From the moment his candidacy was announced at 7 AM Monday - notably last, notably different than the other three - it was brutally obvious that the fix was in and that Bruce Harreld was the next president of the University of Iowa.
The faculty and student opposition, and the harsh public forum, only served to impress the Board of Regents, headed by Branstad consigliere Bruce Rastetter, that they were making the Right pick.
In the social media sphere, more than a few Iowa Republicans are dancing the happy dance of schadenfreude that the liberal professors would, to paraphrase one, have to learn how the real world works.
Harreld may turn out to be a decent guy, and may adapt to the new role. That's beside the point. The point is, this is a political appointment, in a lot of the different senses of the word "political," and a strong message to the University of Iowa community in particular and the People's Republic of Johnson County in general - a messages best abbreviated as a raised middle finger.
There's disagreement about the pick itself - but no dispute at all about the analysis.
"I'll tell you what it means. It means the Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts." - Hermione Granger
In most states, college communities and especially public college communities are the most left leaning, the only places where the upper middle class skews left, with high percentages of public employees who these days are more likely to be unionized than private sector workers. Republican rhetoric against tax and spend doesn't work in a town where the $400,000 doctors get their paychecks from the state. Your tax cut is my new lab.
And Iowa City skews far more left than Ames, with its bigger share of ag folks on campus, or the smaller UNI, where Cedar Falls is overshadowed and the economy and community are less academic-dominated.
"It proved, once again, the basic futility of seizing turf you can't control." - Hunter S. Thompson
Why Branstad and Rastetter's Regents inflicted a non-academic business dude on UIowa, in one map: pic.twitter.com/zTIADB9orD— John Deeth (@johndeeth) September 3, 2015
As Iowa got redder last year, the People's Republic not only stayed blue but actually became MORE Democratic. The map above is results for governor by county, with Johnson the only place won by Jack Hatch.
Branstad made a highly publicized, and successful, effort last year to carry Lee County, one of only two he had failed to win in any of his previous races. No one even though to mention that 99th county. And it's not like Hatch won 51% here and 48% in Lee. In every race on the ballot, Johnson County was 13 to 15 points more Democratic than anyplace else in the state.
Elections have consequences, I was reminded yesterday by friends both Democratic and Republican. And an in your face choice feels a lot like payback.
The politics of the Harreld selection are more than just the raw numbers of electoral politics, of course. They're about the politics of different cultures. Terry Branstad has always been all about about Doing Business, and the academic culture is often about Knowledge for The Sake Of Knowledge.
There's also a culture clash with the rest of the state, along many different fault lines: rural vs. "urban," since Iowa City passes for "urban in Iowa. Secular vs. religious. Multicultural vs. monocultural. Native vs. newcomer. Tractors vs. bikes.
We even see that in our local elections, where "lifelong resident" is code for "I'm the Chamber of Commerce candidate." Our city government, which has been permanently dominated by the townies and the business community despite our "radical" reputation because they're elected in low turnout off-off years, will no doubt get along famously with Harreld.
In the end, politics is about who has power and who uses power. The Harreld designation may be one of the steps of the last and biggest power play by Branstad and his crew - for the unanimous vote, and the private phone call last month, made it very clear who's really in charge.
Organized labor and academia are, along with racial minorities and a pro-female gender gap, the pillars of liberalism support.
In Scott Walker's Wisconsin, all of these were targets. Women and minorities are always targets, of course, with anti-choice measures and voter suppression laws a standard feature of a complete Republican takeover of a state.
Walker, however, hit harder and faster at labor, public employees in particular, than anyone else anywhere else. And once that battle was won, he set his sights on academia next.
Scott Walker became a career College Republican before he bothered to get a degree - dropped out or kicked out, depending on which story you believe. Branstad, too, represents a non-academic approach to academia, serving time during his interregnum as an outsider president of a medical school.
The anti-academic mindset is a big part of climate change denial, though I think the denial is based as much on dislike for the solutions as it is on actual science denial. Either way, conservatives don't like those annoying scientists, and many of them think colleges should function as job training programs. And that's what Scott Walker has done in Wisconsin - re-set the path of the UW system (imagine Madison as Iowa City, which is a very apt analogy, and then about 15 UNI's across the state) to where, when all is done, it will be near-indistinguishable from a vo-tech system. And while Walker's presidential hopes seem to be fizzling, the damage to Wisconsin is done.
Branstad would love to do nothing more to cap his career than win his 25 year battle with AFSCME (the union who represents, among others, the UI's merit staff) by crushing the union. He's one state senator away from having that power... and a business-oriented UI president could be useful in that battle.
All this points to the really important race in Iowa next year.
Barack Obama won Wisconsin twice. But having a Democrat in the White House didn't save Wisconsin's unionized public employees or tenured faculty, when Walker and his willing partners had top to bottom control of state government.
Terry Branstad does not have that, yet. He had just over two years left on a term, assuming he finishes it. And he has a Republican House with a majority that will be a challenge for Democrats to pick up.
But the Democrats have the state senate, by one vote. That one vote, whether you count freshmen Chaz Allen or Kevin Kinney or any one other Democrat, is all that blocks Branstad from gutting UI the way Walker has damaged Wisconsin.
Maybe, hopefully, if it comes to it, Harreld will defend the institution he now leads. But in the meantime message from the Branstad and the Regents is clear.