The potential Republican presidential candidates who addressed the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday sought to distinguish themselves from one another, jockeying for an early advantage in what will likely be a crowded primary field.
But many of them also fixed their sights beyond the primary on the woman many assume their party will face in the general election: Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton, though she has not yet declared a candidacy, earned condemnation from many potential candidates who took the stage in Des Moines. Some tore into her record as the nation’s top diplomat; others portrayed her as a member of the old guard, incapable of changing D.C. Many sought to tie her inextricably to President Obama, whom they deem a failure.
Long-shot potential White House hopeful Dr. Benjamin Carson drew the biggest ovations by far at the morning session of the Iowa Freedom Summit, as GOP presidential hopefuls jockeyed for position.
‘We need to use our natural resources’ to generate a new economic recovery, Carson said.
‘We’re the number one producer of oil now, on 3 per cent of the land! The federal government has no business owning all this land. This is craziness!’
Carson also said the next President must be committed to stopping flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country. Carson said his “common sense” approach to the problem includes a revamped guest worker program for immigrants as long as they take jobs that American citizens won’t fill.
“Over the past six years, we have seen the fruits of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of receding from leadership in the world,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “Leading from behind doesn’t work.”
Cruz said the threats the U.S. is facing today are “every bit as ominous” as those faced before World War II. He called for “clarity of thought and voice and action” as the U.S. responds to the threat posed by “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin questioned whether Hillary Clinton could credibly campaign as a change agent.
“Is Hillary a new Democrat, or an old one?” Palin asked. “Now, the press asks, ‘Can anyone stop Hillary?’…Hey Iowa, can anyone stop Hillary? Let’s borrow a phrase – yes we can – and it starts here and it starts now.”
In a clear nod to the Benghazi terror attacks, Palin asked how the powers-that-be “can protect our standing across the world when they can’t even protect an ambassador?” She also played off former President Bill Clinton’s famous “I feel your pain” line, asking, “What will they do to stop causing our pain and start feeling it again?
“I’m ready for Hillary,” Palin concluded as she held aloft a decal from the grassroots group by the same name dedicated to encouraging Clinton to run. “Are you?”
The audience cheered on Donald Trump after he shot down high-profile Republicans, saying Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush won’t make it as 2016 presidential nominees. Trump told the crowd he is “seriously thinking of running for president.”
“We can make this country great again. The potential is enormous, and I am seriously thinking of running for president because I can do the job,” he said. Neither Romney nor Bush were at the summit.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, citing the rise of extremists in Iraq and Syria, the nuclear negotiations with Iran and other global hot spots, concluded that Mr. Obama is out of his depth as president.
And Clinton, Bolton argued, is “no more up to the job than he was.”
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who’s made waves recently by teasing the possibility of a presidential bid, panned Clinton’s globetrotting tenure at the State Department.
“Like Hillary Clinton, I too have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something,” Fiorina said. “You see, Mrs. Clinton, flying is not an accomplishment, it is an activity.”
“I have met Vladimir Putin and know that it takes far more more than a gimmicky red ‘Reset’ button to halt his ambition. Having done business in over 80 countries and having served as the Chairman of the External Advisory Board at the CIA, I know that China and North Korea are a state-sponsor of cyberwarfare. I know that China has a strategy to steal our intellectual property. I know Bibi Netanyahu and know that when he warns us that Iran is a threat to our nation and to his own, that we must listen,” Fiorina said.
“And unlike Hillary Clinton, I know what difference it makes that our American ambassador and three other brave Americans were killed in a deliberate terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9-11 in Libya. And apparently unlike Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I know that our response must be more forceful that the arrest of a single individual a year later,” Fiorina said.
Several other potential candidates offered 2016 pitches without explicitly referencing Clinton. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, urged Republicans to ensure their platform is both “pro-growth” and “pro-worker.”
“We need to be the party that goes out and says that we’re for fiscal responsibility and balance budgets. All those things are right, but they’re not enough,” he said. “We need to be on the side of the American worker.”
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry touted his record in the Lone Star State as a blueprint for where America needs to go to accelerate its economic revival, lowering taxes and regulations and enacting tort reform.
He also stressed the need to secure the border, doling out blame for illegal immigration to both the Obama Administration and Congress.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, leaving little doubt he’s primed for a 2016 presidential campaign, was the only moderate Republican entertaining a White House bid to speak at the high profile gathering of conservatives.
He wasted no time to slap down any notion he couldn’t woo Iowa Republicans if he tosses his hat in the ring.
“I have heard and read the conventional wisdom that somehow a guy from New Jersey would not be welcomed or understood at the Iowa Freedom Summit, that somehow I’m too loud, that I’m too blunt and that I’m too direct,” Christie said.
“But let me say this, I’ve been to Iowa 11 times in the last five years,” he said. “Let me ask you this, if I was too blunt, too direct, too loud and too New Jersey for Iowa, then why do you people keep inviting me back?”
His also repeated his mantra that Republicans must expand their base and reach out to others if the GOP wants to win national elections.
“If our conservatism is really going to succeed it must defend itself in every part of this country,” Christie said. “We need a coalition that covers all parts of the country all ethnicities.”