The event overall
The Iowa Freedom Summit, a joint venture between Congressman Steve King and Citizens United, was a success before one candidate took the stage on Saturday. The nine-hour long event featured a number of high profile 2016 presidential candidates and attracted over 1,000 attendees and over a hundreds and fifty credentialed media. The event was viewed my many as the official kickoff of the 2016 presidential race in Iowa.
While the event was a success politically, it could have been even better. The main issue was the venue, a 1920’s auditorium that lacks modern bathroom facilities and common space to accommodate a large crowd over the course of an entire day. The venue is suitable for plays and shows that last only a few hours, not an all day conference.
The program was also a problem. While the event began at 9 a.m., the first potential 2016 candidate didn’t take the stage until almost 11:30. A total of 23 speakers took to the stage, and all of them were given 20 minutes to speak. Had they given the speakers 15 minutes to make their case, they could have shaved almost two hours off the event. Citizens United’s David Bossie didn’t help matters either by offering lengthy introductions.
Despite the issues, the event was nothing short of a success. King and Citizens United have to be happy with the turnout and the number of high-profile Republicans who attended. If they plan to host a similar event in the future, they would be wise to either make it a two-day affair or limit the number of speakers to only those who are serious presidential contenders, and they should also find a modern venue that can handle a large crowd.
– Craig Robinson
The brainchild of Congressman Steve King, this event lured many of the most prominent Republicans in the country to Iowa, with a throng of national media in tow. There is no doubt it was a high profile affair that is being viewed as the official kickoff to the 2016 Iowa Caucus season.
Overall, because of the amount of big name speakers on hand, enormous media attention and the potential impact on the Iowa Caucuses, the first Iowa Freedom Summit was a success. However, it was not without issues.
The venue, chosen by co-sponsor Citizens United, was subpar. Hoyt Sherman Place is great for film screenings and plays. It’s terrible for any kind of all-day event, especially one with as many attendees as this one. There was not sufficient space for the media, for parking or for people needing to use the restroom.
There was also a very large waiting list of people wanting to attend the event. They were shut out due to the severe lack of space. There are plenty of venues around central Iowa that could have accommodated everyone.
I also think organizers should have tinkered with the format to allow for panel discussions and things other than almost 9 ½ hours of nothing but speeches. Keeping the speakers within their allotted 20-minute time limit would have helped as well.
The Top Three
1. Scott Walker
Walker set the bar high for the potential 2016 presidential candidates with his speech right before the lunch break. Walker, dressed in button-down shirt, tie, and rolled up sleeves, sent a clear message with his remarks that, despite the hostile political climate in Wisconsin, he was able to bring big change to his state.
Walker’s record of conservative accomplishments was a known strength coming into the event. The big question mark was his ability to fire up Iowa activists who are looking for someone to get them excited. The Wisconsin Governor easily cleared that hurdle. In addition to promoting his record of accomplishments, Walker talked about the recall election and what he and his family have had to endure. It was a nod to the audience that his mettle been tested, and despite all the scrutiny, he was still able to accomplish major reforms in his state.
A funny story about his experience at Kohl’s department store also hit an appropriate tone as it communicated that he is just like your typical Iowan. It was abundantly clear that Walker has more in common with regular Iowans than some of his opponents who are worth millions of dollars.
While the event was billed as the kickoff to the Iowa Caucuses, Walker used it as his own coming out party. Nobody had a better day in Iowa than Walker.
I believe Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stole the show. Out of all the speakers, Walker’s stood out the most and helped his presidential aspirations the most.
Walker was smart to lay out his amazing list of accomplishments: Voter ID, defunding Planned Parenthood, rejecting Obamacare, reforming the stage budget, etc. He also recounted the price he has paid as a conservative warrior. It includes death threats on himself and his family.
Perhaps more than anything, Walker’s delivery helped him the most. He is not known for being a great orator, but that image has quickly changed. Walker’s speech was fiery, it was uplifting and it resonated. The one candidate who improved his chances of winning Iowa the most was Scott Walker.
