Things always look different on Monday morning. That’s when you actually remember the weekend. You might have a new large and regrettable tattoo to jog your memory, which will be hard to explain, probably not. Still, the weekend was great, wasn’t it? You were brilliant, or smooth and suave, or sexy as hell, or you were a real mensch – everyone loved you – but none of that might be so, or so it seems now. What did you really say? What did you really do? Maybe it didn’t amount to much after all, unless the police are now knocking on your door, or Entertainment Tonight has sent a crew over to interview you, or Harvard University Press is offering you a book deal, and the Pope just called. He wants your advice.
No, that doesn’t happen. The weekend was what it was, and Monday morning there are regrets, or those who tell you that you should regret a few things, because they were there too. That’s the Monday the Republicans faced, after a wild weekend in Iowa. Robert Leonard was there and sets the scene:
The Republican kickoff event to the 2016 Iowa Caucuses was held at the palatial Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines on Saturday, and by all attendee accounts, it was splendid. Hosted by the conservative group Citizens United and Iowa’s controversial anti-immigration Representative Steve King, the event was a brilliant power grab by King and David Bossie of Citizens United to help orchestrate the outcome of the Iowa caucuses. The outcome they want? A strong anti-establishment Republican Tea Party candidate.
This was a great weekend for this crowd:
A list of the big dogs at the event shows how deep the potential Republican bench is for the 2016 presidential election: Jim DeMint, Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Newt Gingrich, Mike Lee (who declared he wasn’t running), Rick Santorum, Marsha Blackburn, John Bolton, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, and Mike Huckabee. Add lesser knowns, to Iowans anyway, like former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, Jeff Duncan a Congressman from South Carolina, and New Hampshire State Representative Bill O’Brien.
Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Rand Paul didn’t show up, for various reasons. Jindal said he had a conflict, but it may be that the others weren’t even invited:
King was clear that the list of those absent are second, even third string in his mind. At the beginning of the Summit he asked the crowd “Do you believe that the next President of the United States is going to be speaking to you today?” The crowd of over 1,250 roared and applauded. Nine hours later, with the crowd only diminished by a few hundred, he asked, and I paraphrase, “Do you believe that the next President of the United States spoke with you today?” This roar and applause was even louder than the first time he asked the question, and from my vantage point in the balcony, only two people in the audience were not applauding.
This was the anti-establishment crowd, the real conservatives, as they fashion themselves, and the host made that clear:
King’s question was cleverly posed. It leaves Bush, Romney, Paul, Jindal, and Rubio as also-rans when the race is just beginning. Of course, Iowa Republicans, not King, will decide who the caucus winner is, but have no doubt that King will play a significant role in shaping this race.
Things have changed in Iowa. This is no place for squishy Republicans:
King has been a Tea Party favorite nearly as long as there has been a Tea Party. Now, with the retirement of Tom Harkin, he’s been joined by another Tea Party Senator Joni Ernst, who easily beat what appeared to be Harkin’s heir apparent, Bruce Braley. As all of America knows, Joni Ernst’s campaign was based on her conservative principles, her service to our country, motherhood and her experience castrating hogs.
With Ernst in the mix for the next election, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party will exert considerable influence in Iowa.
And Iowa is where everything is decided, or where the insufficiently pure hang their heads in shame and are never heard from again, and that’s what this was about:
The Republican Party has, to its great benefit or detriment, two tricksters – Donald Trump and Sarah Palin. They revel in playing tricks, disobeying rules, and conventional behavior.
Donald Trump, coyote, delivered a knockout punch to both Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush in front of the Tea Party crowd by saying things many of the other candidates likely wouldn’t because of social conventions. He took out Romney when he said “It can’t be Mitt because Mitt ran and failed.” Here I paraphrase, “Like him, dislike him, the 47% won’t go away, Romneycare won’t go away. He choked.”
Jeb Bush went down too. Again, paraphrasing, Trump said: “You can’t have Romney, you can’t have Bush, and the last thing we need is another Bush. He’s totally in favor of common core. Weak on immigration.”
