DES MOINES — The Republican Party of Iowa’s Reagan Dinner with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last night was reminiscent of a slightly unsettling family party where not everyone was welcome despite the smiles on everybody’s faces.
More than 600 people made it to Veteran’s Memorial Center in downtown Des Moines for the event — one of the party’s biggest annual fundraisers and a nice opportunity for an ambitious politician to get face time with GOP activists — to see Cruz wax political and even offer what seemed to be an olive branch to his critics.
The underlying current of the dinner was one of jockeying for the future of the state party, if not the national one, given Iowa’s oversized impact on the national presidential debate.
A.J. Spiker, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, described the GOP as “a party at a crossroads” that needs to be a “party of principles” fighting against “a permanent political class.” His co-chairman, David Fischer, called it “a party in transition” with folks like Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee “the future.”
The chairmens’ thoughts were a stark contrast to an animated speech delivered by Gov. Terry Branstad, who said he was “proud” Cruz was in Iowa, adding it was the job of conservatives “to bring all Republicans together.” The governor then slammed “President Obama and his friends in the media (who) do all they can to try and divide us.”
Shane Vander Hart, a party activist who runs the Christian education blog www.caffeinatedthoughts.com, said he’s not ready to cede the right to calls for moderation and compromise.
“We’ll see what happens with the Senate race,” he said.
Five of the six people seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate were in the crowd, with only Paul Lunde absent.
Also absent were U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, who represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. Steve King of the 4th. Latham apparently was at the event earlier but had to leave before the speakers took the stage because of a conflict. Latham has taken some heat from Republicans because he voted for the deal that ended the government shutdown. A few people booed when Latham’s name was announced over the sound system.
“I don’t think anyone should be talking bad about their fellow Republicans publicly,” said Connie Armstrong, a Republican activist from Linn County. “It’s wrong.”
Armstrong, who attended the event with her daughter, Cary Smith, aimed her criticism at Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has referred to Cruz as a “wacko bird.” Armstrong, however, wouldn’t go as far to say that she supports Cruz: “I need to see who else runs,” she said.
Smith said she doesn’t expect the bridges to be crossed anytime soon.
“I just think they’re too divided,” she said. “Right now it’s too far.”