As might seem obvious to the most casual of observers, having a conservative talk radio show might thrust one into the deep end of the political pool without much warm-up. Such as been my experience over the past 18 months or so. Since signing on for the first time in January of 2010, I have immersed myself in politics at not only the national level, where I feel very comfortable, but also at the state level, where I am getting more confident with each passing day. This past week, I had my first exposure to the straw poll process of Iowa and found the experience both interesting and uplifting. This brief article will be a reflection on my first exposure to the unique Republican Party of Iowa-sponsored presidential forum.
I decided to make a weekend of the experience and had planned on driving down to Ames from the Siouxland on Thursday and spending a couple of days basking in the light of conservatism. I made the drive in good shape, but as luck would have it, I struggled with an aggravated injury that became problematic. A nagging back problem sent me to the showers early, but, thanks to Fox News, I saw and heard what I needed to see and hear. By bumping into Craig Robinson in the parking lot at the debate event, I set the wheels in motion to fill this space with my thoughts, observations and predictions.
First and foremost, ANY Republican running for president is far more qualified than the person in the White House right now. With each passing day, the GOP field looks stronger and the president’s re-election prospects diminish. Second, Matt Strawn and the Republican Party of Iowa ought to be very proud of a great event that will help raise money for the party and will keep Iowa’s position as “first in nation” solidly in place. Finally, one must be mindful of the fact that there is a great deal of time between now and the caucuses in February, so a lot of things can change along the way, including more people entering the race and a couple dropping out (see Pawlenty this morning).
The debate was outstanding. Jedediah Bila wrote a wonderful piece for the Daily Caller on Thursday morning outlining seven criteria for measuring the performance of those in the Fox News/Washington Examiner debate. I used that template in evaluating candidates and came away from the debate with some clear winners and losers.
Mitt Romney was the winner by a long ways. No one laid a glove on him, and he showed more passion (one of Bila’s criteria) than I have ever seen from him. Perhaps the dust-up at the state fair earlier in the day lit a fire in him, but he was precise, focused, specific, direct and aggressive. He made his answers about the president and not about anyone or anything else. His answers reflected a new-found appreciation for the Constitution, and that alone was refreshing.
Clustered in a close knot behind him were Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Cain and Santorum did not get enough time and Newt gave up time to answer questions to—rightfully—dress down Chris Wallace. All the same, Mister Speaker was really good. By way of truth in advertising, I have gotten to know Senator Santorum and Mister Cain better than the others and I find these gentlemen to be good, decent, honorable men, so perhaps my bias toward individuals of revealed and observed integrity might be showing.
I thought the exchange between Bachmann and Pawlenty hurt them both. Congresswoman Bachmann did not appear to be comfortable the whole evening and Pawlenty seemed to be timid and tentative—not good for the candidate, as the American people want a decisive and courageous president to lead them.
The other two candidates on the stage—Paul and Huntsman—really hurt their opportunities to be taken seriously as potential presidents. Governor Huntsman, besides revealing that he truly is a RINO, gave the impression he was like a deer caught in the median of I-35. I am sure he is asking how he talked himself into this and is wondering how he can gracefully get himself out of the race. Tim Pawlenty showed courage this morning by dropping out, and I think it will not be long and the former governor of Utah will do the same.
Representative Paul presents a different dilemma for conservatives. His strict adherence to libertarian ideals is admirable, but libertarianism is not congruent with conservative principles on a number of levels. At the risk of offending his loyal followers, I find his views on foreign policy to be irrational at best and irresponsible at worst. On fiscal issues, he is perhaps the most informed and articulate in the field, but this expertise makes him a one trick pony and the nation needs the total package. I appreciate his steadfastness and principled stances, but his views are incompatible with what the nation needs at this point in history.
As I mentioned above, I do not think the field is complete. I expect Governor Palin to jump in and Governor Rick Perry, now an official candidate, will be formidable. I also think that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is still holding out and may jump in if he can find a winnable formula. Woodrow Wilson was a first term governor of New Jersey when he threw his hat in the ring and won going away in the election of 1912. Not to compare Christie with Wilson, but circumstances are different this election cycle and those circumstances might facilitate the success of a late entry.
In the months to come, Romney will have to abandon his general election strategy for awhile and come to Iowa, whether he likes it or not. Perry is going to have to mend some fences here to be given the benefit of the doubt in February. Bachmann is going to have to show more specificity in her ideas and plans to gain a broader base in the voting populous. Palin needs to get in and Christie, if he is going to enter, needs to do so by Columbus Day to have any chance to compete in the caucuses. At the end of the day, however, Santorum and Cain, if they can hold on, might be good alternatives for all the right reasons.
All this being said, the straw poll was a smashing success with the results being fairly predictable. Actually, the votes rolled out the way I thought they might. Congresswoman Bachmann had a good group of folks coming to her late in the process and Congressman Paul has perhaps the most loyal following of any politician I have observed. Congratulations to all who participated, Iowans and candidates alike. The light of the nation shone brightly on Ames this past week, and the nation saw all that was good about being an American.
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