Don’t Discount Donald Trump

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POLITICO MAGAZINE

Donald Trump’s loss in Iowa wasn’t just a victory for conservatives, but a loss for the mogul’s routinely low and dishonest style of campaigning.

The rap on a stereotypical career politician is that he will do or say anything to win. Trump has mastered the method and, true to form, done it with a grotesque garishness.

There was nothing subtle about his disgraceful attacks on Ted Cruz’s eligibility to run for president, although Trump at times tried to wrap them in a hilariously transparent tissue of concern about Cruz’s welfare. He accused Cruz of being in the back pocket of Goldman Sachs for an above-board loan (Cruz failed to disclose it on one form, but reported it on others), even though Trump’s own highly leveraged business career would have been impossible without ungodly bank loans. He pandered all he could on ethanol, stopping just short of promising to fuel Trump Force One with the stuff.

And yet Trump lost. He came in a relatively weak second after saying he would win and leading almost all the polls in the final weeks.

There was no doubt that the disappointment stung. Trump managed to control himself for about 36 hours. He dragged himself through a brief concession speech Monday night. He stayed off Twitter in the early-morning hours after the caucuses, avoiding a meltdown and, through his absence, briefly elevating the nation’s political discourse a notch or two.

Then, he returned with a message to anyone who thought he might acquit himself more rationally and honorably after kicking away an Iowa lead, in part, with low-rent melodrama: Never gonna happen. Trump blew through several political norms — against acting like a sore loser, against making ridiculously unfounded allegations, and, as always, against juvenile name-calling — by lashing out at Cruz for allegedly stealing the Iowa caucuses in the political crime of the century.

The basis of the charge is that Cruz’s team used a CNN report about Ben Carson leaving the campaign trail to suggest that Carson was exiting the race and caucus-goers shouldn’t waste their votes on him. It turns out Carson was just getting a change of clothes (no suitable haberdashers can be found in Iowa or New Hampshire, apparently). The Cruz tactic wasn’t admirable, yet it is hardly unprecedented for campaigns to spread rumors favorable to their interests. The Carson vote had been falling for weeks regardless, and the retired neurosurgeon finished almost exactly where you would have expected from the polling.

The cheating charge is typical Trump, who has a reptilian political conscience. If he thinks something will work, he’ll use it, truthfulness or integrity be damned. In this case, it’s hard to know where the line is between political calculation (regaining control of the media narrative, driving a wedge between Cruz and Carson, etc.) and the elemental desire for revenge against a competitor who bested him.

As far as I am concerned, Trump the political candidate can’t go away fast enough. But his critics shouldn’t get carried away with Monday’s results, nor should Republicans yearn for a rapid restoration of the pre-Trump status quo.

First, Trump is not dead as a candidate, even if we now know that he won’t be a runaway train. You would expect New Hampshire to tighten after his unexpected Iowa loss, but he has built a big cushion there and the state should be more favorable to him than Iowa.

Trump won among moderates in the Hawkeye State, but they were only 14 percent of the electorate, whereas in the 2012 New Hampshire primary 47 percent of voters were moderate or liberal. Trump beat Cruz among independents, but they were only 20 percent of the Iowa electorate, whereas they were 47 percent of voters in the New Hampshire primary in 2012. In other words, Trump could well benefit from a less conservative, less Republican environment in New Hampshire, which, after all, voted twice for another dissenter from conservative orthodoxy, John McCain, in 2000 and 2008.

If Trump wins in New Hampshire, he probably would have as good a shot as anyone to win South Carolina and, at the very least, make a run deep into the primary season.

Even if Trump fizzles, though, the passions and discontents that have fueled him shouldn’t be ignored. This would be tempting, given that Trump himself is such a disreputable politician, but it would still be a mistake.

The fact is that the Republican Party can’t be dependent on working-class voters at the same time that it’s default economic agenda has little to say to them. If Trump has opened up the space for a conversation in the GOP about how to connect with these voters and their concerns, then his carnival show will have had some significant upside. If he goes down and the Republican political class carries on as if nothing had happened and conservative pundits who have twisted themselves into knots to justify Trump go back to hewing to the verities of the 1980s, nothing will have been gained except a more entertaining primary season than usual.

In this scenario, Trump voters will have been ill-served by his buffoonery, and the gatekeepers of the Republican Party will have been ill-served by their own lack of imagination. What Donald Trump has identified out there in the country is too important to be left to Donald Trump.

RICH LOWRY (Rich Lowry is editor of National Review)

Hullabaloo

This story about Trump’s half-assed, underfunded, lame operation in Iowa says more about him than any analysis I’ve seen. He didn’t want to spend money and he believed that his celebrity would automatically make people come out and caucus for him. He doesn’t have a clue. The man doesn’t think he politics is any different than getting TV ratings. He is wrong.

Trump’s staff “got outclassed and outmaneuvered ― the Iowa team simply didn’t have the tools they needed, which is why they overpromised and underperformed,” said a source close to the Trump campaign. “The Iowa team did an amazing job with the tools that they had, but that’s like saying that Al Qaeda did an amazing job in a battle with the U.S. Army because some Al Qaeda fighters didn’t get killed.”

On the ground in Iowa last month, Trump’s operation showed signs of disorganization and acrimony as it faced mounting doubts about its ability to identify and mobilize its high numbers of previously disengaged supporters and to persuade more traditional, but undecided, Republicans to caucus for Trump.

And some Trump allies were openly expressing doubts about the largely self-funding Trump’s willingness to pay for data analytics, as well as the aptitude of the campaign’s skeletal data team back in New York headquarters. It is headed by Matt Braynard and Witold Chrabaszcz, a pair of former data engineers for the Republican National Committee who lacked high-level national campaign experience. With less than a month to go until the caucuses, sources say, Braynard was still working to assemble a team to do what he described as a combination of high-level statistical analyses and “unglamorous political grunt work.” When one experienced data engineer asked when he could start working for the Trump campaign, Braynard immediately responded: “Now.”

The campaign didn’t start seriously building a data operation to target voters until mid-October, sources said, and even then it did not act with urgency. It waited until November to begin paying a data vendor, the nonpartisan firm L2, and until late November or early December to sign an agreement allowing it to use the RNC’s massive voter file. The RNC had initially offered the arrangement back in June, and it’s unclear what caused the delay in executing the agreement, but most other GOP campaigns signed similar agreements months before Trump.

At one point early in the campaign, Trump representatives talked to Cambridge Analytica ― the firm now being credited with engineering Cruz’s cutting-edge targeting operation ― about retaining the company’s services, but they decided it was too expensive. And, in early October, Trump’s Virginia state director, Mike Rubino, reached out to the nonpartisan voter data firm rVotes, writing in an email “We want to utilize this ASAP.” Steve Adler, rVotes’ owner, said the Trump campaign never followed up.

Through the end of last year, the period covered by the most recent Federal Election Commission filings, Trump’s campaign had spent only about $560,000 on data-related costs, compared with at least $3.6 million for Cruz. Trump’s data outlays included $235,000 to L2 for “research consulting,” $17,500 to the voter data firm NationBuilder for software, and $200,000 in list rental payments to the conservative Newsmax Media. By contrast, the Trump campaign has spent at least $1.4 million on rally-related expenses and $1.2 million on hats ― presumably mostly for the now-iconic hats bearing Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

The campaign’s lackadaisical data effort is seen in some quarters as coming down to Trump’s lack of willingness to use his own cash on something that’s seen as essential in modern-day presidential politics. “Trump’s a businessman,” said Joe Rospars, who served as a chief digital strategist to President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “He’s not going to spend any more money than he has to, and he made his bet.”

And we’re just talking about Iowa. Imagine him at the helm of the the most powerful nation in the world.

Ted Cruz said today that he might nuke Denmark. (He didn’t offer his preferred method of taking out Denmark — carpet bombing.) But the fact is that this billionaire megalomaniac who is making all these grandiose impossible promises doesn’t know what he’s doing. And apparently he refuses to shake loose some of his pocket change to pay people who do.

