Candidate Shopping in Iowa

One of the underappreciated benefits of a 17-candidate GOP presidential field is that there are a lot of tickets being punched in early states, ranging from state and local campaign poohbahs who might expect a plush position in Washington if their candidate actually wins to young political junkies who are flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire to get a taste of the Big Time. I mean, really, you might not immediately think spending months in Council Bluffs or Manch-artica is a good use of time, but it’s the political equivalent of an aspiring football coach’s first grad assistant or JUCO gig. And to extend the football metaphor, seasoned political pros in the early states are like prize recruits sorting through multiple college offers. By now most of them have signed on with somebody.

But when the wheels start falling off one of the bandwagons, it’s like reopening the recruiting season. We’re seeing an early sign of this phenomenon this week as Rick Perry’s Iowa campaign chairman, Sam Clovis, “decommitted” from Team Perry and is now in “discussions” with several other candidates, as explained by WaPo’s Philip Rucker:

Clovis said he has entertained entreaties from “several” rival campaigns in the two and a half weeks since Perry stopped paying his staff. He said he expects to sign on with a new candidate in the next few days. “I’m going to go where there’s the best fit,” he said.

When Clovis signed on with Perry, he said the “finalists” he considered were Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former technology executive Carly Fiorina and businessman Donald Trump. Cruz would be a natural candidate for Clovis to settle on, as would Trump, who has rocketed to the top of polls and is building a costly and aggressive ground campaign in Iowa.

Clovis (disclosure: he’s an occasional lecturer in the Naval Postgraduate School program in which my wife teaches) finished second to Joni Ernst in the U.S. Senate primary last year, and became a conservative favorite for his debate performances, earning the consolation prize of a State Treasurer nomination (he lost to longtime Democratic incumbent Michael Fitzgerald). He was also an early supporter of Rick Santorum, the Iowa Caucus winner, in 2012. So he’s Conservative Royalty in Iowa and entered this cycle as a very hot commodity. His Senate campaign manager, Chuck Laudner, is Trump’s State Director in Iowa, and Clovis seems fascinated by The Donald, but I figure a serious constitutional conservative like him is destined for Team Cruz, if they make room for him.

In any event, this is probably just the first of many defections and competitions and “thefts” of key campaign folk in this messy and complicated GOP cycle. Every time somebody gets “winnowed,” a whole army is up for grabs just like the mercenaries of a ruined warlord.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.