The “Iowa Freedom Summit” drew hundreds of grassroots activists to Des Moines this past weekend for a 10-hour event featuring 31 different speakers, about a dozen of whom presented themselves as possible 2016 presidential candidates. Congressman Steve King — the co-host of the event – kicked things off Saturday morning. “Do you believe that the next president of the United States is going to be speaking from this stage to you today?” King asked and the crowd applauded. The parade of potential contenders for the G-O-P’s next presidential nomination included governors like Scott Walker who touted what he called the “Wisconsin Way” as a prescription for the entire country. “Common sense conservative reforms can actually work,” Walker said, “and they can work in a blue state like Wisconsin.”
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas challenged Iowa Republicans to ask each candidate to prove their conservative credentials. “Look each candidate in the eye and say, ‘Don’t talk. Show me,’” Cruz said. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee called for a cease fire among conservatives. “We don’t need to spend the next two years beating each other up in the conservative tent,” Huckabee said. And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suggested litmus tests could doom the party. “If you want a candidate who agrees with you 100 percent of the time, I’ll give you one suggestion: Go home and look in the mirror,” Christie said. “…If that’s the standard we hold each other to as a party, we will never win another national election — ever.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum offered his assessment of why Republicans have lost the last two national elections. “We don’t win because too many people think we don’t care about them,” Santorum said. Businessman Donald Trump drew cheers from the crowd when he declared that Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush would be losers for the party in 2016. The event also introduced Iowans to potential candidates who aren’t well known here, like former Hewlett-Packard C-E-O Carly Fiorina who brought the house down with her critique of Hillary Clinton’s performance as secretary of state.
Protestors who support President Obama’s actions which shield young people who were brought here illegally as children from deportation disrupted former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s speech. The Republican crowd started applauding Perry to try to drown out the protesters. Two protesters were arrested. Steve Wilson of West Des Moines supported Huckabee in 2008, but wasn’t thrilled with his choices in 2012. He attended Saturday’s event to “get a handle” on who’s thinking about running in 2016.
“We’re all quite dismayed and upset at the way the country has gone and where it’s headed and that kind of scares us,” Wilson says. “So it’s time to stand up and take a stand and see if we can’t get the country back to the country we grew up in and we loved.” While none of the participants in Saturday’s event have formally declared themselves candidates for the presidency, they made it clear Iowa’s Caucuses are on their minds. The Iowa Caucuses are currently scheduled for February 1st, 2016.
(O. Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa)