Six Months After Election Day 2016: Life Goes On

I last posted four weeks before Election Day. When a post goes viral, it becomes even more difficult than usual to publish another post. 

I purposefully stayed quiet until after Election Day. I wanted my words to stand on their own, without any misconstrued sound bites, or being used as a political pawn. Some may argue that I made myself a pawn for Trump’s opposition simply by speaking out how I did. Others have told me that I wasted an opportunity to gain national fame and to promote my views even further. I admit, I had moments when I myself wondered how I was able to turn down interviews with the BBC, nearly every national cable news outlet, and every major Iowa television, radio, and newspaper outlet. 

At the end of the day, I firmly believed that I said my piece on this blog, and that was enough. I never anticipated for J.K. Rowling to like my tweet or to be a headline on Politico. I simply wanted to do the right thing and be a voice of reason. I was still committed to my day job of working for down ballot candidates and causes. 

Once Election Day had come and gone, and I left my full time job in politics, I thought I would have a lot to say. However, the words have been tough to piece together. Of course I was disappointed in the presidential election results. Nevertheless, I wanted our new president to surprise me and do well. At the same time, I felt for the protestors in the streets. What did we expect to happen when we elected someone who had gone out of his way to put down so many groups of people? I would never condone violence, but I do support everyone’s right to speak out in the hopes of finally being heard.

I have found myself to be in the middle of the polarized ends of this nation’s politics. I am still a Republican and do not plan to switch parties. I agree with a lot of what John Kasich has to say on this topic. While I am fully aware of how the game of politics is played, and it is all centered around the power now in Trump’s hands, I am disappointed that very few have offered a different way forward for the GOP.

On the positive side, this last election activated so many people who were fairly complacent before last fall. I love this new activism and believe some good will come out of the crazy election.

Speaking out against Trump was life changing. I strained and ended a few relationships with my words. I also made new friends from all across the United States – people who reached out to a complete stranger to say “thank you,” or “way to go.” The positive comments and messages far outnumbered the negative. I even heard from people I had not talked to in years, a few who defended my honor on the news sites where people who never met me were saying nasty things about me. I will be forever grateful to everyone who reached out to me with encouraging words. 

Prior to this post, I have done three post election interviews: a Dutch newspaper, part of a panel on Iowa Press, and a forthcoming interview with German Public Broadcasting. I will let you check out those pieces if you want a more in depth look at my views nowadays. And perhaps I will elaborate here on my blog as I continue along my journey as a somewhat rogue Republican and feel the need to speak about various topics.

In the meantime, life goes on. I returned to working at Target Optical in December and love it. I also bought a new vehicle – named Rosa Parks! – in December and moved to Des Moines in February. In addition, I have found new avenues for political involvement, including being on the board of 50-50 in 2020. My puggle Percy was “with her,” and my cat Jag is disappointed that Trump has not yet built a wall to keep all of the dogs out. 

I sometimes wonder what life would be like had I not posted my last post or resigned from the Iowa Federation of Republican Women. While I would have kept others happy, I most definitely would be feeling regret right now. Call me emotional, selfish, attention seeking, or whatever else you want. I know in my heart that I did the right thing, and for the right reasons. I prayed about the decision, talked to close friends and family, and then asked myself what I wanted to tell people when talking about the 2016 election years from now. I thought specifically of my nephew and nieces. Regardless of their future views, I know I can look them in their eyes and say that I stood for what I thought was right. And if I can do it, anyone can. That’s how we start to make the world a better place: one person at a time.

