Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at Iowa Freedom Summit.
Photo source: Ted Cruz’s Facebook page

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said Saturday’s Iowa Freedom Summit “begins the 2016 Iowa Caucus season.” ¬†He added, “Today we embark on a path to get American back on the right track.”

That was an apt description of Saturday’s event hosted by Congressman Steve King and Citizens United. ¬†The event that attracted far north of 1000 Iowans was held at the historic Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines. ¬†Those who attended on an unseasonably warm January day were introduced or re-acquainted with numerous prospective 2016 candidates some of whom have been coy about their aspirations, others not so much.

King in his opening remarks asked if the next President was in attendance at the event.  That remains to be seen took full advantage of the event to make a good first impression.

Reflecting back on Saturday I can honestly say that I believe the Republican Party will have a pretty deep bench as far as the 2016 presidential field is concerned. ¬†That’s not to say I agree with every candidate on every issue, but many of the prospective candidates bring with them a wealth of experience that will be compelling to voters. ¬†In the prospective field are two candidates that I have endorsed in the past – former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, both are Iowa Caucus winners (yeah, I’m batting 1.000), while Caffeinated Thoughts will be endorsing in this race¬†we won’t do so until later in the fall. ¬†I’m looking at this race with fresh eyes and a clean slate even though, yes, I’m certainly more familiar with some candidates compared to others.

With Saturday the initial vetting process began not only for me, but for Iowans as well.  As I explained on the Breitbart News Saturday radio program with Steve Bannon who was broadcasting live from the event in Iowa one of our primary roles is to winnow down the field.  That is a role that I believe we are very good at.

One of the goals of the event was to present a conservative platform that Iowans would judge the candidates by. ¬†Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) told the audience citing Ronald Reagan, “We should not carry a banner of pale pastels, but one of bold colors which make it abundantly clear where we stand on the issues. ¬†American needs boldness.”

Former New Hampshire Speaker of the House (and current representative) Bill O’Brien urged Iowans to advance strong conservatives to his state. ¬†“Iowa help New Hampshire help South Carolina,” he said.

From activists that I spoke to and gauging from the response of the audience it was not hard to determine that the crowd favorite on Saturday was U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).  As his typical style he gave the grassroots plenty of red meat in his speech.

Much of his speech I’ve heard in other venues. ¬†One strong aspect of his speech was his discussion of religious liberty. ¬†Citing President Obama’s current lawsuit with the Little Sisters of the Poor he said, “If you are litigating against nuns you are probably doing something wrong.”

He also discussed the city of Houston’s recent subpoena of five pastors¬†Cruz said, “Ceasar has no jurisdiction over the pulpit.”

He along with several of the speakers challenged President Obama’s handling of national security. ¬†“You can not fight and win a war on radical Islamic terrorism if you are unwilling to utter the words radical Islamic terrorism,” Cruz said. ¬†Cruz also challenged Iowans to “stand up to Washington” by challenging the establishment.

Personally I appreciated the comments he made about his father, Rafael Cruz, who is now a pastor, but didn’t know Christ early on in Cruz’ life. ¬†His dad made the decision to leave his family, but shortly afterwards placed his faith in Christ and went back to his family.

“Some people ask if faith is real,” Cruz said. ¬†“I can tell you first hand in my family, in my life if it were not for the redeeming love, if it were not for faith in Jesus Christ, I would have been raised by a single mom without the love of my father in the household.”

Compared to how Christ can transform hearts, Cruz said, the challenges facing our country are nothing.

I’ve been able to hear Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speak in a couple of different venues, and have listened to his last two State of the State addresses in his home state. ¬†He connected with the audience that I’ve not seen him do before. ¬†This event, should he decide to run for President (and my sources in Wisconsin say he is), will be a good springboard for him.

He made a strong case for conservative principles and governance as he told Iowans that we need leaders who show courage. ¬†He said electing those types of leaders, “sends a message to Washington. ¬†If you are not afraid to go big and go bold you get results.”

He said the death threats and vitriol that his family faced during his recall election two years ago and his reelection last fall reminded him why he ran for Governor in the first place. ¬†“All they did was remind me how important it was to stand up for the people of my state. ¬†They remind me why I ran for Governor in the first place,” Walker said.

Walker also addressed Islamic terrorism. ¬†“We need leaders who will stand against radical Islamic terrorism,” he said. ¬†He also noted that if conservative reforms work in a blue state like Wisconsin it can work anywhere. ¬†He also noted that he will be coming back to Iowa “many more times” which seems to indicate that a presidential run is likely.

