Iowa was the place to be this weekend if you wanted a front row seat to judge many of the Republican presidential hopefuls in 2016.
The Freedom Summit hosted by Iowa Conservative Representative Steve King (4th District) was a Who’s Who of GOP elite—23 scheduled speakers including eight aspirants to the White House. C-SPAN covered the day-long event.
As expected, many touched on the usual topics that resonate with Republican leaders—religion, abortion, and immigration. Despite recent polls that show for most Americans neither religion nor abortion rates high among national concerns. Only immigration seems to register.
Representative King suggested that the next president might be among the 23 persons scheduled to speak yesterday. If so, what do we want in the next president and did we see signs of it?
Dr. Ben Carson is a former neurosurgeon and first person to separate conjoined twins connected at the head. His life story is inspiring, but his applicable administrative and political experience are not clear.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is hoping for renewed traction after his early presidential ambitions were stalled during the George Washington Bridge scandal two years ago. Furthermore, his most public appearances have been hobnobbing with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. His poor choices in traffic management and football teams should give us pause.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is the darling of the GOP conservative wing. He has impressive academic credentials, but his position on many issues and his theatrics since coming to the U.S. Senate, make us question his willingness to compromise. He seems more focused on running for president than building a strong senate record. And his administrative credentials appear weak.
Gov. Mike Huckabee is former Arkansas governor and most recently commentator on FOX News. His ties to Iowa date back to his Republican victory in the Precinct Caucuses of 2008. A man of strong religious faith and an experienced state administrator, he enjoys wide conservative support.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry will have to overcome the suspicion that he’s not a competitive candidate given his disappointing performance in GOP debates four years ago and his much-ridiculed memory lapse. His administrative background in a state with good economic health, however, is a plus.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum captured Iowa’s GOP caucus four years ago, but his popularity has declined since. He failed to generate enthusiasm among other voters during the 2012 GOP primary debates and it’s unclear that he’s done anything in the past three years to change that perception.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may be a surprise. Although lacking the name recognition of some other Republican contenders, his successful election to two terms—and defeating a recall challenge—projects the image of a state executive who is not afraid to make strong decisions.
Carly Fiorina has impressive domestic and international business credentials as former CEO of Hewlett Packard but she is unknown among many Iowa voters. She’s the sole female presidential hopeful among prominent Republicans at the moment. Fiorina used her speech in Iowa yesterday to attack Hillary Clinton’s record. But is either the GOP or America ready for a two-woman presidential campaign in 2016?
Visits to and speeches in Iowa receive far more media attention than they deserve. But Iowa is a must stop for most presidential hopefuls—especially the relatively unknown trying to capture the attention and support of a handful of voters.
Absent from the summit yesterday, however, were prominent potential candidates Governors Jeb Bush (FL), Mitt Romney (MA), Bobby Jindal (LA) as well as Senators Marco Rubio (FL) and Rand Paul (KY). They wisely sidestepped the pothole of appealing to an Iowa conservative electorate rather than to more moderate voters the candidates will need for the national campaign. Promises at the Iowa Freedom Summit could haunt them.
I want a president who has a strong record as a leader either in business or politics. Someone who has demonstrated successful management in the private sector or as a state governor. I also want someone who is neither chained to rigid ideology nor constrained by commitments to narrow interests.
After listening to those who attended and spoke yesterday at the Iowa Freedom Summit, I’m not sure I saw America’s next president. Or at least not the candidate whom I could vote for.
But the campaign has just begun and I’ll wait for others to make their case.