2016 Caucus

November 23rd, 2015
 

Huckabee and Santorum – Down in the polls but definitely not out.

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Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

It’s been said to me a number of times from Republican activists of every stripe.   Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, both former Iowa caucus winners, just don’t have it this time around, and thus, they should take the cue and get out of the Republican race for president.

In the poll-driven presidential campaign that has also been overly nationalized, I completely understand why this sort of thinking is prevalent in Iowa less than three months before people will head out to caucus. While the size of the Republican field has been reduced, it’s still large and cumbersome. And after watching candidates burn-bright for a short period of time before eventually flaming out in the last presidential cycle, voters are taking a more wait-and-see approach to the 2016 race.

Not only is the Republican field large, it is also very talented. There has never been this much competition for people’s support. Whether you favor an outsider, an establishment candidate, or a conservative, there are multiple options for you to pick from. What caucus goers will never tell you is that what they really desire on caucus night is an easy choice. The 2016 Republican race is many things, but easy isn’t one of them.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen many political pundits, some even from Iowa, suggest that Texas Senator Ted Cruz is the odds on favorite to win the Iowa caucuses. It is true that Cruz has momentum, and recent polls confirm that. Cruz has also had solid debate performances. More importantly, in the last debate, he was the only social conservative to make the main stage. Cruz recently earned the endorsement of Congressman Steve King. At the same time, the social conservative field contracted with the exit of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. And let’s not forget that the Cruz campaign and associated Super PACs are flush with cash.

The Cruz campaign looks great on paper, but I just don’t believe the Iowa Caucuses are going to be a simple walk in the park for the Texas firebrand. First, if the Iowa Caucuses were held today, he would likely finish well, but he wouldn’t contend for an outright victory. And while it seems like Cruz suddenly has the entire social conservative lane all to himself, Cruz would be wise not to overlook the two former caucus winners that are still in the race, Huckabee and Santorum.

At the FAMiLY Leader’s Presidential Family Forum on Friday evening, it was Huckabee and Santorum who really shined, not Cruz. It’s not that Cruz didn’t do well for himself, it’s that both Huckabee and Santorum did a particularly good job in the less formal setting where candidates were not limited to 30-second answers and rebuttals.

Of the seven candidates in attendance, it was Huckabee who probably came out the winner. In front of the most socially conservative audience that will assemble before the caucus, Huckabee offered some of the most thoughtful answers on a host of conservative topics. He was the one candidate who actually answered moderator Frank Luntz’ question about how do you protect religious liberty but not discriminate.

“When we talk about discrimination, I think some people think that means you can’t have a different opinion,” Huckabee said. “The fact is that there is a difference between discrimination and discretion. I’m free to have the discretion of my own thoughts and beliefs, and the government is to protect me to be able to be free. I’m not free to keep someone else from having their thoughts, beliefs, and practicing their own beliefs and faith. We sometimes forget that everything in the Bill of Rights, every single aspect of it, was never a restriction on the individual citizen. It never told me what I couldn’t do, everything in the Bill of Rights tells the government what it can’t do to restrict my freedom.”

Huckabee also found a way to promote educational choice and added that the federal government should find ways to promote traditional families and homeschooling instead of fighting these things. In his closing statement, Huckabee talked about the abuses of the judicial branch and the consequences of executives who surrender their power to the courts.

There were two other noteworthy moments for Huckabee. The first came as a response to Cruz saying the U.S. Secretary of State should resign after saying that there was a “rationale” for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in January. The crowd roared, then Luntz broke from the forum’s rules to ask if the candidates would raise their hands if they agreed with Cruz. None of them did, and Huckabee said he would like to speak on the matter.

Once Huckabee had the floor, he stated that he had never been more embarrassed by a U.S. President in his lifetime than this past week when President Obama was more upset with Republicans than ISIS. “Would I like to see Kerry resign, of course. But let’s not forget he is only doing the bidding of the person who appointed him to that position. I have a better idea. Instead of getting rid of Kerry, I’d rather see President Obama resign if he’s not going to protect America.” The audience went wild.

One of the most powerful moments came when Huckabee talked about the toughest job he ever had to do – carry out Arkansas’ death penalty. “If that doesn’t sober you up to reality, nothing will,” Huckabee stated. He then said a president has to make life and death decisions, like sending young men and women in to war. It was a powerful moment, not just because of the seriousness of the topic, but because it showcased what separated Huckabee from the rest of the people on the stage – that as an executive- he has had to make difficult, irreversible decisions.

While Huckabee provided thoughtfulness on domestic issues, it was Santorum who provided an immense amount of depth and perspective on foreign policy. It’s not that Santorum didn’t also provide some great answers on the importance of the traditional family and education, but his ability to clearly define how deal with ISIS and why it must be done in a particular way set him apart from the rest on the stage.

In watching the forum on Friday it appeared to me that all of the candidates have the ability to discuss what’s going on in the world, but not all understand exactly what the U.S. is up against. At one point, Santorum made the point to describe ISIS as a caliphate. He then explained that the only way to eliminate or delegitimize a caliphate is to take their land. Santorum argued that we can’t just bomb them or contain them like President Obama has claimed. We must defeat them.

As was also the case in the 2011 FAMiLY Leader Presidential Forum, Santorum was asked a question that pulled out a very personal answer. When asked if he had ever cursed God, Santorum talked about how he found faith while in the U.S. Senate. He admitted that, during his first five years in congress, he purposely set out to never say the word abortion or even talk about it. Then he explained that his faith walk led him to being the lead sponsor of the partial birth abortion ban after a Senator from New Hampshire opted not to lead that fight since he was up for re-election that fall.

Santorum fought hard and eventually secured the votes to overturn President Bill Clinton’s veto of the measure. At the same time, Santorum’s wife was pregnant, and the couple was told that the child had a life-threatening birth defect. They resolved that they wouldn’t lose their son. They had intrauterine surgery. It was very experimental, yet it was successful. However, three days later, Santorum’s wife got an infection, and Gabriel was born at 21 weeks. “We were blessed he was born alive. We had the opportunity to hold him for two hours, [during] which he only knew love. Then he passed in our arms.”

Santorum then talked about how angry he was with God, but yet he was blessed. He then talked about how his wife, while angry, poured that anger out on pages, in letters to Gabriel explaining their love for him. “Those letters became a book that took pain and horror and turned it into something beautiful.”

What Huckabee and Santorum were able to showcase that they still possess the same attributes that made them successful caucus candidates in the past.   While it may be true that each of them is near the bottom of the polls, it’s important that they haven’t done anything that caused their support to plummet. Both of them are still respected, well-liked, and popular.

Simply put, Huckabee and Santorum may be down in the polls, but they showed on Friday they are not out. The level of content each displayed on Friday night was simply unmatched by the other candidates in attendance.


About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheIowaRepublican.com. Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.




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