Maybe he’ll right the ship. He’s not known to be stupid so perhaps he’ll start spending some of those millions and get it together. But he doesn’t seem like the type to admit he’s wrong and re-evaluate his strategy. After his past failures he just shifted his business from real estate and casinos to branding and reality TV and he made a lot of money doing that. But this is not the same thing. He’s going to have to deliver. And there’s little in his background that says he actually knows how to do that.

by digby

Sanders refuses to concede Iowa as he claims momentum

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to the press after a campaign rally in Keene, N.H., Feb. 2, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

MSNBC

KEENE, New Hampshire – Declaring that his campaign “made history” Monday night in Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders refused to concede the state’s  caucuses Tuesday in New Hampshire as he claimed momentum in the homestretch before the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary next week.

Sanders didn’t win Iowa’s caucuses, but he closed an enormous gap to come within just 0.2 percent short of the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Sanders has been leading the polls for months, thanks in part to hailing from the state next door.

“Last night in Iowa, we took on the most powerful political organization in the country,” Sanders said to almost 1,200 excited supporters at a theater in Keene, N.H. “Last night we came back from a 50 point deficit in the polls. And last night we began the political revolution, not just in Iowa, not just in New Hampshire, but all over this country.”

Sanders insisted that he “slept like a log last night,” despite taking a redeye charter flight to New Hampshire from Iowa, and addressing supporters from the back of a flatbed truck at a pre-dawn rally.

His campaign and outside allies were eager to paint the narrow loss in Iowa as win, even as Clinton’s forces raised doubts as to whether Sanders could win elsewhere if he lost a state so tailor-made to his candidacy.

“In this case, it’s a virtual tie, and to the campaign and to me, that’s a win,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, one two members of Congress backing Sanders, told MSNBC. “Any question of legitimacy is gone.”

Speaking with an unusually large scrum of reporters Tuesday evening after his speech, Sanders touted the outcome in Iowa, which saw the narrowest margin of any Democratic presidential caucus in history.

Asked by MSNBC if he was going to contest the results, he said he was considering it: “We haven’t had the time to analyze it, but our people in Iowa are taking a look at that.”

His campaign has been raising doubts about process for days, and he said he thought it was “unfortunate” that some county-level delegates were assigned by the toss of coin. Coin tosses almost certainly did not influence the outcome of the race: The Iowa Democratic Party now says Sanders won six out of seven coin-flips in the state, but a count by Des Moines Register reversed that number in Clinton’s favor.

There is no formal process for contesting Iowa caucus results, since it is not an official election run by the state, but the private business of political parties. A Sanders aide said they were exploring their options, but a source outside the campaign said the only way to contest the results may be to sue the party.

CONTINUES>>>

Marco Rubio Makes It a Three-Man Race With Strong Showing in Iowa

Marco Rubio Makes It a Three-Man Race With Strong Showing in Iowa

Image Credit: AP

POLICY.MIC

Monday was supposed to be Donald Trump‘s night.

After trailing Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in Iowa polls, the billionaire tycoon bounced back in recent weeks, with most observers expecting Trump to pull off a victory in the Hawkeye State’s kickoff caucuses.

Instead, Trump lost out to the better-organized Cruz, who bested the real estate magnate by about four percentage points. No less important than the Cruz-Trump placement, though, is who finished just behind Trump: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who nearly wrested second place from Trump, nabbing 23% support to Trump’s 24%.

RUBIO

Rubio’s performance far exceeded expectations. Even pre-caucus polls that showed his support climbing indicated he was headed for a finish in the high teens.

The first-term senator’s robust showing boosts his effort to consolidate establishment Republican support behind his candidacy, bolstering his argument that he can unite different segments of the GOP electorate. His real test arrives next Tuesday in New Hampshire, where establishment rivals Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie have focused their energies. Polls show Trump substantially ahead in New Hampshire, with Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Christie all clustered around 10%.

