Iowa caucuses will be first test of GOP’s standards after Trump indictment

By: - June 14, 2023 7:00 am

Former President Donald Trump. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The latest round of indictments against Donald Trump — 37 federal indictments, including 31 for violating the federal Espionage Act — has implications for the 2024 Iowa Republican Caucuses.

They will now do a lot more than simply pick a winner in the first official contest as the party begins its presidential nominating process.

They will provide the first answer from Republican voters to an increasingly urgent and vital question: Does the Republican Party have meaningful, minimum standards for who it is willing to nominate for president of the United States?

Does character count? Loyalty to America and to democracy? Competence? Is being a skilled problem solver still an asset? Or is it enough for Republicans these days for its leaders to simply seethe with grievance, mostly imagined? Is it necessary to obey the law?

Donald Trump is the most disgraced president in the history of America. As he retains his front-runner status in the race for the Republican presidential nomination — nationally and in Iowa — the answers to those questions become increasingly important.

Iowa Republicans will be among the first in the nation to begin providing answers to those questions at their first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucus next year.

They need to begin thinking now about their answer to the “standards” question, as much they think about the question of which candidate they will choose that night.

They also need to be aware of the pressing need to get the answer right. They have a responsibility to the country and to the future of their own party to get it right.

The eyes of the nation will be on Iowa Republicans, waiting to hear their answer.

Consider the resume Republican front runner Donald Trump now brings to the contest:

  • impeached twice;
  • court ordered to pay $5 million for sexual abuse, for which he was found civilly liable.
  • 34 state criminal indictments in connection with hush money payments to a porn star shortly after his wife gave birth to their new son;
  • 37 federal criminal indictments – including 31 charges for violating the federal Espionage Act, betraying his country, his county’s allies, and military and intelligence personnel who put their lives on the line daily to protect our nation and our safety.

Not exactly the resume Abraham Lincoln, General Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, or even Mitt Romney brought to their presidential campaigns, is it?

The truly pitiful part of all this is that Trump’s list above might well be just the beginning. At least two more grand juries are out there meeting, one in Georgia and one in Washington, D.C. Both are likely to return even more indictments on the even bigger issue of attempting to overthrow the free and fair election of 2020 — the ultimate attack on our democracy.

America wants to know:

  • Does a sad, tawdry and disgusting resume of indictments and court-ordered payments totaling millions of dollars, like Trump’s, disqualify someone from even basic consideration as a presidential nominee?
  • Or does it rate instead “no problem.”

More specifically, is Trump’s pathetic past a non-starter? A nightmare? Or the “new normal” for Republicans?

Iowa Republicans didn’t volunteer to be among the first to officially answer the “standards” question, but Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus status and recent events have combined to give them that responsibility.

It is no doubt a heavy responsibility for some. But they should welcome it because they now have the opportunity to return the bar to where it belongs: a place that requires integrity, ethical and lawful behavior, and loyalty to America and to democracy, as well as the ability to actually solve real problems.

Republicans need to think about that question, deeply.

They need to decide whether they are going to be a party with or without basic minimum standards for their presidential nominee, before they choose their nominee. Knowing the answer to the “standards” question is really a prerequisite for choosing a candidate. How else do you know whether the candidate you have chosen meets those standards?

For decades, Iowa caucus attenders have proudly told the nation about the care and deliberation they bring to the decisions they make in our first-in-the-nation caucuses. They have reassured others that Iowa can be trusted to go first because the state takes its early vetting responsibility very seriously.

On Caucus Night 2024, the decisions Iowa Republicans make will demonstrate whether those claims are accurate, or whether, instead, they are merely “legends in our own minds” on that score.

Let’s face it. If the standards Iowa Republicans set by their choice on caucus night are standards that allow Trump, or any candidate with his train wreck of a resume through the gate — then there really are no standards.

That’s no way to choose a president.

What’s it going to be Iowa Republicans? Time-tested standards of character, integrity, competence, and loyalty to America and democracy?

Or an eagerness to embrace ethical train wrecks?

Iowa, the rest of the nation and the world is watching.


This column was originally published by Barry Piatt on Politics: -Behind the Curtain. It is republished here via the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

It also was published earlier by the Iowa Capital Dispatch, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix. 

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Barry Piatt
Barry Piatt

Barry Piatt has had a front row seat for state and national government and politics for over 50 years, working first as a political reporter in Iowa, and later as a senior advisor for members of the U.S. House and Senate and candidates for U.S. president. His blog, Barry Piatt on Politics: -Behind the Curtain, is on Substack.