Thompson: We need to be more interested in winning fights than arguments

By John Thompson
Republican Party of Iowa
State Central Committee Member


Last weekend in Des Moines residents celebrated the 14th annual Latino Heritage Festival. On Sunday I volunteered at the Polk County GOP booth filling balloons for kids.  Many presidential candidates posted staff at the event to answer patron’s questions.

Soon after my arrival, one “gentleman” approached in a manner reticent of a boxer stepping into a ring.  He asked the young staffers, “Which of your so-called candidates is going to represent unions.”

The campaign staffers diverted eye contact.  There was a pause in the same manner college students would respond to an angry professor asking about minutia. There is no right answer for the staffers. The man was angry, unswayable and looking for a confrontation. I noticed his shirt was embroidered with a union chapter logo.

I said with all the grace and diplomacy I learned squaring off against armed assailants in the Middle East, “Our candidates aren’t running for president of your Union. They are running for president of the United States.”

The guy started tapping my shoulder and telling me how upset he was that I would talk to him that way.

I told him, “Martin O’Malley is speaking at a booth over there if you want somebody to pander to you.”

For those of you that don’t know (which is almost everyone), Martin O’Malley is one of those dudes running for president as a Democrat. You may have missed the coverage of his Iowa event.  It was buried under the breaking, state-wide coverage of the Greene County Sheriff busting teenagers at a party.

The man said, “How dare you?  Unions built this country.”

I briefly imagined in my head a painting of Jimmy Hoffa crossing the Delaware on a frigid Christmas evening. Then I pointed to my veteran hat and said, “No they didn’t. Our troops did”.

The guy then said, “You should be ashamed of yourself. The Republicans just voted against the veterans!”

I asked him to clarify. “What bill?  What did it cover?  What did it fund?”

The guy said, “I don’t know. Don’t ask me that. That’s a dumb question.”  He then walked off muttering about how I should still be ashamed of myself.

I follow veteran and defense spending pretty closely. Last April, Republicans passed a VA budget that increased spending from the previous year. They pushed back against the President’s plan of increasing bonuses to VA senior officials and construction firms in light of the recent scandals at VA hospitals. I would have been happy to debate the merits of the policy differences, but this guy’s knowledge of the topic seemed to be gleaned from a liberal internet meme.

This standoff is a symptom of a much greater problem we are having in the U.S.  Media and information are so prolific that people self-censor and only seek out sources that reinforce their world view.  Union participation in the U.S. today is about 14.5 million in a country with 319 million people.  Union members represent less than five percent of our population. But if all the people you discuss your world view with are among that 4.5 percent, you may think that Unions built this country too.

In both Washington and Des Moines our representatives are having similar standoffs. Both sides argue in a game that is more showmanship than debate. Statesmanship used to be a balancing act between the member’s roles as both a delegate and a trustee. Representatives were delegates to their party and electorate that put them in office. But they balanced that role as trustees to all of their constituents whether they were the same party or not. By balancing those roles they were able to prioritize the needs of their constituents and accomplish some of the goals of their district.

Committee meetings in Washington used to be low-key events. Members of opposite parties would sit right across from each other at rectangular tables. The junior members talked about their kids and built personal relationships while the senior folks at the head of the table called the shots.  As members on both sides moved up in leadership they became friends. This led to sportsmanship that was not isolated to political parties. Committee meetings today are conducted at spanning half-moon shaped tables.  The two parties are at opposite ends of the room.  Members only attend to grandstand on C-SPAN.

I don’t know how we break through the gridlock. We need leaders on both sides that are more interested in winning the fight than the argument. I don’t think anybody goes to Washington because they hate America.  The trustee role of our government officials is disappearing.

Personally, I try and expand my bubble.  I am pretty stubborn but if somebody disagrees with me I like to hear them out. We can debate each other about priorities and values and still respect each other.  Plus, the discussions assist me in identifying weak arguments so I can draft crass, conservative internet memes.

•  •  •

John Thompson of Jefferson is a graduate of West Point and Harvard University. He serves on the State Central Committee for the Republican Party of Iowa. He may be contacted at or at “John Thompson for Iowa” on Facebook.