But the Iowa results may dramatically reshape the state of play in New Hampshire.

A new race: With Rubio emerging from the caucuses as a proven vote-getter, supporters of other establishment-oriented candidates may reconsider their options, particularly as center-right Republicans look to forestall a Trump or Cruz nomination.

Rubio isn’t necessarily looking for a win in the Granite State. His campaign’s much-ballyhooed — and much-mocked — “3-2-1” strategy called for a strong third-place finish in Iowa, followed by a silver medal in New Hampshire on Feb. 9 and the top prize in the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary.

It’s a risky strategy, but it may yet reap dividends. Rubio’s South Carolina efforts received a much-needed shot of adrenaline Monday evening when Politico reported that popular Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) will endorse Rubio on Tuesday.

Marco Rubio Makes It a Three-Man Race With Strong Showing in Iowa

Later-voting, more populous states — including his native Florida, in which the winner will claim all 81 delegates — may also power Rubio forward. And as the New York Times‘ Nate Cohn has observed, highly populated blue states play a surprisingly key role in selecting GOP nominees, given the concentration of delegates there. Such states typically break for center-right candidates.

A formidable foe: While Rubio’s ascendance is unwelcome among his establishment rivals, it’s also being eyed warily by Democrats, who regard the 44-year-old senator as their toughest general-election competition.

Though his reputation for moderation stems largely from his even keel and his support — later abandoned — for comprehensive immigration reform, Rubio’s viability as a GOP standard-bearer is a matter of more than perceived centrism.

The son of Cuban immigrants and a skillful orator, Rubio would bring to bear a compelling persona — as was readily apparent during his speech to supporters in Iowa on Monday night.

“I know America is special because I was raised by people who knew what life was like outside America,” he began, connecting his family’s trajectory to the stakes of the coming election.

“This is no ordinary election,” Rubio declared. He framed the choice facing voters in stark terms: “We can either be greater than we’ve ever been or we can be a great nation in decline.”

Though he was careful not to explicitly repudiate Trump and Cruz, whose inflammatory rhetoric and hard-line views have sent jitters down establishment spines, Rubio also pitched himself as a candidate of inclusion who would broaden GOP’s appeal.

“When I’m our nominee we are going to grow the conservative movement,” Rubio said. “We will unite our party, we will grow our party and we will defeat Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or whoever [the Democrats] nominate.”

To get there, Rubio must first dispatch the newly victorious Cruz and a spirited Trump. That’s looking likelier than it did Monday morning.

Luke Brinker

Ted Cruz’s Tour Bus Gets Towed In Iowa – Has To Hitch A Ride (IMAGES)

ADDICTING INFO

This is not how Ted Cruz must have envisioned his campaign would end up heading into the nation’s very first caucus in Iowa on Monday. His “Cruzin to Victory” tour bus wasn’t exactly the epitome of its name, either. While he visited the Johnson County Fairgrounds earlier, it needed to be towed after getting stuck in the mud.

This is very ironic, indeed. Just a bit over a week ago Ted Cruz was quoted as saying, “I’m not going into the mud with personal insults and attacks (on Donald Trump).”

Well, Senator, you just went into the mud, quite literally.

Cruz Bus

According to a report by Phillip Elliott from Time magazine, Cruz had to hitch a ride with aides to his next tour stop while his bus was towed. That’s not the kind of image you want to project just before the voters of Iowa nominate the next future President of The United States. It certainly can’t be good public relations; draw as many analogies as you must.

Tour bus 2

Cruz needs every bit of good press he can get right now. Virtually every poll shows Donald Trump having a huge lead on him. And – Cruz can’t afford that. Whoever wins Iowa would get a must needed head start in the race. With Trump up in practically every state, Iowa is the momentum Cruz has been desperately seeking. Unfortunately, the only momentum Cruz is getting right now is coming from the back of tow truck.

You’d think the Cruz campaign would, at least, try to play damage control and be the first to report it, instead of being outed by the media. It’s possible they could have made a joke out of it – but they didn’t. They didn’t even mention it. That’s no way to run a campaign.

