Will the three Gs matter in Iowa?

In the first and most important caucus state, the GOP candidates are putting "gays, guns and God" is

Iowa, as one US citizen put it, is a place with pictures of piglets on postcards (PPPP, if you will). In other words, it is representative of rural America; a state in the "American Heartland" that is rich in cornfields and farmers, who receive $5 Billion a year in ethanol subsidies. "Sure, downsize government, but don't think about touching my farm subsidy," is the general feel within the state. It comes as no surprise, then, that the GOP candidates have treaded carefully over the issue of corn subsidies in the first and most important caucus state.

But another acronym may carry weight in the PPPP state- that of the three Gs (gays, guns and God). The acronym was used by Thomas Frank in his book What's the matter with kansas to explain why poor white Americans would vote for the Republican party- one that offers tax cuts for the wealthy and supports cutting government wellfare.

Iowa has always been an important state because of it's first-in-the-nation status, and since the Iowa primaries come earlier, they are litmus test of sorts. Other states resent this status, using the argument that it is too small, too white and too rural to represent the American demos.

But historically, it has always been considered the key to nomination. Out of 16 Iowa winners, 11 have become their party's candidate (six democrats-Carter, Mondale, Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama; and five Republicans- Reagan, Bush Senior, Dole, Bush, and Bush).

But will the three Gs hold sway in Iowa in the same way that it has done in the past? In a rural state with a high number of social conservatives, where half of the republican electorate are evangelicals- it would make sense. The Republicans have great pride in having a strong evangelical base. But this year, with unemployment at 9 per cent and ubiquitous house foreclosures, it seems that whether a candidate believes in the same God, or the same religious values, might not be that important as divine intervention in the form of a candidate who will guide the American people through tough economic times.

A recent Gallup poll conducted in early 2011 reported that more than half of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, compared to 27 per cent in 1997. And in Iowa, gay marriage became legal in 2009 through the courts, although a 2010 poll showed that 44 per cent of Iowans were against same-sex marriage- the only state in the US with same-sex marriage in which support was below half. Indeed, in 2010, three Supreme Court justices who ruled homosexuals should be allowed to marry were kicked out of their positions in a historic decision by voters. It was the first time since 1962 that any justices had been brushed off.

And when it comes to guns, President Obama seems to be protecting the right to bear arms enough, with little if no mention of fire-arms and no legislation against it.

Over at the NY Tiimes Opinionator, Timothy Egan argued that the three Gs could do more harm than good to Republican candidates in 2012:

"Conservative orthodoxy is badly out of step with emerging majority support for full citizenship rights of gays. And with religion, some Republicans have already made an issue of Romney's Mormonism, and Gingrich's switch to Roman Catholicism. In Gingrich's case, questions have been raised about how a multiple-married man could win the favor of high-ranking Catholic clerics who usually look askance at people who ditch their wives. Do we dare expect these two fine men to be the ones, at long last, to bring an end to the gays, guns and God wedge issue, even if it's by accident?"

A recent New York TImes/CBS News poll suggests that voter's concerns are mainly about jobs and the economy (40 per cent) and the budget deficit (23 per cent), with only nine per cent saying their concern was social issues.

But Republican candidates seem to be flirting with the three Gs. Rick Perry released an add titled "Strong" about why he is a christian and criticising "Obama's war on religion". And in the December 15 GOP candidates debate in Iowa, there were plenty of questions on morality. Newt Gingrich (who is leading the polls with 26 per cent) was attacked for once suggesting he supported Republicans who support some abortion rights. Romney was attacked by Fox host Chris Wallace, who suggested he Romney shifted positionsguns and gay-related issues since running for for senate 17 years ago. "In 1994 and throughout my career, I've said I oppose same-sex marriage," he shot back.

If the three Gs apply anywhere else, it is in Iowa, where far-right conservatism seems to be a safe bet. But with Americans angrier than ever about the state of the country (a recent CNN poll asked the question: Are you angry about the state of the country, with 74 per cent answering yes) the three Gs and moral issues might not carry the same weight as in the past.

 

 

Ellie Foreman-Peck
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Martin Schulz: could this man bring an end to the reign of Angela Merkel?