Ending this bad and unhealthy relationship

I have finally had enough with falling in line with my party and trying to support Donald Trump for President. Perhaps it’s because things finally hit close enough to home and my world experience to resonate. Or perhaps supporting Donald Trump has been a bit like being in a bad and unhealthy relationship. Part of the problem with getting out of the relationship is that you keep convincing yourself that things are going to get better. While they often briefly get better, they continue to get worse until the downs are lower than one ever thought possible.
In the meantime, you lose yourself and you lose who you are just to try to keep the peace and not rock the boat.
As President of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women, I was publicly neutral during the caucus to convention process. While there were times that I really disagreed with things Trump or even other candidates in the Republican Party said, I (mostly) kept quiet. There was the Carly for America “Faces” ad when I broke rank a bit, and I am more proud of that today than ever.
While I had my own opinions (which did not involve caucusing for Trump), I wanted to let the process play out. I had faith in the process, our party, and our people and was confident everything would work out for the best.
When it became apparent that Donald Trump would secure the nomination, I decided it was time to speak up. I did not want to do it publicly on social media and instead wanted to go through the appropriate channels. So I agonized over what to say and emailed my concerns to the president and a few in leadership positions of the National Federation of Republican Women on May 5, 2016. I told them that while I had pledged unity at our spring meeting in March, I was having grave concerns about our future nominee. As someone who has rarely voted for the nominee early on and is accustomed to voting for another choice in the general, it wasn’t an issue of me not being able to lick my wounds after the caucus and primary losses. It was something fundamentally larger than that. I simply wanted to start a conversation, and I was hoping that the Trump campaign would do some outreach so we could overcome a few of the obstacles and right some of the wrongs that had had occurred thus far.
A few questions I posed in the email:

– What do I tell my six-year-old nephew who saw Trump on TV a few months ago, turned to his mom (my sister) and said, “Mom, he is a bad man. He says bad words and wants to blow things up.”? What do I say to my sister, who was at a loss for words (and is a strong Republican)?

– How do I reassure my mom – and moms of all of our men and women serving our country – that Donald Trump will speak wisely and not get us into more conflicts with his off-the-cuff remarks?

– What do we say to women across the country who are mortified at Trump’s comments on the Howard Stern show discussing women’s breast sizes? How about so many of the other things he has said that objectify women? What message does this send to young girls?

– How do we respond when our presidential nominee has stereotyped an entire religion?

– Trump has openly insulted John McCain’s service to our country and has blamed George W. Bush for the 9/11 attacks. Are we OK with that?

