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Wilkinson: A way out of Republicans’ dead end

Big Business is having big doubts about its traditional political allies. Sen. Ted Cruz, who not long ago was considered the most offensive presidential candidate imaginable, is now the best-case scenario. Meanwhile, Donald Trump continues his march toward collecting the most delegates for the Republican presidential nomination in July, by which time it’s doubtful there will be an American woman or racial minority whom he hasn’t alienated.

The New York Times reports that companies including Coca-Cola, Google and Xerox are under organized pressure to keep their distance from a GOP convention that could be very ugly — and very bad for business.

“These are Maalox months for everyone,” said Bruce Haynes, a public relations consultant at Purple Strategies, a Virginia-based bipartisan communications firm. “If this is going to look like 1968, there will be people that say, ‘That’s not where I want my product placement,’” he added, referring to clashes between police officers and protesters at the Democratic convention in Chicago.

If corporate America wants to team up with sensible Republicans and divert its political dollars to more productive uses, here’s a suggestion: In Iowa, they have an opportunity to take a small but significant stand against the Republican Party’s ideological death spiral.

Case in point

Until Trump came along, Iowa Representative Steve King had done as much as anyone to paint the Republican Party as a bastion of bigotry and intolerance. King is perhaps best known for claiming that for every undocumented immigrant who rises to become a high school valedictorian, there are 100 who have “got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

During consideration of a proposal to allow “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children — to obtain permanent legal residency by joining the military, here is how King responded:

As soon as they raise their hand and say ‘I’m unlawfully present in the United States,’ we’re not going take your oath into the military, but we’re going to take your deposition and we have a bus for you to Tijuana.

Thus young people who were educated in the U.S., and want to serve what in many instances is the only country they know, learned how much their patriotism is valued by a Republican member of Congress.

King now faces a primary challenge in his very conservative district. State Senator Rick Bertrand of Sioux City is running for King’s seat in the June primary. Bertrand is attacking King for supporting a presidential candidate, Cruz, who opposed ethanol subsidies. But it’s pretty clear that he is opposing King’s right-wing flame-throwing in general. “I am not going in there to be a national figure,” Bertrand said. “I am going to be likable and effective.”

Agribusiness powerhouse Bruce Rastetter is among those supporting Bertrand, suggesting that, after 14 years, some Republican heavies in the state have grown very tired of King’s act.

Dysfunctional party

Throughout the Barack Obama era, Republicans in Congress have grown increasingly dysfunctional for many reasons, including the party’s transformation into a fragile shell containing mostly bad feelings and empty gestures. But the chief political dynamic that reinforces so much bad behavior is the persistent fear among GOP officeholders that they’re vulnerable to a primary challenge from ever-truer gradations of “true conservatives.”

If the GOP convention in Cleveland is shaping up to be a horror show, the fight in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District suggests one path out of the cul-de-sac into which Republicans have driven. It’s just one congressional district, but if business interests and the enfeebled pro-governing wing of the party pour financial and organizing resources into the race against King, perhaps a few of his colleagues in the nihilist caucus would take notice. Even if King prevails, as he’s likely to, the experience might be educational for all involved.

After all, Republican primary challenges don’t have to come exclusively from the right. They can come from the left, too. For the health of the Republican Party, few developments would be as welcome as a wave of well-organized, deeply resourced campaigns initiated by conservatives who are unafraid of productive compromise and don’t feel compelled to show contempt for the government they seek to join.

Francis Wilkinson writes for Bloomberg View.