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina made a good impression on a number of activists that I spoke with. ¬†Fiorina told Caffeinated Thoughts earlier in the afternoon that she is seriously considering running for President. ¬†Fiorina said she is tired of liberal hypocrisy, especially when it comes to the sanctity of life. ¬†“It is on the issue of life that the hypocrisy of liberals is at its most breathtaking,” Fiorina said. ¬†“Liberals believe that flies are worth protecting, but an unborn child is not.”

She like a few of the other speakers criticized the Republican Party for allow the growth of government on their watch.  She also said it was unacceptable for the House Leadership to pull the Pain Capable Abortion Ban (20 week abortion ban) o n the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

The most “newsworthy” aspect of her speech, in my humble opinion, was her sharp criticism of Hilllary Clinton. ¬†One such statement she brought up Benghazi. ¬†“I, unlike Hillary Clinton, I know th difference it makes that our ambassador and three other Americans lost their lives in a deliberate terrorist attack in Libya on the anniversary of 9/11,” Fiorina stated. ¬†“I know our response should be more forceful that the arrest of one individual one year later.”

She then took aim at Clinton’s frequent bragging about her traveling as Secretary of State. ¬†“Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. ¬†But unlike her, I have actually accomplished¬†something. ¬†Mrs. Clinton, flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”

So Cruz impressed, and Walker and Fiorina made inroads in their introducation to Iowa’s grassroots.

That isn’t to say I think others did poorly. ¬†Not at all, I just believe the rest were somewhat known factors to Iowans so there isn’t a “newness” factor. ¬†It warmed my heart to hear how much Common Core was brought up from the stage. ¬†I’m not going to write about that here. ¬†That is for my next article. ¬†You can tell that we are making progress when it is discussed on the national stage among prospective presidential candidates.

Some items I appreciated from the other speakers. ¬†Dr. Ben Carson is so soft-spoken and you could tell that he had a compelling story that caught the attention of those listening. ¬†It’s fitting for a brain surgeon to discuss how we need to use our collective brains that God gave us to find solutions to the problems we face.

He made a compelling statement, to me, on his work experience and the sanctity of life. ¬†“If I can spend so many hours trying to figure out how to save people’s lives why would I be in favor of obliterating people’s lives,” Carson stated.

Carson provided a good introducation to Iowans in his speech.

I have a difficult time figuring Donald Trump out.  He thinks very highly of himself, but then again perhaps that is an act because it is entertaining.  If he runs he will be fun to watch during debates.

He was the only one who went after Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush by name.  Both men were not present at the Summit and have not visited the state of Iowa much.

“We have some good people. ¬†It can’t be Mitt. ¬†Mitt ran and failed. ¬†He failed. ¬†I liked him,” Trump stated. ¬†“Look… like him, dislike him, the 47% statement he made is not going away. ¬†The RomneyCare from Massachusetts is not going away. ¬†But more importantly he choked. ¬†Something happened to him in the last month. ¬†He had the election won.”

Trump continued, “You can’t have Romney, he choked. ¬†You can’t have Bush. ¬†The last thing we need is another Bush. ¬†He’s totally in favor of Common Core. ¬†That’s a disaster. ¬†He is very, very weak on immigration.”

The audience responded positively to those statements indicating both Romney and Bush will have a tough time in Iowa, at least among the base of the party.

¬†I believe that Republicans need to heed former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum’s warning about messaging. ¬†He said we need to rally around a message that unifies Americans, not divides. ¬†He also said we can be all about job creators when most of the electorate do not fall into that category. ¬†“We need to be on the side of the American worker,” ¬†Santorum said. ¬†“We like to say ‘a rising tide raises all boats’ and that is true unless your boat has a hole in it.”

Santorum had, in my opinion, one of the strongest statements against Common Core that came from the stage which I’ll highlight in a follow-up post. ¬†The 2016 field will benefit from his message and I really hope he does run again.

I like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. ¬†In light of 2016 I wasn’t very impressed with her speech. ¬†Granted, I think liberals and establishment hacks went absolutely unhinged during her speech on Twitter and in the media following her speech. ¬†It is quite clear that Palin Derangement Syndrome is still alive and well. ¬†It was a typical Palin speech that I’ve come to expect that meanders through topics. ¬†That isn’t what bothered me.

If she is really serious about running, and I have to take her at her word that she is considering it, then she needs to build a stronger case to Iowans in particular and Americans in general why we should support her.

If she wants to just fire up the base then mission accomplished. ¬†Late in the day Saturday, especially since she went long, I really wanted to hear more. ¬†She had some great one liners, but a presidential contender needs to provide more than that. ¬†I doubt that I’m alone in my frustration.