I received a couple of responses basically saying to work hard for the down ballot candidates, pray for our nominee, and we are confident that he’ll turn it around and behave going into the general election. I was also encouraged to read Governor Bobby Jindal’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a few days later. So that’s what I did.
Then fast forward a few weeks later to a nonpartisan women’s leadership conference. I was giving a presentation about balancing work and personal life and I talked about how balancing our public life with a personal life can be tough, especially in politics when things can intertwine. I mentioned Carly Fiorina’s ad and said that I stood behind that ad and at the same time I was prepared to support Trump if he was our nominee. A few women were visibly upset with me.
And I know many more were silently upset with me for saying that I could support a candidate who had done so much wrong, even by that point at the end of May 2016. I went back to my hotel room that night and I have to admit that I had a good cry. I felt like a horrible person. I reached out to a couple of my Republican peers, and they reassured me it would be OK. I was emboldened by knowing that I am a caring individual and thought I could support Trump without necessarily condoning his words or behavior.
So I continued on and for a while – in my world at least – it went a little better. Then Trump picked Mike Pence as his running mate. While Pence is more conservative than I am personally, I met him a couple of years ago and feel good about him as a person. So that reassured me that maybe everything would be OK.
Then Kellyanne Conway became Trump’s campaign manager. I thought, “Finally, a woman is in charge! Maybe now Trump is going to apologize, and he’s going to do the things that need to be done to right the ship.” The first week with Conway in charge showed me that perhaps things were getting better.
I worked at the Iowa State Fair GOP booth on the day Mike Pence visited the Iowa State Fair. I was asked repeatedly by a staffer to wear a Trump – Pence shirt instead of my IowaFRW shirt for his arrival. After about eight times of being reminded, I put the Trump – Pence t-shirt on. I admit, it felt weird. But I thought, “If I’m going to be a team player, I have to be all in. I can do this.”
The overall response from fair goers at the fair booth was good. Toward the end of the night though, a few women came up to me and asked how I could support Trump after all of the terrible things he had said about women. I didn’t have an answer, and so in true Trump fashion, I attacked Hillary. After they walked away, I asked a couple of other people at the booth what they would’ve done. They said that I could always bring it back to the Supreme Court and electing someone who will appoint conservative justices. And I thought perhaps that was a good argument to make.
Then the debates were coming up and I thought, “OK, Hillary is going to throw everything at Trump. Here is his chance to really reset for the general.” And during the first debate, when Trump asked Hillary how she wanted to be addressed, and then said he wanted to make her happy, I was on my last thread. He was continuing his sexist behavior, right there in front of my eyes.
Still, I was hanging on, if only by a thread. It was down to a day by day roller coaster. One day, I would say that I could jump on board the Trump Train. And then the next day, I would realize there was no way I could be a team player any longer.
So when Mike Pence gave a solid debate performance, I was back on a high. Only 35 days to go. I could do this. Yes, I still had those nagging feelings. But once again, I thought, Trump is going to get better. He still has time to show us he is worthy of our party’s nomination. The first presidential debate was a warm up. Kellyanne will kick him in the rear for the next one.
And then the tapes. Ugh. I could not even process all of that for a good 24 hours. I was immediately angry. I was angry at Trump, but I was even more angry with myself. It should have been no surprise, given everything else we have been shown about Donald Trump. Nonetheless, it shocked me. I was sick to my stomach and could not see straight. Luckily it was the end of the work day, so when it was time to leave the office, I decompressed in my car for about an hour, grabbed some coffee, and wandered through a book store before driving home.
This was the final straw. I had finally taken all I could. Then I saw how people were responding on social media. I was proud of our elected officials who stood up against him.
At the same time, I was dismayed by so many strong women who were pointing fingers at Hillary and saying at least it’s not as bad as what she has done. Now I find myself making similar judgments about Trump supporters that those women from the leadership conference made about me when I said that I would support him. Now that it’s personal to me, I don’t see how someone could stand by a candidate who is saying such horrific things about someone like me. So to those women who confronted me during that evening in late May, I apologize and I thank you. I already apologized that night and I told them that it was a tough decision, as I was still struggling with it every day. But now I finally get it.
I ask you this: Who are we if we defend ourselves by saying, “Wow this is horrible, but not as horrible as that over there?” Regardless of your party or your opinions on issues, we need to have candidates who can stand on their own merit and be honorable.
This is also not an isolated incident from a decade ago. This is one of way too many times where Trump has used unacceptable words and actions. That is what makes me so sad for my party.
I should have spoken up long ago. I do not like attention. I did not want to rock the boat. I wanted to honor my commitment in my role for Republican women.
I’m not trying to excuse the multiple chances that I gave to Donald Trump. I am telling you what was going on in my head, right or wrong. I honestly thought at some point we would turn a corner, things would get better, apologies would be made, and it would all be OK.
I was wrong, and it really pains me to have to say these things less than 30 days out from the election. I am not going to talk about any of the Democrat, Independent, Green, or Libertarian Party candidates because this is not about them. This is about who our Republican nominee for President is and what we as Republicans will stand for.
I will work my heart out out for our candidates down the ballot who deserve our support. However, I cannot pretend to support our presidential nominee any longer, and I also cannot be silent. That is why this evening I have submitted my resignation as president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women:

“To the IowaFRW Executive Committee, Board of Directors, and members,

It is with a heavy heart that I submit my resignation as your state president today. Since I cannot support Donald J. Trump for President, nor can I advocate for his election, I feel that I cannot adequately fulfill the duties of my position. While I am still a Republican and plan to work hard for our down ballot GOP candidates, I cannot fulfill our mission ‘To elect Republicans at all levels of government’ with Trump as our party’s nominee.

