Live from West Liberty with Michael Reagan
6:00 on a Weds and good evening from the West Liberty Community Center where I'm at my first GOP event since maybe the tax day tea party. Michel Reagan, son of Ronald, is the featured guest at a $raiser for state Rep. Jeff Kaufmann.
Turnout estimate is in the 300 ballpark. The draw for me anyway is the presence of three candidates for governor: Chris Rants, Christian Fong and Rod Roberts. I see Rants working the room, Sen. Jim Hahn is also on hand.
Dinner is sitdown and a little bit dressed up. Press corps seems to be mostly Muscatine based except for James Lynch of the Gazette sitting next to me in the media exile of Table 35 (back row).
Judging from the license plates the draw is from Muscatine Johnson and Linn counties. The cars are relatively free of bumper stickers, either for the gubernatorial hopefuls or for last fall's candidates. I only noticed one anti-Obama sticker on the way in ("HITLER GAVE GOOD SPEECHES TOO").
The Reagan connection to Wilton's Jeff Kaufmann seems to be an effort to establish a memorial to presidential dad Jack Reagan in the Tipton area, where Jack lived briefly. "This is the first time Jack had been honored anywhere," Reagan told the press corps as he spent a fair amount of time with us.
Early on, he was on GOP message: "When they passed that spending bill, you're the one who's gonna pay the bill." But he turned to analysis and legacy... and at this point live speeches start, but pretty much everything Reagan said in the press time he said in the speech anyway.
Our emcee for the evening will be Dr. Miller-Meeks, which is interesting.
MMM introduces the assorted dignitaries; apparantly it's Fong's birthday. Legislators from across Eastern Iowa: Sands of Louisa, Annette Sweeney who is I think from Tama? Betty DeBoef, Kraig Paulsen... Nick Wagner of Marion... so the big crowd in the parking lot is not just a function of how Republican West Liberty is (which I learned the hard way) but more a matter of Reagan and Kaufmann's draw.
Sandy Greiner is also on hand, presumably carrying the "Draft" Branstad ball.
Young speaker Robert Kaufmann (son of Jeff) with a joke: Clinton, Gore and Obama go to heaven... punchline is Obama think's he's God.
Pat Grassley gets the intro of Jeff Kaufmann; he's so Republican he named his daughter Reagan. Grandpa briefly mentioned, grandpa's re-elect not at all.
Jeff offers a shout-out to his Dem and indy constituents and gets solid applause; mostly he's doing family introductions.
"Things aren't always going the way we'd like in Des Moines, but I am very, very proud to represent you and grateful from the bottom of my heart."
Seems that the gubernatorials are not going to speak. (Knowing that might have changed my plans.)
Kaufmann "announces" for re-elect and notes everyone clapped but Mrs. Kaufmann.
"Don't you ever concede that the Republicans aren't for the little guy. Every single time the R's have been there for the little guy," focusing on his property rights efforts. "You stand on principle and conservatism and attract independents and Reagan Democrats. Ronald Reagan gave us that model."
Reagan takes the podium to a standing O that includes half the press corps (which makes up for my getting Franken's autograph I guess).
He calls himself a "Beverly Hills brat" at a small town potluck and picks on Nancy's (non)-cooking (before reminding us that he's Jane Wyman's son). "I didn't know if Jeff was running or if my dad was running again," which of course in this room is Highest. Praise. Possible. Dad's picture is over the speaker's shoulder, but the glare hits it so I can't capture the moment.
Into the body with a dad story. "He didn't say I just got a call from (bigshots) to run. He ran because people he met at the street level, the chambermaids and bellhops, asked him to run. He never forgot his roots."
RR would have scoffed at "demise of GOP," he would have seen it when Goldawater lost or at Watergate: "Ronald Reagan always had that positive attitude that was bred in him in this part of the world. He found good in every human being, and because of that he was able to build coalitions. And he never made politics personal." I asked him about this stuff in the press avail and he finished my sentence with the Tip O'Neill "politics ends at 5:00" reference.
Reference to "trickle up poverty" is first real red meat. (The actual menu is chicken not red meat) Then he tells his oft-told story of asking for an allowance raise and getting a tax lecture from the Gipper. "And he gave me a bigger raise when he cut taxes in the 80s."
"John Kennedy would be a conservative Republican today."
MR returns to the Reagan personality as coalition builder theme. Talking about the military and the SS Reagan (I think he briefly acknowledged that a soldier could be an Obama supporter) AND he tells a story of RR granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, and a child who got citizenship through that joining the Navy. Both those references are interesting.
But the big theme is coalition building. "The way you win the challenging period is fining ways to work together toward a common goal." Acknowleges that RR made decisions he didn't always like to reach the bigger goal, such as tax increase. "The people of California got the surplus back."
"In California they want to raise taxes and over-regulate, then ask why people are leaving."
Tells stories of 1980 caucuses and does a Dad impersonation. Says RR included him in some significant decisions, which "made up" for some of how bus he had been.
"Building coalitons doesn't mean you give up your core values. There are gonna be people in the party who disagree with you."
Best joke: "Dad had to sit down to dinner with people he disagreed with at Thanksgiving dinner - but he still fed Patti and Ron."
"Dad understood how important it is that the party not infight. You go through the primary process then you support the nominee." Tells story of conservatives who asked Gipper to bolt in 76 and how he turned them down. (MR doesn't seem to like people who tell him "your father would have done...") All this in reference to Mc
"The Republican party was still using pencils and erasers, Barack Obama was using iPhones and iPods."
"Don't make the battles personal, make them political. When you make the battles personal, people walk away."
"He made us all feel good and proud to be Americans." (I don't rember that myself, but at the time I was in a minority...) "We should be happy that we had RR in our lifetimes, that we had a president who never looked down to us. Let's not make the mistake of not walking past the next great leader. Let's move this party forward again."
Overall the tone is... wistful? Very short on the red meat I was expecting. (Then again, I was just at the Harkin Steak Fry so maybe I was expecting the anthithesis of Al Franken.)
MMM tells story of a family member who was in Secret Service and Michael responds with more storied. "My code name was Riddler. Your tax dollars actually paid for someone to think of these names." Then he gives us: "Don't take the Secret Service to a Mexican restaurant, they chase all the help away. ¡Immigracion!"
"My dad did not call the UN to get permission to do what he had to as President of the United States."
Kaufmann again with the goodbyes and music, so I'll make a retreat.
Back home safe in my bunker of socialism and getting over my bemusement that Michael Reagan made a Mexican joke in West Liberty. Pics didn't turn out great, combination of bad shots and/or goofy looks (the old John Edwards Blink factor)
On the way out I saw one more anti-Obama bumper sticker, a NOPE with an Obama logo for the O. Now, I wasn't privy to the dinner conversations. First off, the beret is a red alert givaway. Second, I'd forgotten that an announced start time of 5:30 actually means 5:30 at a GOP event, and I was operating on what we used to call "Clinton Standard Time" on the `92 campaign.
But by and large there was almost no tea party rowdiness or rhetoric amongst what looked like a mid to high end by Iowa standards GOP fundraising crowd. Reagan and host Kaufmann both struck conciliatory big-tent tones. Could it we that, at least at some levels of the GOP, there's a recognition that the over-the-top rhetoric is damaging? Or was it just a matter of setting aside internal differences in honor of the Gipper?