Gov. Terry Branstad might assume one of the most critical posts in president-elect Donald Trump's administration. And, should Trump and Branstad both head that direction, it could reshape Iowa politics in the near term, especially for Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and those looking to challenge her claim to state Republican Party dominance.
Branstad is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Trump about a possible appointment as ambassador to China, Bloomberg reported Friday, calling him the "likely pick." Branstad has a long relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping built over years of trade. Trump even highlighted Branstad's relationships with Bejing during campaign stops. Maybe of even greater significance for a president-elect who values loyalty above all else, Branstad stayed true to Trump throughout the tumultuous general election cycle. In July, the Iowa delegation didn't walk out in protest, like other states that went for a different candidate in the primary. Branstad's son, Eric, even ran Trump's winning Iowa operation.
Accepting the job would be a "big family decision," Branstad told reporters Monday. Talk about an understatement.
Trump is already blowing holes in accepted diplomatic protocol. Bejing's hackles are already up following his call to Taiwan, a disputed territory few presidents even recognize. China was a regular target of Trump's throughout the campaign. China's increasingly bold expansion into the South China Sea is putting U.S. and Chinese warships into close proximity. And don't forget China's Asian neighbor, Russia.
Bejing and Moscow: Whoever assumes those jobs will have their hands full, especially under a president who rejects most forms of cordiality.
Make no mistake, Branstad wouldn't be accepting some cushy gig. He wouldn't be ambassador to Fiji. Iowa nice would only go so far.
Back at home, the move wouldn't rise to trade wars and tangling warships. But it would most certainly send tremors throughout the political landscape. Lt. Gov Reynolds would suddenly be an incumbent in 2018.
That would take some of the wind out of the sails of Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. The former Iowa House speaker has been touring the state with his conservative think tank, Engage Iowa. Corbett might be talking pro-farm ways to fund water quality initiatives, but he's really signaling his desire to replace Branstad. State Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey's name is also circling among Republicans as a contender. Both men would likely stand a good chance against Lt. Gov. Reynolds, whose position as Branstad's protege is probably what she's known for statewide.
That all changes should Reynolds have a couple years in office to solidify her hold on party politics, especially with total GOP control of the Capitol.
But Reynolds' hold on the standard of Iowa's GOP would be contingent on a number of issues she'd almost certainly face while finishing Branstad's term. Iowa, and dozens of other states that expanded Medicaid, face the pending dismantling of Obamacare. Iowa's now-privatized Medicaid system isn't exactly going swimmingly. There's still no agreement on how to fund water quality measures and who should pay for it. The school funding problem isn't going anywhere.
After tomorrow, Iowa's venerable governor could face the decision of a lifetime, a critical position in a critical time for U.S.-China relations. And, as the dominoes fall, Reynolds could suddenly find herself atop Iowa's GOP ahead of schedule.
The real question is if she could stay there.
Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org