Additionally, I cannot support the National Federation of Republican Women President Carrie Almond’s statement (http://www.nfrw.org/news-releases-20161010) that was released yesterday on behalf of Republican women nationally, as I do not support Donald J. Trump.

I will do all I can to ensure a smooth transition in leadership, and this is truly a last resort for me. I cannot in good conscience lead this organization or look at myself in the mirror each morning if I do not take a stand against the racism, sexism, and hate that Donald J. Trump continues to promote.”

I am saddened that I even have to make this choice because I want to support all of our Republican candidates. I truly intended to do that when I was elected as president.

However, I am not being true to myself if I don’t speak up and and say something. The first candidate I worked for full-time as paid staff was Elizabeth Dole for President in 1999. Elizabeth Dole ran for president over 16 years ago, and during that campaign we fought a lot of sexism. I vowed that I would always remember the lessons that I learned from that campaign. I can never condone sexism.
I don’t claim to have the moral high ground, and I don’t claim that any of our candidates are perfect. However, there is a clear line that has been stepped across when candidates fuel racism and sexism and the darkest parts of our minds – over, and over, and over again.
I look forward to working diligently for our many fine Republican candidates and issues this year. I will not be advocating for Donald Trump or voting for him.
This is not about being conservative, moderate, liberal, establishment, or anti-establishment. This is about common decency as Americans.
As I mentioned previously, I was immediately outraged when I heard the tape. I made myself wait to respond though. I needed time to process it all, and I wanted to speak rationally. Quite frankly, I have been through so much of a roller coaster already, that I figured another couple of days to engage in a few more conversations and think through things could only help me become more at peace with my decision.
And even during my waiting period between being done with Trump and announcing it, I have been dismayed by Trump. In the same breath as saying he is sorry for what he said on the tape, he continues to defend his words as locker room banter, and then point the finger at the Clintons. During the last debate, he also made the outrageous statement that had he been President, Captain Kahn would still be alive.
So I am ending this bad and unhealthy relationship right now. I am done making excuses. I am done hoping for a change. As Condoleezza Rice so eloquently stated: “Enough!”
And since it is not good to jump into one relationship right after another has ended, I am not going to use this post to speak about whom I may vote for on November 8th. For now, I need to be single and find myself. I will decide in 28 days who I am voting for. Until then, I am going to respect everyone’s opinions and I hope you respect mine.
When I look back on this election years from now, I want to be proud of taking a stand for what I thought was right, even if I cut it a little close on the deadline. Decency transcends party loyalty. I still believe in an America where we can elect decent and honorable people to lead us.

Why we must advocate for the F-35

As of today, my little brother Mitch has been deployed for 108 days.

When his ship departed Norfolk, VA, on November 16th, I felt helpless. The Paris terrorist attacks had just happened the Friday prior, and I know in my heart he was on his way to fight the “bad guys.”

I have been involved in politics since college, and national defense has often been a hot button issue of mine. I feel that my political involvement is doing something to make the world a better place, albeit small compared to what my brother is doing.

In addition to continuing to support candidates who align with my views regarding national defense, I have recently begun to pay attention to the actual issues at hand that directly impact our men and women serving our country. Issue advocacy has a huge impact in our country. While lobbyists get a lot of attention, especially during the recent presidential debates, each of us civilians can have an impact far greater than we realize. Advocacy makes me feel a little less helpless when watching news reports from afar.

An important part of supporting our troops and advocating for them is making sure they are equipped with the necessary tools to perform their work. With military technology continuously innovating at breakneck speed, it is imperative that our aircraft keep pace. There is only one option when it comes to truly top-of-the-line next-generation fighters: the F-35. The F-35C variant, which is intended for the U.S. Navy, the branch in which my brother proudly serves, will be the most advanced aircraft ever designed to specifically conduct aircraft carrier operations.