I say this as a friend (see Proverbs 27:6). ¬†I know she can be a serious contender if she wants to be. ¬†She has so much to offer the field. ¬†If she doesn’t then she’s incredibly effective at rallying the base and her endorsement is as good as gold. ¬†But if she does want to make a mark in this race then come back to Iowa and discuss policy and ideas; come back and interact with ordinary Iowans in small venues. ¬†She must get around the state and practice the retail politics she was famous for in Alaska. ¬†Then do the same in New Hampshire and the same in South Carolina. ¬†I want to see that Sarah Palin on the campaign trail. ¬†I know that she will be an unconventional candidate, but not all conventional wisdom is bad. ¬†There is a tried, tested and true formula for doing well in Iowa and I think she could excel at it.

That said I completely agree with Palin when she said to “support those who have actually done the job who have cut government, incentivized the private sector and never compromised our freedom.”

This isn’t to say private sector prospective candidates like Carson and Fiorina need not apply, but she is saying (and it was echoed in a variety of ways) that talk is cheap. ¬†Show me what you’ve really done. ¬†Being a former governor it’s understandable she is touting conservative governors.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry gave a terrific speech and I think the protesters that came in boosted his stock with the crowd.

He was spectacular discussing last summer’s border crisis. ¬†He also had a pointed critique for Congress. ¬†“Congress has become this debating society, unable to act, they only talk,” ¬†Perry said. ¬†“The institutions of government are failing while people are dying.”

I agree. ¬†I really like Perry. ¬†He’s incredibly likable. ¬†He’s fantastic at retail politics. ¬†He is the type of candidate who can do really well here. ¬†I also want to see him have the chance to redeem himself after a less than stellar campaign in 2012. ¬†I know he can do better than that.

A couple of money quotes from Perry’s speech. ¬†He called on Iowans to send a message to Congress. ¬†“Secure the border now. ¬†Override this President’s lawless executive order. ¬†Restore law and order on our border with Mexico. ¬†Stand up to this face of evil (transnational gangs, cartels) and protect our citizens,” Perry said to a standing ovation.

He also had a stinging rebuke for President Obama. ¬†“When a president makes promises he won’t back up his statements are not a policy, they are just an opinion,” Perry stated.

The primary thing I noticed about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s speech is that he received a tepid response from the audience. ¬†He basically said he wasn’t going to pander, and then he spent most of his speech pandering talking up his prolife bona fides. ¬†I can’t say I really know his record in that area to really comment, but I do know he’s appointed extremely liberals to the New Jersey Supreme Court. ¬†I know he is supportive of New Jersey. ¬†He’s great at shutting down those who come to disrupt his speech, but unlike Walker’s record in Wisconsin, I haven’t seen much that is conservative coming out of state.

Perhaps a New Jersey resident will set me straight, but I’ve seen a lot of bluster and very little action. ¬†I understand that isn’t entirely his fault. ¬†He does have Democrat majority legislature to work with, but talking tough isn’t enough.

Governor Mike Huckabee being the last speaker at the Summit reminded me why Iowa Republicans picked him in 2008. ¬†He’s a great communicator. ¬†He’s extremely likable and witty. ¬†Many of us can resonate with Huckabee’s comments about President Obama stating during his State of the Union address that climate change is our greatest threat.

“Mr. President, I believe that most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat to America than a sun burn,” Huckabee prodded. ¬†“I wish that he understood that we have a real enemy with Islamic Jihadism.”

“We can not defeat the enemy of Islamic Jihadism if we don’t identify it and we don’t call it for what it is. ¬†It is evil,” Huckabee added.

One of my favorite parts of his speech dealt with term limits and federalism. ¬†“Our founders never intentioned that so much power would be centralized in Washington with the federal government,” Huckabee said. ¬†“Washington, DC has become the roach motel, people go in, but they never come out.”

Yep. ¬†Calling for term limits for members of Congress Huckabee said, “You will go, you will serve and then you will come back home and live under the laws that you passed for the rest of us.”

He also called for term limits for the judicial branch saying no one should wear a black robe for life.  Like Santorum, Huckabee also made some extensive remarks about Common Core that I will highlight in a following article.

Then there were prospective candidates that I haven’t mentioned – former Ambassador John Bolton who is considering running, not so much to win, but to make sure national security is a topic of discussion. ¬†Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore also touted his record and highlighted America’s exceptionalism.

It was a great kickoff, and now the hard work for candidates begins to win over Iowa voters.

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