2. Ted Cruz
From the minute he was introduced, Senator Ted Cruz had the audience eating out of the palm of his had. The event was tailor-made for Cruz because his ideology is identical to Congressman King’s. Cruz staked out his turf in the 2016 presidential race by making it clear that he is the conservative warrior that people are looking for. Cruz’s presence in the race is problematic for other social conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Cruz also made a play for support from the more libertarian leaning Republicans when he sat down with Liberty Iowa supporters at a nearby hotel.
The Texas senator is already wildly popular with Iowa conservatives. That was obvious from the huge ovation Cruz received when he was introduced. Cruz’ frequent visits to Iowa over the past year and a half, coupled with his penchant to be a fighter have endeared him to likely Iowa Caucusgoers.
Cruz did not disappoint his fans with his speech, either. He was full of fire and delivered a healthy dose of conservative red meat. He was also smart to remind the crowd that he has a strong record of fighting for the issues they hold dear.
Cruz basically challenged the rest of the field to prove they will fight for issues like he has, such as repealing Obamacare, rejecting Common Core, etc. The crowd loved Cruz and he solidified his status as a top contender for the 2016 Iowa Caucus.
3. Carly Fiorina
One would be hard pressed to find a potential 2016 candidate who helped himself or herself more than Carly Fiorina did. Fiorina’s activities in Iowa have been flying under the radar, but she’s made some very shrewd moves. Her speech on Saturday accomplished a couple things. One, she made it known that she’s a conservative. Two, she made it known that she’s a legitimate presidential candidate. I figured she would impress, but I was surprised how well the audience received her.
The former Hewlett Packard CEO narrowly ekes out a third place finish, in my opinion. Carly Fiorina has not spent a lot of time in Iowa and most attendees were likely hearing her speak in person for the first time. That unfamiliarity quickly turned to appreciation.
Fiorina electrified the crowd toward the end of her speech. It built to that climactic finish with an excoriation of pro-abortionists, liberal hypocrites and ineffective GOP leaders. Fiorina concluded with a devastating rip of likely Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Like Hillary Clinton, I too have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe,” she said. “But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”
Those lines resulted in perhaps the biggest crowd eruption of the entire day. The GOP field needs a credible female candidate that can confront Hillary. I think we found her on Saturday.
The others (alphabetically)
The former U.N. ambassador, as expected, focused his entire speech on national security and foreign policy. Unfortunately for John Bolton, he immediately followed Newt Gingrich, who focused on the exact same issues. Newt is masterful at explaining complex issues. Bolton’s speech was interesting, but was largely an afterthought that was overshadowed by the other speakers.
It was abundantly clear on Saturday that Iowa Republicans are eager to hear what Dr. Carson has to say. The audience keyed into every word that came out of his mouth. His speech was more conversational than others. It’s clear he has tremendous potential, but I wonder how he will hold up when the race requires him to respond to and critique his opponents.
The crowd loved Ben Carson. It is a reaction that continues to play out with every visit here. Carson is not a fiery speaker. In fact, he’s the exact opposite. Very low key, very soft spoken. Yet, Carson connects.
Dr. Carson was given a huge ovation when he finished. His remarkable personal story, mixed with a genuineness and good sense of humor help Ben Carson appeal to people. His rejection of political correctness is also greatly appreciated.
Carson might have been hurt by being the first of many possible presidential contenders to take the stage on Saturday. His speech might have been largely forgotten at the end of the daylong event. I think Dr. Carson helped himself Saturday, but not as much as Walker, Cruz and Fiorina did. Still, he remains a force to be reckoned with in Iowa.
The New Jersey governor knows he has a lot of work to do to appeal to Iowa conservatives. Chris Christie’s speech was tailored for that purpose. He stressed his close ties with Congressman King, his pro-life beliefs and his penchant for bluntness. Christie vowed to always be upfront and honest with Iowans. They will appreciate that.
An illegal immigration protester inadvertently helped Christie by interrupting his speech. The crowd automatically sided with Christie and that protestor bolstered the New Jersey governor’s immigration stance in the eyes of conservatives.
I think Christie helped his candidacy a little. He still has a long way to go to prove himself to conservatives. Saturday was a good start.