Antiphon Freeman

The Iowa Caucuses Explained…

www.desmoinesregister.com

Why such a tiny contest has such a massive effect on the presidential race.

Cruz challenges Trump to one-on-one debate

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Getty Images

POLITICO

MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA — Ted Cruz criticized Donald Trump’s withdrawal from Thursday night’s presidential debate and challenged the businessman to debate one-on-one in the coming days.

“Give the Republican primary voters the right to see a fair and policy-focused debate, not simply insults,” Cruz said on the Mark Levin radio show Tuesday night.

He proposed a 90-minute debate to happen before the Iowa caucuses on Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump said at a press conference here that he would not participate in Thursday’s Fox News debate because he believes co-moderator Megyn Kelly is biased against him and because he found Fox’s response to his concerns childish.

Cruz said that decision cast doubt on Trump’s ability to serve as commander in chief. “If he thinks Megyn Kelly is so scary what exactly does he think he’d do with Vladimir Putin?” asked the senator.

Levin, who initially embraced Trump’s candidacy, has recently turned against the businessman over his questioning of Cruz’s constitutional eligibility for the presidency, and Cruz allowed for the possibility that Trump would object to Levin’s involvement.

“If he’s scared of you, he can name his own moderator,” Cruz told the host.

Levin proposed a free-for-all debate format, with no moderation except to intervene for commercial breaks, which he likened to both the Lincoln-Douglas debates and “a cage match.” Levin called on the Trump campaign to accept Cruz’s challenge.

At the end of the segment, the host also opened the proposed debate to the rest of the field. “Well that’s two presidential candidates,” he said. “Anybody else listening? You can come in too.”

“I would encourage Marco Rubio to call in if he wishes. Or Kasich or Jeb Bush,” added Levin after the break.

Representatives of Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cruz’s challenge.

 

Sanders and Clinton Neck-and-Neck in Iowa and New Hampshire

(Photo: Charlie Leight, Getty Images)

COMMON DREAMS

New poll finds Sanders more electable in both states when matched against Trump, Cruz, or Rubio

Just weeks ahead of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are neck-and-neck, polls released Sunday reveal.

In New Hampshire, Sanders is backed by 50 percent—a four point lead over Clinton, who has 46 percent, according to surveys from NBC/The Wall Street Journal/Marist.

In Iowa, Clinton has 48 percent, compared to 45 percent for Sanders.

In both states, the gap between Sanders and Clinton fell within the poll’s margin of error. Conducted between January 2 and 7 among 422 likely Democratic caucus-goers, the Iowa survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percent. The New Hampshire survey of 425 probable Democratic primary voters had the same margin of error.

“Turning to the general election,” the poll summary notes, “when Clinton and Sanders are each matched against, Trump, Cruz, or Rubio, Sanders does better than Clinton among registered voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire.”

Sanders leads in electability by a wide margin: an average of 6 points in Iowa and 21 in New Hampshire.

Sanders’ lead is, in part, due to the democratic socialist’s strong performance among independent voters.

The latest numbers were broadly interpreted as a good sign for the senator from Vermont, with The New York Times running the headline on Sunday: “Bernie Sanders Makes Strong Showing in New Polls.”

The findings come amid growing momentum, including recent reporting from Politico that, in the Nevada caucuses slated for February 20, the state is “suddenly looking like it’s in play” for Sanders, “opening another unexpected early state front.”

What’s more, Sunday’s poll findings follow earlier surveys which showed that, when matched against GOP front-runners, Sanders is more electable than Clinton.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that aired Sunday, Sanders said: “Any objective look at our campaigns would suggest we have the energy, we can drive a large voter turnout.”