The German Eurocrat is the biggest threat to the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel. 

At first sight, Martin Schulz looks like an unlikely political saviour. Thin of hair and thick of waist, the 61-year-old was a member of the European Parliament for 23 years and its president for five. In an anti-establishment age, it was predicted that Schulz would struggle when he became the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate to replace Angela Merkel as the German chancellor in January. Instead, he is spearheading a remarkable revival in his tribe’s fortunes. On 19 February, for the first time in a decade, the SPD polled above Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), attracting 33 per cent to their 32 per cent. The SPD vote share has increased by 12 points in a month. The cause is clear: “Martin mania”.

For months, it was assumed that Merkel would secure a fourth term as chancellor in September’s federal election. The SPD, the grandfather of European social democracy and Germany’s oldest party (it was founded in 1863), had polled as low as 19 per cent. After forming a grand coalition with the CDU in 2013, Schulz’s party was marginalised as Merkel claimed credit for policies such as the country’s first minimum wage. Voters defected to the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The SPD’s future looked to be one of managed decline.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s leader since 2009, stood little chance of supplanting Merkel as chancellor. As a result, like François Hollande, he reached for the pearl-handled revolver: he announced his intention to step aside on 24 January after internal SPD polling showed that Schulz would perform significantly better against Merkel. “It was not an easy decision but I’m convinced it was the right decision,” Gabriel told reporters. His judgement was vindicated as public polls gave Schulz an 11-point lead over Merkel (49-38).

The German chancellor’s apparent unassailability owed less to her strength than to her opponents’ weakness. Eleven years after she entered office, voters had grown weary of Merkel’s leadership but saw no viable alternative. In Schulz, they have found one. Having been engaged at EU level and held no domestic office since standing down after 11 years as mayor of the north-western market town Würselen in 1998, Schulz has been embraced by voters as a relative outsider.

Unlike his SPD colleagues, Schulz can criticise the CDU’s record without appearing hypocritical or feeble. He has attracted voters with a centre-left emphasis on redistribution and social justice. “When people see that their taxes are used to give their children a future, they buy into it,” Schulz has said in interviews.

The European Parliament has been a useful platform for his pugnacious style. He is best known for being compared to a concentration camp guard by Silvio Berlusconi in 2003 and for his interjection in 2010 after Nigel Farage branded the then EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, a “damp rag”. Schulz retorted: “It’s not right that this man should be able to trample over the dignity of this house!”

Voters have warmed to Schulz’s personal story as well as his political history. He was born on 20 December 1955 in the village of Hehlrath, North-Rhine Westphalia, to a policeman father and a homemaker mother (he is the youngest of five). Rather than going to university, he trained as a bookseller and was a promising footballer. Two severe knee injuries ended his playing career at the age of 18 and he sought refuge in alcohol after falling into depression. Having contemplated suicide, he recovered to open a bookshop in his home town (which he ran until he became an MEP in 1994) and has been teetotal since 1980.

Schulz educated himself by devouring historical fiction (his favourite writers are John Steinbeck and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) and retains the restlessness of an autodidact (he often works 18-hour days). His bonhomie and blunt manner appeal to voters who regard Merkel as aloof.

That Schulz has come to the SPD’s rescue is unsurprising. He joined the party at the age of 19 and became the youngest mayor in North-Rhine Westphalia when he was elected in Würselen at 31. After more than two decades serving the EU, the attractions of a return to domestic politics were obvious. “People must look into your eyes and see that you are a bloody streetfighter,” he remarked in 2013, as he presciently dismissed Ed Miliband’s electoral chances.

Schulz has disoriented the Christian Democrats, who failed to anticipate a centre-left renaissance. In a mark of how much he has unsettled them, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has denounced him as a Trump-like populist for his slogan “Make Europe great again”. Were Schulz to replace Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to be elected French president, the pair would unite in seeking to impose punitive Brexit terms on the UK.

For Germany’s Social Democrats, the fear is that Schulz’s surge has come too soon – voters could swing back to Merkel and the CDU before polling day. But after years as an emblem of centre-left malaise, the SPD has momentum. Schulz is determined to prove that there are second acts in political lives. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit