This article is part of the The DC Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up Click hereSubscribe to receive stories similar to this in your email.
The Republican Party might have an Iowa governor id. Kim Reynolds.
Mask Requirements? Scrap ‘em. Vaccine Mandates? In the garbage. Distance Learn? Nah, thanks. Reynolds was a key player in the COVID-19 pandemic. The loudestAny attempt to change personal behaviour to stop the spread of the virus is met with criticism. She was regarded as a star by conservatives, who were concerned about government’s inability to stop the spreading of deadly coronavirus. It was the PositionIt matched her unique political identity, which she has honed over many decades in Iowa. She rose from rural county treasurer into becoming the first female governor of Iowa.
And, on Tuesday, she will be the Republican anointed to give the party’s official response to President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union speech. Given her background and temperament, it’s highly likely she’ll keep the pre-canned criticism focused on Biden’s domestic agenda and steer clear of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that is sure to crowd out at least some of Biden’s yearly report card to Congress. But as an acolyte of Trump’s reboot of the GOP, she will surely have plenty of barbs for a President trying to de-escalate what could be the biggest ground war in Europe since the 1940s.
Kim Reynolds is now a woman.
In many ways, Reynolds is Sarah Pailn 2.0, a conservative avatar who is shaking up her party’s good ol’ boys network that runs state government. Reynolds can quickly rip off institutional inertia with a clever retort. She is an ideal foil for liberal instincts, and a formidable opponent for anyone who wants to keep politics within the established framework. These are the culture wars. GroundShe believes that the polite rules of politics should be dismantled. Fighting convention, at this stage, is an exemplary quality for aspirant Republican leaders and meritorious all by itself.
Reynolds started her political career in Iowa’s rural areas. Reynolds served as county treasurer for four terms before becoming a state senator in 2008. Iowa Governor. Terry Branstad—the longest-serving governor in American history—elevated her to be his running mate during her first term in the Des Moines legislature. When Branstad decamped from the governor’s mansion on Terrace Hill for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in 2017, Reynolds rose from Lieutenant governor to the top job. She was elected to her first full term as governor in 2018.
A rising StarReynolds understood quickly the potential of a good trolling during Donald Trump’s era. Her fiercest criticisms were of restrictions during the pandemic. She didn’t implement a stay-at-home order or order mask mandates until late in 2020. She is a strong advocate for women’s rights. Ally of Iowa’s powerful pork industry, she didn’t push limits on processing plants even as COVID-19 hit the factories. Her opposition to the Pandemic Controls Act was what led to this tragic outcome. Line from a Washington Post op-ed writer: “Welcome to Iowa: A state that just doesn’t care if you live or die.”
The Republican Party appears to be confirming that Trumpian political ideas are durable and will remain the dominant position for the base by choosing Reynolds. Reynolds is a conservative at heart, but Reynolds’ appeal within the GOP extends beyond her policy choices. She embodies a plucky spirit of the party that takes delight in fighting expectations—even though it runs counter to her home state’s “Iowa Nice” reputation. The pick of Reynolds is a great example of how America can learn as much as the words she uses on the teleprompter about the state of the GOP.
The Republican Party currently tries to come together around one goal: messageIt is difficult to critique Biden despite his poor polls and shaky standing amongst allies. His confirmation by the Supreme Court could prove to be a positive sign. The situation in Europe shows that Biden is a solid grounding figure in an ever-changing world. The choice of Reynolds is unlikely to challenge Biden’s stature on the global stage, but the selection could help ding him, especially among female voters who helped him win office in 2020.
That’s not to say Reynolds is universally beloved. FarEven among the most knowledgeable voters, she is not immune to it. According to state polling, her pandemic peacocking has cost her and her Republicans their standing among independents as well as moderates in 2020. Open contempt for science can only be good for those who are willing to accept a raw rejection of civility. For Republicans to win this fall, they’ll need those suburban swing voters who decided to dump Trump in 2020 on the promise of a boring Biden presidency.
As the world awaits Biden’s assessment of American politics, the opposition argument from a Heartland governor will draw plenty of attention. Reynolds will continue to be an advocate for Trump’s politics, even though Trump has not scheduled a speech. With the midterm elections only months away, Reynolds’ speech will require careful reading. Given how much is at stake for the second half of Biden’s first term, the thesis coming from Des Moines will be a helpful hint at what Republicans see as the most viable message for the GOP’s prospects this fall.
Washington: Make sense of the important things Subscribe to the D.C. Brief newsletter.