Using Iowa

Star Trek started out in 1966 as a new somewhat high-minded but low-budget science fiction television series with cheesy special effects, one that eventually turned into an empire with massive successful merchandizing and annual fan conventions and a series of spinoffs and then slickly produced high-budget feature films, year after year, that has yet to end. And the special effects aren’t cheesy anymore. They’re amazing. But things now had to be grounded. Everything needed a backstory. Captain Kirk had to be from Iowa. He was a normal guy. Iowa is a normal place. In fact, Iowa is an American place, the American place. Iowa is America. So is Captain Kirk.

This was a marketing decision. Tie those odd and disturbing worlds out there back to this world here. Kirk is still that guy from Iowa. Be proud of him. Buy more tickets. Buy more popcorn.

The idea of Iowa can useful. But the tables have turned. Here in Los Angeles, and here in Hollywood, everyone’s television is now telling them to get out of Hollywood and try the actual Iowa:

Iowa will use federal coronavirus relief funds to pay for a $3.7 million national ad campaign that promotes the state as a destination for visitors and workers, an agency spokeswoman said Thursday.

The 30-second ad is part of a larger “This Is Iowa” promotional campaign and will air on cable television, online on social media sites and through streaming services, said Staci Hupp Ballard, spokeswoman for Iowa Economic Development Authority. Funding for the campaign will come from federal American Rescue Plan funding, she said.

That’s what’s on everyone’s cable feed now out here, Iowa is calling. It’s a fine place. They used their federal coronavirus relief funds to tell us so, but the place is still a political free-fire zone. The Associated Press covered the latest:

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds embraced Donald Trump’s return to Iowa on Saturday, standing by the former president as he repeated his false claims of voter fraud and a stolen election to a crowd of thousands.

The state’s senior senator, who recently announced plans to run for an eighth six-year term, praised Trump as he introduced him by noting there was “a great crowd honoring a great president of the United States.”

Neither Grassley nor Reynolds made any reference to Trump’s post-presidency, during which he has continued to lie about the results and urge Republicans to conduct “audits” of the vote counts. Reynolds, also seeking reelection next year, gushed with praise for Trump in her brief remarks.

Best not talk about that. Trump covered that:

Trump spent almost 30 minutes of the rally, his first in Iowa since his 2020 campaign, arguing falsely that he had won Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

“Trump won! Trump won! Trump won!,” came the chant from the crowd spread across the sprawling Iowa state fairgrounds.

“He did. He did. Thank you,” Trump said.

They said nothing:

Representatives for Grassley and Reynolds did not respond this past week to requests for comment on whether they agreed with Trump’s statement on Wednesday that the “real insurrection” was the election, not the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters determined to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election.

Grassley, who voted to certify the vote, has been quiet about Trump’s continuing claims of a stolen election. Asked in July, he said. “On Dec. 12, after the electoral votes were cast, Biden is the president of the United States.”

On Saturday night, Trump endorsed Grassley and pledged to endorse Reynolds separately in the months ahead.

In January, when asked if she and other Republican leaders should have more quickly rejected false claims of election fraud, the governor said people need to stop pointing fingers and move forward.

Her position? “Let’s not talk about that.”

Politico’s Meridith McGraw did that for her:

Nine months ago, Republicans were questioning Donald Trump’s place as the lead fixture of their party. Saturday night provided the clearest evidence yet that they want him right there.

Not one year removed from surviving a second impeachment, the former president rallied before thousands of his most loyal supporters across the Iowa State Fairgrounds on a balmy Midwestern evening. He regaled them with his stories from the White House, his falsehoods and complaints about the 2020 election results, and his criticisms of the Biden administration on everything from immigration to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But the bulk of Trump’s speech was devoted to his baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen…

But that was okay in Iowa:

The notable elements were not what was said by Trump, but who was there with him. Appearing alongside the former president was a who’s who of influential Republicans in the Hawkeye state, including Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann.

Trump has held rallies since leaving the White House. But never have elected Republicans of such tenure and stature appeared with him. And the presence of Grassley in particular signified that whatever qualms the GOP may have had with Trump are now faded memories; whatever questions they had about the direction of the party have been resolved.

Trump himself seemed to recognize as much, as he focused intently on relitigating the results of the 2020 elections even while admitting his own party members wished he would just move on.

But he will never move on:

“Sir, think to the future, don’t go back to the past,” Trump said some Republican members of Congress have advised him.

“I’m telling you the single biggest issue, as bad as the border is and it’s horrible, horrible what they’re doing they’re destroying our country, but as bad as that is the single biggest issue the issue that gets the most pull, the most respect, the biggest cheers, is talking about the election fraud of the 2020 presidential election,” Trump said.

And that’s that. Things have changed:

It was not that long ago when there was more uncertainty about Trump’s future within the party. Back in January, Grassley offered a stinging condemnation of Trump’s behavior in the aftermath of the 2020 election – the type of statement that, at its heart, suggested a desire to rid himself of the messiness.

