader in Iowa’s Christian conservative movement. “I’m on the road three and four nights a week and I’m on the phone six days a week talking with activists and I don’t see any concern there. The overwhelming consensus I see among activists is they’re not disgusted with Donald Trump and his administration.”
However, Gross said some Republicans are concerned with Trump’s style as well as the substance of some of his policy positions, “both of which I think are problematic for the party long-term.”
If anything, Scheffler said, Republicans are disgusted with his critics and congressional Republicans who so far have not made good on promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act, rewrite immigration policy and reform taxes.
That’s a problem, Goss warned. Unless the GOP majorities in the House and Senate deliver tax reform, they could face a voter backlash.
‘It’s everything for Republicans,” Gross said. “The one thing that you think would unite Republicans would be tax cuts and tax reform and if they can’t get together on that … they really failed the test of governance because they haven’t been able to do anything on health care, they haven’t done anything yet on infrastructure. But tax cuts ought to be the easiest thing to do.”
With the president’s overall approval rating below 30 percent and little progress on the GOP agenda, “it will be a big year for Democrats in '18 if we don’t do that,” Gross said.
Despite Trump’s popularity among Republicans, Scheffler suggested the Iowa GOP may change its rules to make it harder for someone to challenge his nomination in 2020. Now, members of the State Central Committee must be neutral in the caucuses. That rule was enacted before the 2016 caucuses when no incumbent was running.
“When you have an incumbent president, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Scheffler said. “I fully suspect that if Donald Trump runs for re-election, that we will change that policy so that we are not bound to remain neutral.”
But that would be a mistake that could affect Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status if the playing field is not level, Gross said.
“We can’t say you can’t set foot in the state of Iowa and be open for the caucuses,” he said.
Scheffler predicted the party will host a straw poll the summer before the caucuses, a tradition called off in 2015 due, largely, to a lack of interest by candidates.