grassley chuck is doing push-ups on stage with tom cotton weather Joni Ernst account into the microphone. Grassley’s push-ups are precarious: his arms barely bend, his movements are small and slow. The crowd at the Sioux Center rally on June 29, 2021 is silent. As Ernst reaches 17, there is a wavering applause, one that feels forced. At count 22, Cotton gets to his feet and helps Grassley, then 87, to his feet. The men hug. Grassley, a man who has held elected office longer than most of his constituents, has something to say: Huffing and puffing on that stage, Grassley is showing that he will not give up power. She will cling to him with every frail, wobbly ounce of his strength.
In the summer of 2021, there was talk of Grassley not racing again. The senator, who is the second oldest in the Senate, had already endured COVID; at the end of another term he would be 95 years old. But by last fall, Grassley put the rumors to rest and released a video of himself running at dawn. That was the message: he was fit. He was capable. Even though only 27% of Iowans wanted him to. Even though most Iowans thought maybe it was time for him to step aside. Charles Ernest Grassley was going to run again. On June 7, he won the Republican primary for another term, beating the Iowa state senator. jimcarlin, and positioning him to take on the Democrat miguel franken, a retired Navy admiral, in November. In a state that looks increasingly red, and in an election cycle in which Republicans are expected to sweep, Grassley is the favorite to win; even though his disapproval numbers have increased over the years, he is still a bit more popular than not.
It’s tempting to underestimate Grassley. And many have. It was Barack Obama who described Grassley as having an “embarrassed dog face and a guttural Midwestern accent”. Grassley himself leans into this image with his moody and barely readable tweets about the History Channel, or “you know what” on Dairy Queen. It could be your grandfather, or perhaps more accurately, great-grandfather, a respectable relic from another time. Grassley, simply by being underrated, has escaped much scrutiny. He is a high-ranking senator from a state with a free press that is largely consolidating and contracting. He rarely appears in a profile, and there is only one biography of him, written by a reporter who later became his campaign aide.
For years, Grassley has played the common, honest, complaining guy who’s willing to work across the hall. He is the senator who held public hearings to criticize his party’s own president for excessive military spending and said donald trump out of your business agenda. But he’s also the senator who helped block merrick Wreath, Obama’s nomination to the Supreme Court, because it was an election year, then changed and helped propel Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court in another election year. As the former head of the judiciary during the first two years of the Trump administration, it is one of the reasons Roe is about to be overturned. voted to impeach BillClinton, but voted against impeaching Trump.
And on January 5, 2021, Grassley He suggested he didn’t believe that mike pence would preside over the certification of Joe Bidenthat if Pence did not appear, he, as president pro tempore of the Senate, would preside over the process, and that “that it would be really wrong for me to say i have my mind made up” on the election results. (At the time, Grassley’s team clarified that the senator was wrong and that everything indicated Pence would preside: that the Iowa senator was simply explaining Senate procedure if the vice president were to step down. Grassley and his campaign have repeatedly said that was not aware of a plan to nullify the election). His campaign touts a story of independence and bipartisanship, but his new campaign ads boast of opposing vaccine mandates, blocking Biden’s agenda and building a border wall. If he is re-elected, Grassley will be the longest-serving member of the Senate and as such is at the top of the list for president pro tempore if Republicans win a majority in 2022.
But still, his control over the conservative movement he helped build is precarious. His legacy in Iowa and the nation has become a palimpsest of a certain cultural political anxiety: If you’re a Democrat, Grassley is a symbol of all that politics has lost, a great tradition of stately bipartisanship cast aside by toxic extremist politics. Or if you’re a conservative, he’s a symbol of the old guard in the GOP who won’t give up on the new right.
Whatever he is, he’s a member of the political gerontocracy. The same right-wing political movement, the New Right, that helped him rise is now having a renaissance. And as the second-oldest senator, Grassley has become an avatar of American politics: the old world clinging so tightly to the new, holding on tight and refusing to let go.
In 1980, Roger Ailes, then a political consultant, came to Iowa to test a theory about Grassley’s campaign for Senate. Iowa suddenly had political power. The nomination process for him jumped to the front of the queue in 1972, and in 1976, Jimmy Carter he won the caucuses and catapulted to the presidency. So in 1980, Iowa suddenly became fertile ground for corn and politics, a place where no-name politicians could come to the state and get a good headline smiling and munching on some hot dogs at the state fair. It was about theater, not politics, and Ailes saw it. He postulated the orchestra pit theory, that “if you have two guys on a stage and one says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls into the orchestra pit, who do you think will go? be on the evening news?
Grassley was running against incumbent Democrat John Culver, a big, blond kid from Iowa who graduated from Harvard. After Culver wiped the floor with Grassley in the first debate, Ailes allegedly took matters into his own hands. Before the second debate, he previously poured Grassley his glass of water. Culver’s mug was somehow perched precariously on the shelf of his podium. When he needed some water, he fumbled for it and spilled it on his pants. Shaken and trying to recover, Culver lost the advantage of him.
Iowans, with the sense of grievance that only a flyover state can have, loved it. In Grassley’s biography, former assistant Pete Conroy recalled how a simple farmer could make a man from Harvard nervous. “Farmers would say to me later, ‘Did you see Culver sweat? Chuck really made him sweat.’”
In many ways, Grassley’s election in 1980 was the perfect prologue to the current political climate. Ailes would go on to run Fox News and would have great influence on conservative politics as an agent and media executive, helping to elect the likes of Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Trump. Grassley’s victory was part of the rise of the New Right, a phrase that became popular during Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential bid and encompassed a backlash against civil rights-era social liberalism and the growing feminist movement. The rise of the Moral Majority, the Jerry Falwell-backed political action group that pushes a conservative religious agenda, had given Grassley’s election high stakes. The National Conservative Political Action Committee sent out emails claiming that Culver had helped Senator Ted Kennedy “invent [a] story riddled with fallacies” about the Chappaquiddick Bridge incident. The radical anti-abortion group Iowa Pro-Life Action Council distributed fliers bearing the image of an 18-week-old fetus sucking its thumb, telling Iowans to vote for Grassley, or that baby might not live.
The KKK cited Grassley and gave him an eight out of 10 for his voting record. The John Birch Society attacked Culver, and John Birchers donated to Grassley’s campaign. Also, The Des Moines Registry reported that in 1979, as a member of Congress, Grassley had given a speech to the Liberty Lobby, whose founder asserted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and campaigned to persuade black Americans to go to Africa. (Grassley reportedly discussed the gold at the group’s Financial Survival Seminar, and his press secretary told him The Des Moines Registry at the time that Grassley “had no intention when he accepted the invitation to get into bed with some political group. He thought he was going to speak at a financial seminar, to economists and the like.”) In 1977, Grassley was the only member of the Iowa House delegation to vote against a congressional resolution sanctioning Rhodesia for be a separate state.