The crowd loved it.
It’s going to be a long two years, and we all know what the issues will now be:
Obama. Obamacare, Hillary, Democrats, ISIS and other radical radicals, Harvard, “illegal immigrants,” the EPA, the IRS, Common Core, Big Government, the NSA, Public Schools, Teacher Unions, the National debt, Union bosses, crony capitalists, RINOs, the Republican establishment, excessive rules and regulations, moderates, pro-choice advocates, and the media are all enemies. With respect to the media, especially ABC, CBS, NBC, and MSNBC drew fire. Fox News escaped all criticism, so they must be doing something “right” – which of course suggests a different problem most of us are already familiar with.
Congressman Marsha Blackburn was most explicit. ABC is “All ‘Bout Clinton,” NBC is “Nutin’ But Clinton,” CNN is the “Clinton News Network.” And finally, since only coyotes Palin and Trump can swear publicly, she implied that CBS is the “Clinton Bull Shit” network.
Interestingly, some traditional Democratic enemies were appropriated. DeMint started it, suggesting Wall Street, big banks, and some big corporations can be added to the enemies list. He also suggested that Republicans were the true progressives.
Cool – but no one knew what he was talking about – and he wasn’t one of the big winners, while others were:
Let’s start with Ted Cruz. The audience was mesmerized by Cruz, and his performance was exceptional. He appeared passionate, thoughtful, had a great origin story, stressed his Christian faith (very important to this crowd) and was clearly ready to take on the world and restore America. The best orator of the group, he was smooth – performance-wise, the Bill Clinton of the Republican world.
Dr. Ben Carson was also a success. He told a great life story about how he survived serious hardships, and shared his faith. With respect to immigration he wants to incorporate a guest worker program modeled on the Canadian one. That’s a guest worker program for jobs Americans don’t want to do, seal the border, and accept applications only from applicants who are outside of our borders.
Scott Walker surprised me, and the members of the audience I spoke with as well. On television he often seems flat, tired, and disengaged. Not on the Freedom Summit stage. To Democrats he must seem flawed, given the challenges he had in Wisconsin, and the recall effort. That’s a mistake. He was dynamic, and clearly established himself as a top contender.
Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have already established their credibility in Iowa, so they’ll always be contenders. …
One woman I spoke with loved Rick Perry. Said he was “on fire!” Perry’s speech was a barn burner. It was interrupted by a group of perhaps eight young protesters from the DREAM Action Coalition who interrupted the speech yelling out, asking Perry if he would deport them and their families if he became president. Their blue signs read “Deportable?”
They were politely removed from the audience, as the crowd cheered and applauded, drowning them out while Perry continued with renewed energy.
An additional protester interrupted Chris Christie, who said “Don’t they know I’m from New Jersey?” drawing laughs from the audience. The big bully Chris Christie I see so often on the news wasn’t there Saturday. Instead, Iowans saw a thoughtful, warm, apparently generous man who showed that he may fit in just fine with Iowans. …
Carly Fiorina, the former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard also stood out. Taking on Hillary, she said “Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. Unlike her, I have actually accomplished something.” This line, and the applause that followed, riled the crowd.
And no one else mattered, and Roger Simon at Politico said the GOP clown car ran into a ditch:
With nearly two dozen possible presidential candidates, the GOP is having a seriousness deficit. There can’t possibly be that many people who are real candidates.
But they can ride in the clown car from event to event, and nobody can stop them. …
As it turned out, clown car candidates are not necessarily funny. Since they have nothing to lose, they can attack their fellow Republicans with abandon.
Usually they attack from the right, which can force the eventual nominee farther to the right than the nominee wants to go. This risks losing moderate voters in the general election.
This was not a concern at the Freedom Summit, however – the farther to the right, the better.
Simon was not impressed:
It was a classic cattle call, with speaker after speaker pandering to the crowd. Sometimes, however, pandering was not enough.
In the circus, the worse thing clowns lob is confetti. In the political circus, the clowns lob grenades. Verbal, to be sure, but they still can be deadly.