Sarah Lazare

As Sanders Draws 10,000 in Wisconsin, Support for ‘Revolution’ Doubles in Iowa

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 1, 2015. The senator and presidential candidate spelled out to the capacity crowd he would attempt to reverse the 40-year decline of the middle class and narrow the wealth and income gap that is greater today in the United States than at any time since before the Great Depression. (Photo: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg)

COMMON DREAMS

Speaking to largest crowd any campaign for president has yet seen, the field’s most progressive candidate says “a grassroots movement of millions of people” must overcome power of “handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”

A crowd of approximately 10,000 people filled a sports arena to capacity in Wisconsin on Wednesday night in order to hear the person who has called for a “political revolution” in the United States explain why he should be the next president.

“Tonight we have made a little bit of history,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to those inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison. “Tonight we have more people at a meeting for a candidate for president of the United States than any other candidate has had in 2015.”

Such turnouts are becoming a trend for the candidate who has stepped forth from the left side of the political spectrum to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination. As MSNBC notes, Sanders has been attracting outsize crowds nearly everywhere he goes recently: “Five thousand came out for his kickoff rally in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont. Another 5,000 turned out in Denver, Colorado. In Minneapolis, a thousand listened from outside after the basketball arena where Sanders was speaking filled to capacity.”

Wednesday’s enormous turnout also arrives with good news for Sanders out of the key early-voting state of Iowa, where a new Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday morning shows his campaign continuing to close the gap with frontrunner Clinton. According to the survey, Sanders is now is receiving support from 33 percent of likely Democratic caucus participants compared to Clinton’s 55 percent. That distance is remarkably smaller now than it was in early May when Clinton enjoyed a 45-percentage point advantage.

“Sen. Sanders has more than doubled his showing and at 33 percent he certainly can’t be ignored, especially with seven months until the actual voting,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Which is at least partly why the size of turnouts like one in Madison and elsewhere do matter for the Sanders campaign. “This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton or anybody else. It is about you,” the candidate told the crowd. “It is about putting together a grassroots movement of millions of people to make sure the government works for all of us and not a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”

In his overall remarks, Sanders spelled out his policy prescriptions, which aim to reverse the 40-year decline of the middle class and narrow the wealth and income gap that is greater today in the United States, he said, than at any time since before the Great Depression.

As the local Capitol Times newspaper reports:

Over the course of an hour-long speech, the crowd roared and crowed in approval of the Vermont senator’s remarks, waving blue and white “Bernie 2016” signs and chanting “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!”

Sanders’ speech, which focused heavily on income inequality, ran the gamut of a progressive wish list, from two weeks of guaranteed paid vacation time for every worker in America to free tuition for students at public colleges and universities, presenting a strong front against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreementand overturning Citizens United.

He also made spoke briefly about race (“Our job is to make sure that young African-Americans can walk down the street without being abused – or worse.”) and moving to a single-payer healthcare system (“In America, health care must be a right for all of our people.”).

And the energy and enthusiasm around Sanders and his message appears to be spreading.

“We have the rule of half that we teach our organizers: if 20 people say they’re going to show up, it’ll be 10,” said Pete D’Alessandro, the state coordinator for Sanders’ Iowa operation, to Time magazine this week. “But at Sen. Sanders’ events, we’ve been consistently over 100% of our RSVPs. Until it doesn’t happen, we feel confident our turnout is going to be higher.”

And, reporting from the rally in Madison, MSNBC added:

But by attracting massive crowds, Sanders can build a movement around him and present the impression of momentum as he campaigns for wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond.

The giant rallies also offer a fundraising opportunity for Sanders, whose staffers collected names of attendees as they entered the arena. His campaign says he’s attracted 200,000 donors so far, most of them small, and will need a to keep firing up a national donor base to fuel his campaign.

“I’ve been frustrated for the last several years and he’s like a lone wolf out there for people with no voice,” said Todd Osborne of Madison.

Erika Hanson said too many Democrats, including Clinton, too often to do the bidding of corporations. “As far as I’m concerned he’s the only person who cares about the middle class,” she said.

