I certainly am not the first to call Joni Ernst’s “Roast and Ride” a “Hog and Hog” event, since we’re talking barbecued pork and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Ernst is a newbie member of the U.S. Senate whose successful campaign was built on a TV ad where she spoke about her youthful farm experience castrating pigs. Therefore, she went on, she’d know how to cut fat in Washington. I am probably the first to wonder if any exhaust pipes got snipped. In any case, that, apparently, is what gets you elected in Iowa. And though this kind of campaign might be cause to worry about the state’s outsized influence on who becomes president, it is what it is.
For those who missed it, Sen. Ernst’s chopper parade to her picnic was a big draw, not only for party faithful, but also for GOP candidates, announced and not-yet-announced. Scott Walker was there riding a Harley and telling anyone and everyone that he has his own back home in Wisconsin, which is where the manufacturer is based. Rick Perry also was on one, and so were about 300 others, roaring from the outskirts of Des Moines to a farm 39 miles away where, in addition to seared swine, there were all the fixins (yes, I’m writing like a country boy on purpose). Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee were present, but didn’t get on their cycles. Rubio turned down Joni Ernst’s offer to ride with her, which was a huge disappointment to the camera crews and news photographers who would have gone crazy if he did. The opposition would have feasted on the picture, so he probably made a smart decision.
Chris Christie and Jeb Bush were among the no-shows. Still, it was quite a scene, with various politicians giving their boilerplate speeches about how awful Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, before an audience that included a whole lot of people sporting a whole lot of tattoos.
Have you wondered whether any of the GOP’s presidential candidates have a tat? And if so, where? Is it too weird to even think about? We do know that Walker and Perry dressed up in black shirts to show some solidarity, and that Huckabee was the only one who wore a sport coat. Given the criticism over his recent remark on transgenders and showering with females, he was probably interested in playing it real straight. Hence, the sport coat.
The, uh, feeding frenzy was held at the same venue that will host the Iowa Republican straw poll later this summer, another event of debatable significance, except that it’s been a big money maker for the local yokels who have turned profit-making politics into a real art form. It’s understandable that the state is adamant about holding the first election of the primary season, even though it’s not a traditional primary but a series of caucuses that are distantly representative of the people’s will, but not much. It’s not really a bona fide election. New Hampshire is first for that.
Sen. Ernst is among those who realize that their national influence is amplified by candidates who are scratching for whatever advantage they can get in Iowa. So it’s no wonder that she told reporters the state is “a great cross section of America.” The reality is that the state is only really a cross section of white America. It’s sorely lacking in people of color, just like New Hampshire. So the fact that those two can be make-or-break for a presidential candidate strikes many as a sham shame. So far, nobody in the politics biz is willing to do away with this ritual. As a result, Joni Ernst exerts undue influence, which means candidates must care about what she does with hogs. Of all kinds.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.