Each member of our armed services is someone’s brother, sister, son, or daughter. The responsibility rests on our shoulders to do everything in our power to keep these loved ones safe as they lay their lives on the line protecting our way of life. This requires that they have the best technology available and the best tools to accomplish their mission. In terms of aircraft, this can only mean the F-35.

I hope those we have elected to serve our state in Washington, D.C. join me in supporting our military and advanced technology like the F-35. In addition to this being an incredible tool for our military, it is also partly manufactured at Rockwell Collins, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This is a win-win scenario for national defense abroad and jobs here at home.

I am proud that U.S. Senator Joni Ernst supports the F-35 aircraft and the safety of our brave troops, including my little brother. I encourage everyone to advocate for this important aircraft being added to our nation’s weaponry.

With our troops, their friends, and families sacrificing so much for freedom, it seems to me to be a relatively small request to provide our armed forces with the most state-of-the-art equipment and weaponry.

Please join me in advocating for the F-35 aircraft, and thank you to the men and women who are serving our country.

Top Ten reasons why living in the first in the nation caucus state is awesome

1. An extended family

Wherever I go, I have political family. Everyone who is anyone in politics cuts their teeth in Iowa. We see each other at our best and worst. We have yelled at one another, divulged our deepest secrets, and formed a mafia-like bond.

2. Political boot camp

Want to be a big deal in politics? You have to come to Iowa. Our activists and staff are a tough crowd. We don’t care where you come from. You are expected to work 85+ hours a week and like it. This work is not glamorous: making phone calls, knocking on doors, ensuring event signs are placed properly and never fall down, signing up event attendees before you let them out the door, running to get food for national staff, etc.

3. Meeting presidents (and candidates) before they are a big deal

If you live in Iowa and have not shaken a president’s hand, it really is your own fault. Candidates visit multiple times in a variety of venues. Insider trick: Go see them before they officially throw a hat into the ring. It’s much easier to get a handshake and photo without a gaggle of press closing in.

4. A nobody can succeed

I volunteered on my first campaign while at Simpson College. While my family is informed and votes, no one else has volunteered on a campaign or tried to make a living in the political world. In Iowa, you are given a fair shake as a kid who has no idea what she is getting herself into. Work hard, be loyal, and use your head. That’s what it takes in Iowa.

5. Everyone is a TV star

With national and international media everywhere, if you participate in this process, you are likely to get in a camera shot at one time or another.

6. People care about your opinions

Reporters are dying to know what we are thinking. Friends from across the country reach out seemingly out of the blue.

7. A full mailbox

Ever get disappointed when you check your mailbox, and nothing is there? Never an issue during caucus season in Iowa! As a political nerd, I even keep a few of my favorites as souvenirs. (Photo above courtesy of Marlys Popma.)

8. TV ads

While we all get tired of these ads, they are a sneak peek into the oppo research underway for the general election. Once again, this might be a good thing for us political nerds only.

9. Crossing things off of your bucket list

Being on the Today Show (simply in the crowd outside) has been on my bucket list since grade school. Did I mention I am a nerd? 😉 Tomorrow I will likely cross this off my list if everything goes as planned.

10. People (kids too!) are inspired

With all of the above going on, those Iowans who have never participated in the process often think twice about it every four years. Just this year, I have several friends who are likely to caucus for the very first time. I also get to involve friends and family in many of the cool things listed above. We in Iowa have a voice before the field is narrowed. How cool is that?!

My new adventure in politics

As of January 1, 2016, I am on a new adventure. I am serving as President of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women through the end of 2017. Having been involved with the organization on and off since age 19, I never thought I would step into the president’s role. I have always been involved in politics in some way, and others saw it coming long before I did. I always pushed it off with a, “No, that’s not for me.” or “I will help in other ways.”

