The Iowa GOP held its annual Reagan Dinner on Friday, headlined by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the most talked about Republican in the nation at the moment. The event also featured appearances by Senator Grassley and Governor Branstad. A common theme in all of their speeches was the need for unity in the Republican Party.
Here is a look at my thoughts on the event, as well as video of the main speeches:
The setting: Held in the beautifully renovated Polk County Convention Center, the setting was perfect. This is a great place to hold an event. It is still hard for me to believe that the convention complex used to be “The Barn”.
Notable attendees: Most of the announced candidates for the U.S. Senate primary, as well as First District congressional contenders Walt Rogers and Rod Blum, were on hand. They all purchased tables outside the main hall and most of them were working the crowd beforehand. A “Draft Ben Carson for President” group also bought a table.
Several State Central Committee members attended, coming from every corner of Iowa. The general audience spanned the Republican spectrum. There were also likely some non-Republicans who were there primarily out of curiosity.
Only a few Republican state legislators were in attendance. When emcee Gopal Krishna asked them to stand, I counted only six. Out of a total of 77.
The emcee: SCC member Gopal Krishna had a couple of funny lines, as usual. However, there were some notable stumbles as well. He called U.S. Senate candidate Matt Whitaker “Mark Whitaker”. Whitaker was making light of the faux pas afterwards.
Krishna also made the blatantly false statement that the event brought “record attendance” for the Reagan Dinner. My guess is someone else in RPI leadership fed him that line. Krishna, a seven-term SCC member, should have known better.
There were 600 attendees on Friday. While that is a vast improvement over last year’s numbers, it is not anywhere close to a record crowd. There were more than 1,000 attendees at the 2011 Reagan Dinner. There were 1,400 in 2010. I could keep going…
It was standard fare from the beloved, longtime U.S. senator. He has never been the best orator, but always offers interesting stuff. Grassley, who turned 80 last month, opened his by inviting attendees to join him the next morning in the Race for the Cure, as long as they can run an 11-minute mile.
Sen. Grassley slammed the mess that is Washington, D.C. and President Obama’s unwillingness to work with the other side of the aisle, particularly during the recent debt ceiling negotiations.
“President Obama said I won’t negotiate with a gun at my head. Egads, he’s been President of the United States for five years,” Grassley said. “So, I’m going to use his words. Show me, Mr. President, the time you initiated a budget discussion unless there was a gun at your head?”
Grassley said America’s biggest problem is reducing the national debt and fixing the country’s fiscal problems. He called for “all hands on deck” to turn the country around. “Unified, we can save our Republic. If not us, who? And if not now, when,” Grassley asked. The senator talked for around 11 minutes and was very well received by the crowd.
Terry Branstad: The governor was fired up and it showed. Riled by the false narrative of an AP article that claimed Branstad was at war with conservatives in the party, the first part of his speech aimed to set the record straight.
“We as conservatives know that it’s going to talk all of us working together and fighting the liberal democrats that control the nation’s capital and the D.C. media that’s attempting to divide us,” Branstad said. “I want to do all I can to help bring all Republicans together.”
Branstad talked about being part of the beginning of the Reagan Revolution, back in 1976, and spoke of Reagan’s 11th Commandment, not speaking ill of other Republicans.
He then segued into lengthy praise of Republican governors around the state. Branstad’s speech was much more enthusiastic than usual, and other than losing his train of thought at one point, it was a strong 10-minute message that the crowd was buzzing about after the event.
Ted Cruz: Reviled by democrats, some members of his own party and the liberal media, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is a lightning rod at the moment. He is receiving the blame in some quarters for the GOP losing the public relations battle during the recent government shutdown and attempt to defund Obamacare. Cruz fired back at those critics.
“One of the things we accomplished in the fight over Obamacare is that we elevated the national debate over what a disaster, what a trainwreck, how much Obamacare is hurting millions of Americans all across this country,” Cruz said to applause.
Many conservatives praise Cruz for engaging in that fight. He received a six-minute standing ovation in Texas recently. The Iowa reaction, though strong, was much more subdued. Cruz’ speech was interesting, well delivered and well received. If this was your first time hearing Cruz in person, you were likely enraptured during most of it.
Cruz invoked the name of Ronald Reagan at various points in his speech, and make sure to praise Sen. Grassley several times as well. Like Branstad and Grassley before him, he also talked about the need for the Republican Party to unite.
“We need to unify,” Cruz said. “We need to come together and let me tell you, growth and freedom are principles and ideals that unify the entire party. They are principles and ideals that unify the evangelical community with the liberty movement, with the business community. Growth and freedom are principles that bring together Main Street and the Tea Party. If we get back to our core principles, that’s how you reassemble and keep strong Ronald Reagan’s three-legged stool.”
While Cruz’ speech was good, much of it was a rehash of the speech he delivered at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames back in August. Several of his one-liners were exact repeats. Cruz is going to need some new material if he’s going to continue to visit Iowa frequently.
I also felt his speech went way too long. It was almost 50 minutes. He could have chopped the speech in half and it would have been much more effective. Event organizers advertised the program ending at 8:00 pm. Cruz did not even take the podium until 8 o’clock.
In fact, Cruz talked for so long that I ran out of space on my video recorder and missed a few minutes while I deleted some old videos to make room for the remainder of his speech.
Overall: This event was not nearly as good as it could and should have been. Party leadership decided to cast a negative tone over the event at the outset. Senator Grassley, Governor Branstad and Ted Cruz worked to overcome that negativity and inspire attendees to come together.
Afterwards, people were still talking about the divisive opening speeches from party leaders and Branstad’s enthusiastic speech. Republicans from across the spectrum said they were impressed with Cruz, although some got a little restless during the final 15-20 minutes of the event.
Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com
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