The Iowa Freedom Summit, sponsored by Rep. Steve King, brought many of the GOP’s top potential candidates for president onto the stage Saturday for a forum on the direction of the Republican Party and the nation at large. Absent from the event, however, were the two men widely considered to be the frontrunners: Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was also missing from the lineup.
Those who did appear represented many second-tier candidates who take a stronger view about the direction of the country. Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Sarah Palin were among the speakers hoping to energize conservative Iowans in the (very) early days of the 2016 election. Each of them gave their thoughts on conservatism, leadership, and the fracture within the Republican Party.
A Message of Unity
Christie, the governor of New Jersey, insisted that voters didn’t need to waste their time looking for a candidate that agreed with them on every issue. “You are the only person you agree with 100 percent of the time,” he said, hoping to battle his reputation as a moderate who won’t fight for conservative issues. He reiterated his stance against gay marriage and his opposition to abortion.
Cruz, who has made a name for himself in the Senate as one of the most conservative lawmakers in the country, said that voters should judge candidates based on their track record. “Talk is cheap,” he said. “The Word tells us you shall know them by their fruits.” He said Republicans needed to unify, bringing “conservatives and evangelicals and libertarians and Republican women and Reagan Democrats and young people” together in a new version of the Reagan coalition.
Whether the next GOP presidential candidate was present at the summit or not, the speakers shed light on some of the problems plaguing the party going forward. For much of the last thirty years, it has been Democrats unable to coalesce around a winning, unified strategy. Now, those problems have split the Republican Party into several different wings. Fiscal conservatives have their Romneys and their Bushes, religious conservatives have Huckabee, libertarians have Paul, and hardliners across the board have Cruz. The question is whether everyone can get on board with the eventual nominee.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask. Whatever your problems with establishment candidates, hardliners, or Christians, you must agree that the alternative – President Hillary Clinton – is a disaster in the waiting. There is plenty of time to debate the relative merits of each potential candidate, weigh their credentials, and slam RINOs for betraying the base. But we should be willing to set that aside when the time comes. Because even the worst conservative is preferable to Clinton.