According to the pundits, this weekend’s Iowa Freedom Summit recalibrated the Republican presidential field. The summit, run by archconservative Rep. Steve King (R-IA), drew candidates from across the spectrum – and shook up the widespread perceptions of frontrunners versus also-rans. Here are the weekend’s big winners and losers.
Scott Walker: Walker was already a grassroots conservative favorite coming into the summit. For years, however, he had carried around the mantle of most vanilla candidate, boring the pants off of audiences with his earnest steadfastness. He had also been labeled a Chris Christie acolyte. But his performance in Iowa pushed him to possible frontrunner status. His record as Wisconsin governor hasn’t just been conservative, it’s been steadfastly so in the face of a brutal recall election in a blue state. His willingness to take on the public sector unions has endeared him to the base; his presence in a blue state has charmed many of the establishment pundits.
Bobby Jindal: Jindal, who failed to catch fire in his initial pre-announcement period, has begun to make concerted moves to capture the religious crowd. Jindal knows that he is well-accepted among elite Republicans for his record in Louisiana and his undeniable brilliance. He also knows that he is being edged out for conservative love by candidates like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker. And so he has turned to the most reliable voting base in Iowa: the religious base. He skipped the Iowa Freedom Summit altogether in favor of a Christian summit where he stated, “We can’t just elect a candidate to fix what ails our country. We can’t just pass a law and fix what ails our country. We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country.” That’s a strong pitch to grab the Huckabee/Santorum Iowa vote, and a smart move in a crowded field.
Ted Cruz: Cruz is spending an enormous amount of time in Iowa. His grassroots machinery is up and running, and he has shaken more hands than any of the other major candidates in this election cycle in the state. “Look every candidate in the eye and say, ‘Don’t talk, show me,’” said Cruz to the crowd. “We are looking to build a grassroots army.” He’s doing just that, and he’s making a tough play for the anti-Romney, anti-Jeb conservative crowd.
Carly Fiorina: Fiorina is not a serious presidential candidate. But she is a serious vice presidential candidate. She showed it in Iowa, where she played on her status as one of the only women in the race, contrasting her record with that of Hillary Clinton. “We must understand our role in the world – which is to lead – and the nature of our allies and especially, our adversaries. Like Hillary Clinton, I too have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something.”
Sarah Palin: The former vice presidential nominee was all over the map in her Iowa speech. It didn’t matter. She’s a star to grassroots conservatives, and her incendiary language with regard to President Obama and Hillary Clinton fired up the crowd. “You can absolutely say that I am seriously interested [in running],” Palin told the Washington Post on Friday. If Palin does not jump in, instead playing “will she/won’t she” throughout primary season as she did in 2012, she could throw the field into turmoil.
Ben Carson: The doctor continues to be a rock star, despite his low-key speaking style and uncertainty about his political positions. In Iowa, Carson got down to brass tacks on illegal immigration: “I think whoever wins in 2016 – I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a Republican – I think they should make it their goal to seal that border within a year.” Carson will not win the primaries, but he doesn’t need to: he is a surefire VP top tier candidate.
Marco Rubio: Rubio’s star has been on the ascent again since President Obama’s announcement of reopening ties to Cuba. Polling shows him jumping into the top tier of candidates against Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney in late polling. But his failure to reach out to grassroots conservatives in Iowa could hurt him, given his original presence in the immigration Gang of Eight. The establishment has become comfortable with Rubio; now Rubio must shore up his original Tea Party base.
Chris Christie: Christie spoke in Iowa, but he was not warmly received. He’s largely perceived by the base as too soft on President Obama, a candidate seeking to play off of his hard-nosed image in order to hug those on the other side of the aisle. “Our values are consistent,” Christie said, “and we are fighting together to make this a better country.” He then added, to tepid applause, “Why would you keep inviting me back?”
Jeb Bush: Bush didn’t show. Again, Jeb’s big challenge isn’t merely overcoming widespread antipathy about his last name. The base despises the idea of a Jeb candidacy. His failure to cater at all to the grassroots will hurt him in the primaries – but he doesn’t seem to care. After all, he’s got coastal money to grab.
Mitt Romney: Romney, too, didn’t show up. Over the past few weeks, despite polls showing that he continues to lead in states like New Hampshire, uncertainty has built concerning the reality of a third Romney run. In Iowa, the notion became the butt of jokes from multiple candidates, particularly Donald Trump, who ripped both Romney and Jeb: “You can’t have Romney, he choked. You can’t have Bush. The last thing we need is another Bush.”
Rand Paul: Rand didn’t show up. Amidst questions about his father’s increasingly insane worldview, Paul has gone into semi-retreat. Iowa and New Hampshire represent Paul’s best shot at the nomination. He seems to have reached high water mark in both states already, and is currently receding into the crowd.
Rick Perry: Perry’s record as governor of Texas is unquestionably stellar. He looks better than he did in 2012. But in a search for new faces, Perry doesn’t stand out.
Mike Huckabee: Huckabee will win Iowa, barring an incredibly strong move from Cruz or Jindal for the religious right in the state. He could show strong in South Carolina as well. But he doesn’t have the juice to win Florida or other major primary states. 2016 looks a lot like 2008 for the former Arkansas governor.
Rick Santorum: Santorum is a poor man’s Huckabee in a race in which Huckabee is a poor man’s Huckabee.
The field is crowded. But Scott Walker’s big performance in Iowa could mark the beginning of an upswing for one of the only candidates in the field capable of unifying the coastal money and the grassroots base.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.