Jon Queally, staff writer

GOP Summit—The Good, The Bad And The Absolutely Crazy

Half-Term Governor of Alaska: Sarah Palin | Jim Young/Reuters

 The Daily Beast

GOP presidential contenders flocked to Iowa on Saturday to try out their pitches on the unofficial beginning of the Iowa Caucus. Hint: Sarah Palin has lost her mind.
You’re going to read a lot of analysis of this weekend’s Freedom Summit as the unofficial beginning of the Iowa caucus.Whether that’s true depends entirely on how many of those who attended are still standing one long year from now—and how many of those who didn’t attend (Jeb Bush, Rand Paul) have campaigns that are still alive and well.The event does serve as a gauge for a candidate’s willingness to pander, and it is the beginning of serious media scrutiny for all the candidates as 2016 candidates,not as quaint spectacles (Donald Trump, Ted Cruz) or interesting anomalies (Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina)…. or familiar former presidential candidates, who made up a non-shocking majority of the featured speakers (Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin).

What did we learn?

Palin is past her sell-by date.

It’s the unofficial policy of many serious political reporters (myself included) to not cover Palin speeches.  So it’s entirely possible I missed a key stretch of her decline that would help make sense of, or have prepared me for, the word-salad-with-a-cup-of-moose-stew that she presented.

Sample passage: “Things must change for our government! It isn’t too big to fail, it’s too big to succeed! It’s too big to succeed, so we can afford no retreads or nothing will change, with the same people and same policies that got us into the status quo! Another Latin word, status quo, and it stands for, ‘Man, the middle class and everyday Americans are really gettin’ taken for a ride.’”

The speech (perhaps a generous description) went on 15 minutes past the 20 minutes allotted other speakers. And even as she ended it, one sensed less a crescendo than the specter of a gong, a hook to pull her off, or—a sincere thought I had—an ambulance to take her… somewhere.

No one else embarrassed themselves out of the race.

The event was organized by immigration hawk Rep. Steve “Cantaloupes” King (with the help of Citizens United) and many pundits fretted (or eagerly anticipated) 47-percent-style gaffes in the service of speakers trying to out-xenophobe each other. I may have missed something, but the anti-immigration rhetoric stayed on the “self-deport” side of offensive. Santorum did some under-the-breath dog whistling in reference to legal immigration, positing that the U.S. is home to more non-native citizens than ever before. He contrasted those non-native-born workers to, ahem, “American workers.” As far as I know, if you work in America, you are an “American worker.” Unless Santorum is thinking of something else.

The soft bigotry of low expectation works!

Scott Walker continues to clear the “not Tim Pawlenty” bar, but no one seems to realize how weak of a standard that is. National journalists cooed over Walker’s relatively energetic speech, apparently forgetting they were comparing it to other Walker speeches. In a similar vein, Chris Christie did not intentionally piss anyone off or bully the audience. Christie gave what seemed a lot like a national-audience speech—probably the only speaker that played it so safe.

Sen. Mike Lee gave some sensible, serious suggestions.

I may be engaging in more expectation management, but I was pleasantly surprised by Lee’s earnest and non-applause-line-ridden speech. He beseeched the audience to look for a candidate that was “positive, principled, and proven”—all while explicitly taking himself out of the running. In what could have been a direct jab at his fellow guests, he quipped, “The principled candidate is not necessarily the guy who yells ‘Freedom!’ the loudest.” He could have been quoting Elizabeth Warren when he softened typical GOP bootstrap rhetoric: “Freedom doesn’t mean ‘You’re all on your own,’” he said, “It means, ‘We’re all in it together.’” Elizabeth Warren would approve.

The GOP is going to need to figure out how to run against someone who is not Obama.

Even Lee, who gave what might be the most forward-looking speech, hung many of his arguments on the framework of undoing what Obama has done. Every other speaker followed suit, and some of the night’s biggest applause lines had to do with the same “fake scandals” that already proved insufficiently interesting to the American people: Benghazi, with a dash of IRS. They speak of repealing Obamacare with the zest of people who think of the House’s own fifty-plus attempts as mere warm-ups. Even their foreign policy script has Obama and the specter of American decline as its primary villains—foes that have defeated them twice before.