Bill O’Brien, a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, told the crowd: “I don’t know what is worse, nominating someone because he has been nominated once before (i.e., Mitt Romney) or someone who endorses Common Core (i.e., Jeb Bush). Are we going to nominate one of them?”
The audience bellowed: “Noooooo!”
It was a wild weekend, with stuff like this:
Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, told the crowd, “Don’t worry about being called mean. Let’s talk about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is the second most influential person in her own household. I would say Hillary Clinton has the wrong vision for America, but I don’t know what it is.”
That quip may not sound so cool on Monday morning, and then there was the headliner:
Sarah Palin, who has been teasing the press with hints she might actually run for president, appeared to end much hope of that Saturday by delivering a 33-minute speech of such incoherence that even veteran Palin-watchers were puzzled.
Some sample lines from Palin:
“Screw the left and Hollywood!”
“Coronation, rinse, repeat.”
Obama “is so over it. America, he’s just not that into you.”
“The man can only ride you when your back is bent.”
I would provide some context, but there wasn’t any. It is possible she was improperly inflated. In the clown car, you have to check for that regularly.
There’s more on the odd details of that odd speech here – and even her 2008 defenders turned on her – and there was this:
On Saturday evening following Palin’s speech, the DNC issued a short statement responding to her speech.
“Thank you!” DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee said in the statement.
That probably didn’t exactly make her Monday morning, nor did this:
“Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said on Monday morning that Sarah Palin’s rambling speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit was “a tragedy,” marveling at how far the former Republican vice presidential nominee had fallen from her 2008 heyday.
Scarborough made his remarks after Washington Examiner columnist Byron York panned the former Alaska governor’s “long and disjointed” address. That led Nicolle Wallace, the former Palin aide who has long since been one of her biggest detractors, to recall that York was once one of her “staunchest supporters.”
“I think it’s a tragedy, too,” Scarborough chimed in. “We all remember that night she spoke in 2008 at the [Republican national] convention. I will say, it remains one of the most electrifying performances I’ve seen in the last four or five conventions I’ve been to. Nobody expected her to do well. She delivered the lines well; she hit it out of the park.”
“We will let history decide how she got from that point to this point,” Scarborough said.
Yeah, Monday mornings in the cold light of day are a bitch. Some things suddenly become clear. You weren’t brilliant, or smooth and suave, or sexy as hell, nor were you a real mensch – you had been a blithering idiot. You just didn’t know it at the time. Luckily, for her, Sarah Palin doesn’t seem the introspective sort. She no doubt thinks that speech was brilliant and incisive and deep. That’s not so lucky for the Republicans. She has her fans, who don’t expect sense, and they’re out there in Iowa, and not just in Iowa. They appreciate utterly authentic blithering.
Mel Brooks nailed it in Blazing Saddles – “Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all indebted to Gabby Johnson for clearly stating what needed to be said. I’m particularly glad that these lovely children were here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed a courage little seen in this day and age.”
Sarah Palin is Gabby Johnson – “The man can only ride you when your back is bent, so strengthen it so America won’t get taken for a ride.”
What? What? But not all was lost on this wild weekend, because Ed Kilgore sees a winner here:
The consensus winner (first announced by National Review’s John Fund, but echoed by many others) was Scott Walker, who did exactly what he needed to do: show he could twist and shout with the best of them despite his “boring” image, and make an electability argument based on the fruits of confrontation rather than compromise. This latter dimension of his appeal should not be underestimated: at a time when MSM types and (more subtly) Jeb Bush and Chris Christie continue to suggest Republicans must become less feral to reach beyond their base, here’s Walker saying he won three elections in four years in a blue state by going medieval on unions, abortionists and Big Government. So Walker’s passed his first test in the challenge of proving he’s not Tim Pawlenty, and that’s a big deal given his excellent positioning in the field.
