UPDATED: Former Iowa GOP chairman reacts to spokesman hiring

Charlie Szold Iowa GOPBy Jacob Hall

The Republican Party of Iowa announced today the hiring of six new staff members in a press release. But, the past comments of one of the new employees, Communications Director Charlie Szold, have surprised a number of Iowa conservatives.

The Iowa GOP’s press release highlighted Szold’s efforts on Richard Tisei’s congressional campaign in Massachusetts. Tisei ran in the Sixth Congressional District of Massachusetts in a campaign that aimed to be historic because he was running as an openly gay Republican. Tisei and his partner Bernie Starr were “married” in 2013.

Tisei was endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which seeks to increase LGBT representation. Christian conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage, and Citizen Link all objected to Tisei’s candidacy because of his stated positions in support of gay marriage.

“We cannot in good conscience urge our members and fellow citizens to support candidates like … Tisei …” their letter to Republican Party leadership stated. “They are wrong on critical, foundational issues of importance to the American people. Worse, as occupants of high office they will secure a platform in the media to advance their flawed ideology and serve as terrible role models for young people who will inevitably be encouraged to emulate them.”

The letter also called the candidates “antithetical” to the Republican Party’s platform. The National Organization for Marriage went so far as to encourage voters to support Democrat Seth Moulton.

In an email to the Huffington Post, Szold suggested the GOP should focus on economic issues instead of issues like marriage:

“Richard has never been afraid to take on members of his own party. When Mitt Romney was governor, Richard looked him in the eye and told the governor he was wrong about marriage equality.”

In a separate article, The Hill published a quote from Szold about the issue as well:

“It’s extremely encouraging to see someone like Richard have the opportunity to present his Republican vision for the country, and that there is a place in the party for people who are pro-marriage equality.”

Chad Olsen, the executive director of the Iowa GOP, said he has no doubts about Szold’s abilities.

“Charlie is a well-qualified and highly capable communications professional,” Olsen wrote in an email. “I am confident he will serve our party well. His job is to promote and advocate for our party, its platform, and our candidates. I have every expectation that he will not only meet, but exceed expectations in being an advocate for Iowa Republicans.”

State Central Committee member Gabe Haugland emphasized that Szold will not define policy.

“Our duly-elected delegates write the platform,” Haugland said. “It’s the job of every Republican Party of Iowa employee to defend those principles and to support Republican candidates.”

Those explanations don’t help ease the concern among grassroots activists in Iowa, though.

Longtime conservative grassroots activist Randy Davis said hiring Szold was a “step in the wrong direction” by the Iowa GOP. He said conservatives like himself primarily align themselves with the Republican Party because of the platform it “supposedly identifies with and stands on.”

“I do not know Mr.Szold and am obviously not opposed to him as an individual, but from all I have read, his position on and lack of allegiance to traditional marriage sounds more like that of a Democrat than a Republican,” he said. “Many actively involved conservatives who serve as the fuel that powers the GOP engine in Iowa are already hanging by a thread about as strong as one of those little strips you pull off of a banana after peeling it.”

Davis said it is “likely” the issue of homosexual “marriage” will be a prominent component of the GOP presidential debates leading up to the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus. He said that while a number of the leading contenders seem to oppose gay “marriage,” there are some, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who have said court decisions recognizing homosexual “marriage” make it as “settled question.”

“I disagree, as do most of the conservative political friends I know,” he said.As former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee recently stated, ‘Do we really surrender the entire American system of government to five people, unelected, appointed for life, with no consequences for the decisions they make? The founders never intended for there to be such incredible, almost unlimited power, put in the hands of so few people.'”

He added that actions like hiring Szold could bring about an implosion of the Republican Party on a state or national level in a “rapid fashion,” ensuring it never wins another election. For the most part, he said, religious voters have opted out of the last two national election cycles, because traditional and conservative Americans “desire real leadership in the GOP,” not just a low-calorie “lite version of the Democrat Party.”

