King Freedom Summit: Presidential Pre-Game Warmup
Frequently panned by the liberal media and the GOP establishment, who are increasingly on the same side these days in case you haven’t noticed, it turns out Iowa Congressman Steve King is swinging a pretty big stick.
He was the first veteran conservative to publicly declare he wouldn’t vote for John Boehner as Speaker, and that vote came closer to ousting Boehner than any of the so-called “experts” had predicted.
Then came Saturday’s Iowa Freedom Summit, hosted by King in downtown Des Moines. Billed as the kickoff to Iowa’s 2016 first-in-the-nation caucuses, the event did not disappoint. Backed by the full weight of Citizens United, the event drew live all day coverage on C-SPAN, a horde of national media, a house full of eager activists, and a who’s who of speakers. Many of them angling to be the Republican Party’s next presidential nominee.
Most of the speakers went out of their way to praise King, and those considering a White House run made it clear how much they admire him and want his support for their candidacy. King has been hesitant in the past to put the full weight of his cache into an Iowa Caucus candidate. However, the sheer size and scope of this event – plus the revelation that Texas Senator Ted Cruz would be King’s guest of honor at a fundraiser afterwards – may hint that will change this time.
Should that be the case, King would instantly join conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats as the two most coveted endorsements of the caucuses. A candidate who could secure both of those endorsements would be almost impossible to beat. Nobody has more street cred with conservatives statewide than those two, and conservatives dominate turnout in the Iowa Caucuses.
Where Things Stand At the Moment
This is my big-picture analysis based on sources and observations.
Dr. Ben Carson’s support is underrated. He attracts people who have given up on the political process, but are inspired by his life story and accomplishments. He already has a credible organizational presence on the ground in Iowa. He may be the best chance to create a new coalition.
Senator Rand Paul’s support is overrated and nowhere near what his dad had. In fact, the lack of clarity Rand has provided on numerous issues (see here) has his base in a bit of disarray at the moment. Several 2012 Ron Paul supporters I know are either disillusioned and/or openly contemplating signing up with Ted Cruz.
Speaking of Senator Cruz, if the Caucuses were today, I believe he would win. On Saturday, he gave one of the best political speeches I’ve ever seen in person. He was already the top choice of most of the activists going in as it is, and right now is probably the best chance to recreate the Reagan coalition. However, the caucuses are not today. They’re more than a year from now, and Cruz still needs to build the organization it takes to translate energy into votes when it counts.
Several governing conservatives (those in elected office or aspiring to) seem to be leaning towards Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as someone who has “done something”; specifically, his impressive victory over the government sector unionistas. If Cruz is the favorite of the activists, Walker seems to be this group’s favorite.
My Take as a Conservative Voter
Setting aside the objective analysis I get paid to do, here’s my one-sentence first impressions of the 2016 GOP presidential field in alphabetical order:
Jeb Bush: If your goal is to see just how low voter turnout can go in 2016, particularly among millennials, this is your man.
Ben Carson: Back when we were kids before we became cynical, this is the type of guy you always envisioned should grow up to become president.
Chris Christie: Might have better luck trying out for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
Ted Cruz: He’s “the Natural,” the Roy Hobbs of the conservative movement, but he now must prove he’s ready to lead.
Carly Fiorina: I was impressed with her ability to articulate where she stands when I spoke with her.
Jim Gilmore: Has a presidential resume, but needs more of a presidential presence to stand out in this field.
Mike Huckabee: No one communicates more effectively, which is vitally important, but he has serious inroads to make with folks who believe in limited government.
Bobby Jindal: He’s starting to come into his own and showing the moral clarity of a president.
John Kasich: Conservatives rightfully have reservations, but when a guy gets over 60% of the vote statewide in Ohio, he deserves a chance to make his case.
Sarah Palin: I’ll believe she’s a serious candidate when I see it.
Rand Paul: Great senator, but as a presidential candidate, he gives us everything we didn’t like about his dad and none of the stuff we did.
Mike Pence: If Richard Viguerie thinks you’re presidential material, I’m at least willing to listen.
Rick Perry: Has a tremendous success story to sell, but doesn’t come across as the right salesman to sell it.
Mitt Romney: I might cut myself for even having to include him in this list.
Marco Rubio: Too good to write off permanently, but 2016 is too soon for many of us to forget his egregious unforced error with the “gang of 8.”
Rick Santorum: One of my favorite “dudes” but I don’t know where he fits in against much stiffer competition this time.
Donald Trump: I want him to run, if for no other reason than he has the cojones to say what needs to be said to the country.
Scott Walker: Impresses when he discusses his resume, but resorts to clichés when discussing a broader base of issues.
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