This worries Kevin Drum:
Kilgore’s “Tim Pawlenty” comment is a reference to Midwestern boringness, which has generally been seen as Walker’s chief shortcoming. You can judge for yourself if you watch his 20-minute speech in Iowa, but I’d say he still has some work to do on this score. He wasn’t terrible, but he never sounded to me like he really struck a connection with the crowd. He knew the words but not the tune – and even his words were a little too stilted and lifeless. Anytime you deliver an applause line and nothing happens your words still need some work. And anytime you deliver an applause line, fail to wait for applause, and then interrupt yourself to tell the crowd “you can clap for that, that’s all right” – well, your delivery needs some work too.
Fine, but this is the worry:
I’m on record saying that I think Walker is the strongest candidate in the Republican field. He’s got the right views, he’s got a winning record, he’s got the confrontational style tea partiers love, and he doesn’t come across as a kook. But yes, he needs to work on the whole charisma thing. If he gets serious about that, I still like his chances in the 2016 primaries.
So does Slate’s John Dickerson:
“Wow he’s good,” said Jane Hodoly, as Walker spoke. Later, in an interview, the Tea Party member from Ottumwa, Iowa said, “We need a warrior in the presidential office.” Walker, who retold the story of his battle with the unions (along with the death threats he faced) and what it took to win three elections in four years (including becoming the first governor to survive a recall) appealed to this desire. “If you are not afraid to go big and bold, you can actually get results,” Walker told the audience. Pat Scanlon, another Tea Party member, from Oskaloosa, Iowa said: “I wish he were our governor.”
It’s all about confrontation rather than compromise, and disarming the skeptics:
As Walker spoke you could almost hear the political boxes being checked off. He thanked the conservative voters of Iowa, and the country, for supporting him in his fight against unions with money and prayers. This wasn’t only good form – it highlighted that he has a national fundraising base (i.e. he can go the distance) and that he is a man of faith (i.e. he’s just like you). Perhaps the best moment was when Walker made an analogy about taxes by talking about buying a sweater at a discount at Kohl’s department store. He talked at length about cobbling together so many coupons and store rewards until “the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt!”
As an analogy it was confusing, but that wasn’t the point. The message was: I’m one of you. For a party competing over how to talk to middle-class voters while fashioning a response to President Obama’s appeal to them, this wasn’t a bad way to connect with voters who often care most about whether a candidate understands their lives.
He did that, and counterbalances that other fading star:
The best any candidate can hope for at an event that appeals to such a narrow but influential audience is if the activists leave the hall talking about you. Still, the candidates don’t want to say anything to the faithful that turns off the broader class of voters. Essentially, they are aiming to do the opposite of what Sarah Palin does.
Scott Walker figured that out, and Time’s Zeke Miller adds detail:
The populist son of a preacher, Walker is betting that Republicans will find Jeb Bush too moderate; Chris Christie’s style off-putting; and Huckabee, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz too far from the party’s mainstream. In Iowa, he smoothly combined the social and economic conservative messages that could attract both camps into a passionate 20-minute speech touching on everything from gun rights to education reform. …
He also took jabs at Christie and Bush. “Our property taxes are lower today than they were four years ago, how many governors can say that,” he said, as he trumpeted his state’s fully-funded retirement accounts, both sore points for Christie. He highlighted his efforts to tackle teacher tenure rules, allowing the state to remove poor-performing teachers, while calling for local control of schools in a reference to the unpopular Bush-backed Common Core standards.
“In every fight for conservative principles Gov. Scott Walker has stood firm,” said David Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United in an impassioned introduction. “This country is a better place because Scott Walker answered the call to lead.”
A week before, Walker was in Coronado, Calif., to make his case before the Republican Party elite, but his potential appeal on the stump was more apparent in Iowa, as he paced the stage in shirtsleeves telling stories about his frugality shopping at Kohl’s.
“Scott Walker’s a guy you want to have a beer with – a Miller Lite,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said of Walker last week.
Well, that settles it, and Walker may have been the only one of these folks who felt good when Monday morning rolled around, save for Sarah Palin, who probably thinks she took Iowa by storm. There’s always a way to get through Monday mornings.