“The reality is, he lost. He brought over 60 lawsuits and lost all but one of them. He was not able to challenge enough votes to overcome President Biden’s significant margins in key states,” Grassley said in a statement offered after voting against Trump’s second impeachment. “He belittled and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way. He encouraged his own, loyal vice president, Mike Pence, to take extraordinary and unconstitutional actions during the Electoral College count.”

But Grassley is in a different place now. He recently announced, at age 88, that he is running for an eighth term. And with it, Trump has gone from nuisance to needed.

This was also a marketing decision:

This week, Grassley and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee released a report that claimed Trump’s reported pressure on the Department of Justice to change election results was not just overblown but consistent with the commitments of the office of the president to uphold the Constitution. And on Saturday night, Trump brought Grassley on stage to offer his “complete and total endorsement for reelection.”

“If I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart,” Grassley said.

No one will oppose him now:

The former president has been openly discussing the likelihood that he will run for the office again. To be greeted with open arms in the all-important, first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state of Iowa was a flashing neon light signal to voters that this party remains his. And he’s done it all while still launching broadsides against current leadership (he eviscerated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at various points on Saturday for striking a deal with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and for not having the “courage to challenge the election” and without offering a morsel of remorse for how his presidency ended.

“Here’s the difference. Hillary conceded. I never conceded. No reason to concede,” Trump said to a cheering crowd.

So the stage is set, and Dean Obeidallah sees this:

You don’t need to be a historian to recognize the danger in a political party showing blind loyalty to one person. These GOP elected officials just several months ago rightly criticized Trump and his role in the false election claims that led to the January 6 attack. With their presence at his rally this weekend, it seems they’ve now changed their tune.

Perhaps they now agree with Trump’s lies. But it’s more likely their flip-flop comes from recent polls showing that 91% of Republicans in Iowa view Trump favorably. That, and not wanting to face the wrath of Trump, like Georgia Gov. Kemp, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and other Republicans who have dared to speak truthfully about the election.

But who knows what Trump whim will be the next litmus test for remaining in his good graces? When even Grassley, Iowa’s longest-serving US senator, thinks it’s “smart” politics to no longer criticize Trump for his un-American attack on our democracy and instead praise him in a pursuit of an eighth term in the Senate, it’s clear that the party is no longer defined by policy ideas but by absolute loyalty to Trump and his influence.

To put it bluntly, today’s GOP is how democracies die.

Others see that too. Katelyn Fossett interviews one of them:

Fiona Hill was introduced to most Americans through her testimony in President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings in late 2019. A former National Security Council official, that day she delivered a personal story of growing up in a working-class mining town in northeastern England and emigrating to the United States, all delivered in an accent that many Americans couldn’t quite place but would have marked her for class discrimination in her native country.

Her new book There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century only briefly touches on her White House experience and mostly focuses on the personal story that so many found compelling in her testimony. Still, there is enough space for a few revealing West Wing anecdotes, such as when the former president mistook her for a secretary and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus referred to her as “the Russia bitch.” In response to the book, Trump emailed an angry statement to supporters this week calling her “a Deep State stiff with a nice accent.”

Yes, he’s a little touchy on what she says was and is happening:

Katelyn Fossett: What do you make of Trump’s recent comments about the Jan. 6 rioters? He said in a statement in September they were being unfairly persecuted by the Biden administration.

Fiona Hill: Well, this is also part of this myth-making, as we’re well aware: the perpetration of the Big Lie, and the turning of the people of Jan. 6 into martyrs and also trying to rewrite the historical record in real time. He is mulling again a return to what he sees more as a crown than the presidency in 2024.

I feel like we’re at a really critical and very dangerous inflection point in our society, and if Trump – this is not on an ideological basis, this is just purely on an observational basis based on the larger international historical context – if he makes a successful return to the presidency in 2024, democracy’s done. Because it will be on the back of a lie. A fiction. And I think we have to bear that in mind.

But wait, there’s more:

I find it deeply disturbing that the number one identity that people put forward in polls now is whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican rather than an American or someone from a particular region. Even religious or ethnic/racial identifiers seem to be subsumed in this in some of the polling. And so, you know, those of us who are independent in mind and practice but politically engaged, where do we fit into all of this? We used to fit into America. I have a lot of friends who are immigrants like myself who have been here for a long time, who come from many, many different places – not all from Europe. And they say, “This is not the America I came to. This is not the America we chose to come to.” And they were deeply disturbed by this. But many people fled these kinds of authoritarian or autocratic regimes, which are highly personalized, deny social mobility and where you have kleptocratic cliques of cronies who are really trying to take charge of policy, and that’s what this deep polarization is about. This is not about ideology. It is a manipulation of particular social issues – abortion, immigration, all kinds of issues.

This America is looking dangerously like Russia.

That might be the idea. Trump admires Putin. So does the Republican base.

But not all is lost. The Hill’s Joe Concha sees this:

Former President Trump recently declared he would beat Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a potential Republican primary match-up for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination. And based on current polling, he’s almost certainly right.

“If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” Trump said of DeSantis in an interview with Yahoo Finance earlier this week. “I don’t think I will face him. I think most people would drop out. I think he would drop out.”

