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It’s Really Early, But Is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Running for President in 2024?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

If you’re into politics, it’s exciting living in Iowa. I know some of you just made your favorite “Flyover” joke or laughed imagining our lack of anything exciting out here in the middle. Every couple years we enjoy a parade of “Wannabe” politicians putting their feet into the proverbial water. To make a go of it in politics means you have to kill it in Iowa. If you can’t do that, New Hampshire and anything else doesn’t matter much.

To succeed in Iowa, you have to be face-to-face with the people. Democrats and Republicans alike face an informed group of political activists when they come to Iowa. We’ve seen it all and been lied to before. Fake it till you make it won’t play well in the coffee shops, diners, and farms of Iowa. It looks like Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is the first Republican to attempt to quietly dip his toe in the Iowa waters.

The politics of running for president starts earlier and earlier every four years. While many liberal politicians from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), former Obama Vice President and Sen. Joe Biden to billionaire leftist Tom Steyer are a handful of the many in the Democratic party who are expected to battle it out for the privilege of taking on President Donald J. Trump in 2020, it seems that some Republicans are already planning for 2024. Who would have thought that within the first two years of the Trump presidency, one man is already planning for 2024?

Politico reported on May 4, 2018 that “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has hired Iowa Republican political consultant Chuck Laudner for a position with the National Park Service, an Interior spokeswoman confirmed today. Interior hired Laudner 'a few weeks ago,' spokeswoman Heather Swift said, though she did not say what his job he had taken.” Politico reported that Laudner was an advisor to the Trump campaign in my home state of Iowa and he had also worked on Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-PA) campaign in 2012. Laudner is a well-known political figure in Iowa and is a former Executive Director of the Republican party of Iowa.

Now, taken alone, this might just be considered a situation where a long-time campaign official wanted to make the transition into politics.  But there is more.   

I wrote in the Des Moines Register on April 3, 2018 that “a polling firm has been calling Iowa Republican voters to test Zinke’s name recognition for a possible run, presumably in 2024. This shows that the White House sweepstakes has started very early, and that Zinke is known in D.C. as somebody with White House ambitions.” Now this gets very interesting.  It might be a brilliant move to start in 2018 with ambitions for 2024, or it might get President Trump angry if he sees that one of his own Cabinet members are already measuring the drapes of the Oval Office.

Regardless of how President Trump feels about it, he won’t be president forever. If Sec. Zinke is preparing to take his show on the road in Iowa, modeling Santorum’s method is a good idea. I had Senator Santorum in my living room in the most liberal county in Iowa. I met him several times. I had a beer with him in the Amana Colonies at a hometown brewery. My kids took pictures with him and we got to know his sweet daughter who was often with him. And I was not alone. Santorum did that all over the state. His ground game was unbeatable. He went face-to-face with Iowan’s from county to county. We watched him field the tough questions and he won a following by outworking his opponents.

If Secretary Zinke is willing and able to do that it will take great sacrifice and hard work. Both of those things are respected in Iowa. It remains to be seen just how far Sec. Zinke is prepared to go, but he is definitely tickling the fields of Iowa. Will he hit a home run or wind up grounding out on the “Field of Dreams” like so manner others? We shall see. 

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