Iowa Gets to Go First. But It Needs Thicker Skin

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Image: Potential caucus voters cast shadows on an Iowa state flag at a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in Clive
Potential caucus voters cast shadows on an Iowa state flag at a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in Clive, Iowa January 2, 2012. The Iowa caucus will be held on January 3. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

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If you’re a political reporter, it’s hard not to love Iowa.

It’s a political junkie’s paradise – the voters there are knowledgeable and engaged; the politics always changes (Barack Obama won the state in 2012, but Republican Joni Ernst won it in 2014); and, most important of all, it goes first in the presidential nominating season.

But it shouldn’t be a political crime – or a firing offense – to admit Iowa’s flaws. Yet that’s exactly what happened when Liz Mair, a well-known Republican strategist, quit Scott Walker’s campaign after tweets surfaced of her criticizing Iowa.

The conclusion: If Walker wants to win Iowa, he can’t have a top aide who’s been critical of the Hawkeye State.

Here were Mair’s offending tweets – written before she joined Team Walker – while observing the Jan. 2015 GOP cattle call sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, an ardent opponent of immigration reform:

And she wrote this two days earlier:

Mair’s tweets were hardly diplomatic and nuanced. But if we’re being honest, it’s only fair to point out:

  • Iowa hasn’t had a great track record in producing the eventual Republican presidential nominees (the past two winners were Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum);
  • The state doesn’t exactly reflect the nation as a whole (it’s whiter and older than the rest of the country);
  • Iowa benefits greatly from all the political attention it gets (see ethanol subsidies);
  • And the actual caucus contest – whereby participants have to gather in the evening – isn’t as accessible as other kinds of voting contests.(If you work in the evenings or have to take care of your children during those hours, you can’t participate.)

But the reaction to Mair’s comments made it seem like it was blasphemy for any Republican operative to point out these flaws or obvious observations, politely or not.

“I find her to be shallow and ignorant,” the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party said to the New York Times. “And I’ll tell you, if I was Governor Walker, I’d send her her walking papers.”

“When anybody who works for a presidential campaign thinks it’s O.K. to insult Iowa, Iowa voters and Iowa farmers, I find it absolutely disgusting and repulsive,’’ added a state party co-chair.

In response, the Huffington Post's Sam Stein tweeted:

Iowa has a great thing going in American politics – it gets to go first. But it needs to have thicker skin when not everyone agrees that the arrangement is the best thing ever.

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