“On a personal level, my faith and belief in biblical Christianity certainly trumps any nonsense in the arena of ‘human politics,’ anyway,” he said. “Even evangelical voters sometimes prove they are simply not very good at differentiating between men who have character and men who are merely characters.”

Davis said he has “no reservation whatsoever” in ending his membership in the Republican Party, noting that he had done so in the past, but re-registered with the GOP to “vote in certain elections.”

“But if the Iowa GOP wants to lose people like me due to their lack of leadership and their suicidal mentality, it’s up to them,” he said.”This whole idea that if Republicans don’t capitulate on their commitment to traditional marriage, that we lose all future elections is not only asinine, but laughable. Actually, the exact opposite is true.”

Davis said truth is the foundation of a civilization. If there is no truth, he added, there can be no trust.

“When the leadership of the Iowa GOP pulls a stunt like this in hiring an individual that will without a doubt undermine and weaken the very platform that the party says it supports, then my trust in the party is slim to none, and Slim just left town,” he added.Robert Morris Group President Craig Bergman, a long-time political consultant in Iowa and presidential politics, said that with the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear a case on gay “marriage” this summer, American is standing at the verge of a “Roe v. Wade of gay marriage” ruling.“Republicans like (Szold) believe the issue may be settled, but within months it may become the biggest division within the party as the ruling is likely to eviscerate the religious liberties of Americans,” he said. “So-called ‘gay marriage’ is wholly incompatible with the tenets of religious liberty and religious conscious. You can have one or the other.”

Bergman said Americans may soon see the end of thousands of years of Judeo Christian ethic and the end of true religious liberty in America.

“It is liberals and compromised Republicans that are on the wrong side of history,” he said.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Hoefling said the hiring of Szold “shows once again that those who are currently in charge of the GOP don’t really care what the base of the party thinks or believes, or what the platform says.”

“They may pay lip service when it’s politically convenient, but they obviously have no intention of taking any real action to address the most pressing moral problems we face as a state and a nation,” he said. “Personnel is policy.”

The Rev. Cary Gordon of Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City called Szold’s hiring a “flagrant” and “careless insult” to Christians across Iowa.

“Whereas, in the light of how this nation’s courts continue to trample upon the very foundations of our Republic, pitting themselves against millions of voters and arrogantly feigning the power to nullify the voice of the people,” he said. “Whereas, in light of the clear and unmistakable voice of Iowa Republicans who worked diligently to produce our existing Republican platform. Whereas, in the light of the abuses suffered by bakers, wedding chapel directors, florists, pastors, journalists, celebrities and churches threatened around the nation.”

“It is my contention that the hiring of Charlie Szold should be accepted as a flagrant and careless insult to conscientious Christians across the State of Iowa,” he added. “It is a reminder that the Republican Party of Iowa is, in fact, not ‘stronger than it has been in decades’ as declared today by Chad Olsen in a press release.”

Gordon said Szold’s hiring was instead an indication that the Republican Party was “teetering on the edge of self-murder.” He said the party was following many of the same errors that caused the Whig Party – which the Republican Party replaced – to become politically extinct.

“No person who is on the record defying the Republican Platform and actively siding with enemy forces working to dismantle our First Amendment freedoms has any business being rewarded by the Republican Party of Iowa with employment at donors’ expense,” he said. “I take this offense very personally, and so should we all.”

Former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker said, per state party rules, the decision to hire Szold would have been made by state chairman Rep. Jeff Kaufmann and Olsen. He said, ultimately, the 18-member State Central Committee has oversight over both the chairman and executive director.

“The purpose of the Republican Party of Iowa defined in its constitution is to promote the principles and policies of the Republican Party,” he said. “It would be a mistake to hire anyone who cannot execute on the principles of the party.”

Spiker said he was “proud to defend marriage” during his tenure. He said it was his understanding, however, that the current State Central Committee and Chairman Jeff Kaufmann do not believe it is their role to promote positions on the GOP platform.

“It will be up to the convention delegates in 2016 to determine if continuing silence on marriage, tax hikes, right to life and other core principals are acceptable for the Republican Party in Iowa,” he added.