The classic Huckabee charm and charisma were on display on Saturday, but that’s a given. What surprised me was what Huckabee seemed to want to accomplish with his speech. Huckabee called on Republicans to stop spending their time attacking each other, and he then went on to clarify his position on Common Core education standards. Like the other candidates who have sought the Republican nomination for President before, Huckabee was outdone by the newer faces that are now contemplating a presidential run.
The 2008 Iowa Caucus winner was the last speaker of a very long day. Mike Huckabee is still beloved by many Iowa conservatives, so the audience responded well. However, Huckabee’s anecdotal style of speechmaking hinders him in this format, I believe.
He delivered a good speech, as usual, and the crowd agreed with what he was saying, but he did not delivered it in a style that makes you want to run through a brick wall for him. Others did. Huckabee was outshined by more than one speaker. His candidacy cannot afford many of those instances.
I thought Palin’s speech seemed out of place at the Iowa Freedom Summit. In the midst of all these serious speeches, it was like we took a commercial break for something more lighthearted and less important. Now don’t get me wrong, Palin had a few good lines, and there were plenty of people in the audience who seemed to appreciate what she had to offer on Saturday. I just thought her speech was really long and lacked any sort of cohesive message or theme.
This was the worst speech I’ve heard Sarah Palin deliver. She’s made several visits to Iowa since 2008 and those speeches were generally good. This one was not. It was disjointed, her delivery was grating and it was way, way too long. Palin delivered the longest speech of the day, by far, abusing the 20-minute time limit.
Rick Perry is another Republican governor with a long list of accomplishments to brag about. When Perry entered the 2012 race, he filled a void, but now he has completion for that space from Walker and maybe others. Much has been made of Perry’s lackluster performance in 2012. Delivery wasn’t a problem on Saturday, but like the others who ran in 2012, he needs to find a way to standout in a much more crowded and formidable field of candidates.
The Texas governor continued his string of solid speeches in Iowa. Rick Perry is vastly improved from his 2012 run. His speech connected with the audience.
Perry was rudely interrupted by a group of illegal immigration protestors, who were then shouted down by the crowd. The protestors wound up helping Perry because the entire audience rallied to his side. Perry ignored the interruption and continued with his speech. He did well.
Santorum’s speech in Iowa on Saturday began exactly where he left things on caucus night when he spoke about kneeling by his grandfather’s casket and looking at his hands. Santorum, who is mostly identified as a strong social conservative, continued to focus on the populist theme that carried his campaign once the 2012 race moved on from Iowa. Santorum’s speech focused largely on the issue of immigration, but he tied it in with his blue-collar jobs theme. His speech was loaded with good content, but it didn’t make for a speech that revved up a conservative crowd hungry for red meat.
This is not the Rick Santorum of 2011-12. Long before he rose to the top of the Iowa polls, Santorum’s speeches at multi-candidate events stood out. Not able to match the oratory skills of some of his competitors, Santorum often struck a more somber tone, talking about the personal and political battles he has waged. Those speeches connected and helped him slowly build his long shot candidacy into a winning effort in Iowa.
Instead, Santorum continued with the mantra he has used over the past year, focusing on the GOP’s need to reach out to the American worker. He is absolutely right, but Santorum’s speech was no different from what we have heard before from him and he did little to stand out amongst the 29 other speeches we heard.
Santorum, like Mike Huckabee, needs to step up his game if he wants to win Iowa again.
Trump’s remarks about how Mitt Romney choked in 2012 and how the last thing the country needs in another Bush in the White House have gotten the most attention. It’s easy to understand why, but during the first portion of his speech, I thought Trump actually sounded like a presidential candidate. If Trump is serious about running for president, and his itinerary suggests that he is, he’s going to have to find a way to make the media take him seriously. Some people complain that people like Trump are allowed to participate in these events. Let me just say I don’t think the inclusion of Trump was the problem on Saturday.
No one was more blunt Saturday than Donald Trump. The real estate mogul told it exactly the way he sees it and in large part, exactly how most of the crowd sees it. He eviscerated President Obama. He shamed Republicans for not doing more to keep Obama in check.
Most notably, Trump ripped national GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, saying neither would win, in less than polite terms. Trump also made a laundry list of promises if he became president. It was basically a top 10 list of conservative wishes. The crowd liked it, but I suspect most attendees are skeptical that Trump is serious about running.