More than 20 Republican leaders in all addressed Steve King’s Freedom Summit on Saturday, speaking to a crowd composed of the most conservative voting bloc in American politics. It was mostly what we’ve come to expect from candidates trying to appeal to what they think the far-right Fox News crowd wants to hear. The more conservative speakers all attempted to out-do each other with bombastic, red-meat zingers, insults about President Obama, and constant references to radical Islam. The very right-wing crowd ate it up.
Still, while many in the audience likely left with hoarse voices from cheering so much, the event itself was a total mess. Introductions were too long, nearly every speech went over time, the venue was terribly suited for the event, and there was just way, way too many speakers. People who shouldn’t be given a serious thought, much less a podium to give a widely-watched speech from , filled much of the morning. A state representative from New Hampshire spoke (remember, they have 400 of them and only represent a little over 3,000 people each). Former ambassador John Bolton bored the crowd as he talked about “Wealth of Nations” some. Even Steve King’s pollster spoke. OK.
While the Republican Party has looked incredibly competent when it comes to winning major races in the midterms, they seem to devolve into an unmitigated hot mess when the presidential race comes along. In a way the event was a microcosm of what the extreme right of the GOP wants. Donald Trump hurled invectives against Obama and “moderate” members of the Republican Party, like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Ted Cruz hit the repeal Obamacare and abolish the IRS shtick in one of the best-received speeches. Mike Huckabee got laughs from his line, “A beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn,” referring to Obama’s warnings on climate change.
One highlight (or more accurately lowlight) was Sarah Palin’s disaster of a 34 minute long stream-of-thought speech. In any other setting people would have gotten up and left the room. It made you wonder if there’s something… just not quite right with her at the moment. She needs to take a step back from the spotlight for a while. Instead, she claimed earlier that she was interested in running for president. No she’s not. She’s just interested in getting attention without actually having to do that much. She’ll never launch an actual campaign.
The smarter ones wisely played to the press, as the Hoyt Sherman was so packed with reporters tweeting that the hashtag “IAFreedomSummit” trended for much of the day. They realized that while it was nice to get activists in the crowd pumped up, many in the media are writing their first takes on these potential presidential candidacies. Those assessments will impact considerably more donors, activists and voters than the number of Steve King acolytes sitting in the crowd.
Again, there were simply too many speeches to properly cover them all here, but as you can read in these links, several speakers got very favorable reviews. That included Scott Walker, who impressed many recounting his conservative policy successes and wove a relate-able personal story. Chris Christie, who should get points just for showing up to a potentially-hostile crowd, performed as well as he could. Rick Perry gave a passionate speech that highlighted Texas job growth, and handled himself well when immigration reform protestors heckled him from the crowd.
Finally, some national Republicans really need to reel Steve King in. They have no idea how much damage he’s doing to any potential improvement in Hispanic outreach when King starts out his speech with a hit on DREAMers. Many strategists will be relieved when the presidential contest moves beyond King’s ring of influence.