When the nominating committee chair called me last year, I tried to tell her all of the reasons I should not be president: I work full time, I am sometimes involved in primaries with my day job (also in politics!), I like to challenge the process a bit too much at times, I would have high expectations for achievement, I haven’t always been the most tactful with people in the past (working on this!), etc. None of this dissuaded the nominating committee.

Then I learned who my potential teammates on the executive committee would be. I was sold. They are an amazing group of women. So I said yes.

Still, I worried. Did they really know what they were getting into? No, seriously! I’d like to think I have mad political organizing skills, but I am human and thus, not perfect.

When working behind the scenes, imperfections can be easily overlooked. When being the one front and center, they are often magnified. Don’t get me wrong: I am a confident person. In fact, Self Assurance is number four on my Strengths Finder 2.0 Assessment. But even confident people worry about doing the right thing.

And this is about so much more than me. It’s about an organization that is tied to local, state, and national level organizations. Our mission is to elect Republicans, and we have a huge election in 2016. I wanted to do the role justice.

I was elected on October 17, 2015, and then I had October 17 – December 31, 2015, to navigate the transition between President Elect and President. During this time, I decided that I would do three things to be the best leader possible:

1. Communicate openly.

2. Be authentic.

3. Work my heart out and leave everything on the field.

On New Year’s Day 2016, I sent the following email to our IowaFRW members and friends:

I hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season and take a little bit of time to rest up for our busy year ahead.

Thank you for all you have done, are doing, and will do to spread our message, sign up new members, and help elect Republicans.

We have a lot to be proud of! Let me ask you this: What do the first female Iowa Senate President Mary Kramer, the first female Iowa Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, the first female Iowa Auditor of State Mary Mosiman, and the first female U.S. Senator from Iowa Joni Ernst all have in common?

They are all Republican Women! “Republican War on Women,” my foot!

We are the party of women’s suffragists and abolitionists. We are the party who lifts people up because we know a hand up is much more respectful and sustaining than a hand out.

We can hold our heads high going into 2016 because we are doing good work.

And yet, we have so much good work to do. Our job is never done.

We must sign up new members, engage our members, and implement an aggressive ground game to turn Iowa red in 2016.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the youngest woman elected to Congress, recently commented on her new role within the Republican party and on the Hill in D.C. She stressed that we need to be authentic, citing how she wears patterned tights instead of traditional panty hose from time to time. She also has her own way of connecting with constituents that is unique to her.

We each bring our own uniqueness to the table. I have been told more than once that I do not look or dress like a Republican (whatever that means!). We are a diverse group of women, and we are leaders in our communities. You are who you are everywhere, so always be recruiting women and men to join us.

I signed up to join the Iowa Federation of Republican Women in Mardelle Helmke’s living room in Humboldt, Iowa. The year was 1999, and I was a campaign staffer working for Elizabeth Dole for President. The IowaFRW President at the time, Deb Foster, cornered me in that living room and would not let me leave until I filled out a membership form. I gave her every excuse, including that I didn’t have time, and you know what? She said, “That’s OK. Just join and do what you can.”

You do not need to be President of IowaFRW to recruit new members. And you don’t need to be at a political event to ask someone about joining us. I need each and every one of you. Our country needs all of us.

Take a risk. Pour your heart and soul into our cause. You will not be disappointed. Our Republican candidates are all so much better than the alternative.

My challenge to you for 2016: Familiarize yourself with our IowaFRW 2016 Goals and do one thing you have not done before to help elect Republicans.

We must provide value in addition to being present. Too much is at stake to simply do what we’ve always done in the past.

In the words of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Let’s “Work hard, have fun, make history.”

I look forward to meeting or re-connecting with you during my travels. Let’s do this!

Melissa Gesing
Your 2016–2017 President
Iowa Federation of Republican
Phone: 563.506.3826
Email:
melissa@iowafrw.org
Twitter:
@melissagesing

So, here it goes! I’m on Day 19 in my role. I have already experienced a few successes and survived a few mistakes. Guess what? I’m still standing and more energized than ever.