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November 19, 2013 12:43 PM Come To Iowa So We Can Squash You, Chris!

By Ed Kilgore

Today’s ha-larious political news story comes from Iowa, where the perennial effort to keep the Caucuses highly relevant come 2016 is underway. With a fun combination of flattery and threats, some of the very right-wing folk who would love to put Chris Christie on an ice floe and send him off drifting to the North Pole are trying to keep him from skipping the Caucuses if he does run for president. Here’s a factually correct but misleading report from The Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe:

Iowa Republicans are urging New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to contest the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses if he runs for president in 2016, warning a decision to ignore the Hawkeye State would do more harm than good to his campaign.
Christie is widely expected to focus on the New Hampshire primary if he runs — partly out of a calculation that he’d fare better in the Granite State than among social conservatives, who hold powerful sway in the Iowa GOP.
Republicans say the governor’s populist style could serve him well among Iowa caucus-goers who value personal relationships with their presidential candidates, despite perceptions Christie is too centrist to play in the state.
“It’s very personal in Iowa. How people react to you as an individual is very important,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told The Hill.
“The unique part of the Iowa caucuses is you get to know the candidates personally.”
King spoke glowingly of Christie, who previously endorsed the conservative Iowan and appeared at a fundraiser for him in 2012.
“He had a tremendous welcome in Iowa the times he dropped in,” King said. “I just remember the looks in the eyes of folks … they were energized by him. He is a magnetic personality.”
Iowa conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats, who recently criticized Christie for deciding to drop a legal challenge to gay marriage in New Jersey, also said the governor could be competitive in the state.
“I think Iowans realize this country is in a very precarious position on a lot of fronts, and it’s going to need some really bold leadership. If he’s bold and confrontational on the issues and why conservative principles are better than liberal principles, I think it’ll serve him really well,” Vander Plaats told The Hill.
The praise from King and Vander Plaats highlights Christie’s political strength — the perception he’s a straight-talking populist who can relate to ordinary voters.

Uh, no, Alexandra, the praise from King and Vander Plaats is an indication that they fear he will (a) skip Iowa and win, or (b) just win. It’s the same game Iowa conservatives played with Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. If candidates get into the habit of skipping Iowa while writing it off as a right-wing rat’s nest that makes insane demands, an awful lot of accumulated clout—the kind of clout that gets somebody like Chris Christie to do fundraisers for somebody like Steve King—could slowly begin to drain away. And beyond that, King and Vander Plaats can’t play a role in squashing Christie as an object lesson to Obama-hugging RINOs everywhere if he refuses to come play in their sandbox.

So the real message to Christie here is that Iowa conservatives will find some way to punish Christie if he ignores them, and will hug him to death if he doesn’t.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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