Everyone would drop out. The party is his now, which should make Democrats happy:

A Trump 2024 run – which looks increasingly likely – would look a lot like 2016 from a media perspective. The former real estate mogul and star of the reality TV show “The Apprentice” would blot out the sun and dominate the media coverage. Most of this coverage would be profoundly negative, of course, with the usual comparisons of Trump to Hitler or (insert favorite totalitarian figure here) and enough file footage of the horrible Jan. 6 Capitol riot to fill an entire decade.

Trump’s base, at best one third of the electorate, might have trouble with that, and Concha has questions:

Would DeSantis still run if Trump were to announce his intention to take back the White House? (Probably not.)

Does Trump really want to be president while in his 80s? (Probably so.)

Against whom would Trump or DeSantis (or both, on a combined ticket) run if President Biden chose not to run again or was asked by his handlers not to run again? (Impossible to say.)

So, try this:

Despite Trump’s media dominance and extremely loyal base, one could make the argument that DeSantis would have a better chance in a general election to beat President Biden, Vice President Harris or (insert favorite Democrat here) if he were the nominee. The governor, of course, would need the full blessing of Trump if the former president decided to sit this one out, complete with rallies on his behalf.

Why would DeSantis – who is just 43 and has never run for national office – be a better option if winning back the White House is the Republicans’ goal? Simply put, DeSantis doesn’t have remotely as much political baggage. DeSantis, an Iraq War veteran, would make the choice for voters (particularly for independents) one largely based on his positions on major issues versus those of Biden or Harris rather than a personality contest between two flawed candidates. That would be especially true regarding inflation, the economy, taxes, the southern border, foreign policy and Afghanistan.

No. Wait. DeSantis has a personality. No one should be forced to take a vaccine for anything. No one should be forced to wear a mask under any circumstances. Public health and public safety are not the government’s business at all. People know how to take care of themselves. His policies prove that. Ignore those dead bodies in the corner. Freedom!

These are not popular positions, but that’s moot now. Trump will run, and lose again:

A personality contest is exactly what any race with Trump would become – about the person himself and not so much the issues. In addition, Trump’s propensity to continually relitigate the 2020 election (with declarations at every rally about it having been “stolen” from him, despite loss after loss in court and post-election vote audits not uncovering any victories in states such as Arizona or Georgia) would be a constant, pointless distraction.

And that opens the door for Biden:

The Biden administration is failing badly in the eyes of most Americans. A recent Quinnipiac poll has Biden polling at 39 percent approval on the economy, 37 percent approval on taxes, 23 percent approval on border security and 28 percent approval on Afghanistan.

Overall, just 32 percent of independents support the president, with his overall approval clocking in at 38 percent. But if Trump runs, the focus would be largely taken off Biden’s dismal record.

Biden’s handlers wisely would attempt to turn such a 2024 contest into a rerun of the 2020 race, making the choice a referendum on Trump instead of Biden, who arguably has had the worst first nine months in office imaginable.

It’s difficult to see how Biden turns those numbers upside down if he is the nominee… Unless, of course, Trump enters the fray, because there’s no greater reverse motivator for the Democratic base and independents than the 45th president. It’s easy to foresee a hold-your-nose election in which those who might otherwise vote against Biden or just stay home would, instead, turn out for Biden because they viewed another Trump presidency as infinitely worse.

So, do you want genial mild incompetence or a nasty man out for revenge, who never did know how to govern anything, and chaos? Biden wins. People do have memories:

Leading up to the pandemic, the Trump era was highly successful, based on key metrics on which most presidencies are measured. The economy was strong; unemployment was at just 3.5 percent. The ISIS caliphate had been destroyed, the North Korea threat was diminished and the Middle East was relatively stable. The U.S. border was more secure.

Then COVID-19 came along, and the whole game changed.

Trump’s handling of the pandemic, particularly from a messaging perspective, was profoundly horrid. He should have allowed the experts and his vice president, who headed the administration’s coronavirus task force, to take the lead on messaging and press conferences. But a defensive Trump insisted on taking dozens upon dozens of questions every day from the podium, with some press conferences lasting more than two hours. And the more he spoke, the worse it got.

The vaccines that most of the media said were impossible to deliver in 2020 came shortly after the election, thanks to Operation Warp Speed. For that, Trump deserved enormous credit, but it was too little, too late, in terms of his reelection bid.

He blew it, but that won’t stop him:

A 2024 Trump campaign would be all about Trump, which is the way he likes it. Yes, he’d hit on all the key issues, but he wouldn’t be able to resist rambling about the 2020 election being “stolen,” which the press would make its main takeaway. Almost every media analysis would be about the man, the tone, the past, the impeachments, but not his overall record or vision moving forward.

What vision? There would be no moving forward. And if he lost he’ll say he won, just like last time. He says he wants his base to “take America back” but doesn’t specify how, when the votes don’t go his way once again. Still, he has those folks in Iowa primed for something.

Forget that ad. Let’s not visit.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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