Well, when haven’t they been? But now they’re really off and running. That was clearer than ever in Boone, Iowa, a whistle stop that looks like last year’s version of The Bachelor about forty-five minutes from Des Moines. I was there over the weekend for the first big Iowa assembly of Republican presidential candidates at a new Norman Rockwellish event — Senator Joni Ernst’s (hopefully annual) “Roast & Ride.”
That’s roast as in bbq pig and ride as in motorcycle, something done by candidates Scott Walker and Rick Perry (with an entourage of vets, some wounded) and host Ernst.
The big prize — winning the Iowa caucus and possibly, even sooner, the Ames straw poll in August, another Iowa event designed to winnow out the apparently endless parade of candidates. Ames is reportedly being downplayed this year, however, and that’s a good thing. Iowa’s a fine place, but haven’t we had a bit too much of it? Isn’t it, as many have said on a bazillion subjects, time for a change?
No matter. The “Roast & Ride” was great fun and judged a success by all. As for the candidates, it takes a special breed of person to be president of the United States — or even want to be — and I got to do video interviews with five of them in one day in Boone and, I have to admit, liked them all. No surprise there. If these people can’t be charming and ingratiating, they should be in another business.
I also saw seven — count ’em, seven — give speeches at the Ernst event and liked six of them. Aha, you’re thinking. There’s someone he didn’t like and he’s willing to admit it (good-bye the chance to interview that candidate down the line). True — and more about him (yes, it’s a him) in a second.
For the record, those speaking were the aforementioned Walker and Perry, plus Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Lindsey Graham. Not all of them were equal in public speaking, but they were good enough. Carson comes off as a bit professorish. He was better one on one. Rubio and Perry — in different ways — have genuine charisma as public speakers, Rubio that new generation JFK thing and Perry more down home. Everyone seems to like Walker who looked good, if maybe a tad too casual, in a t-shirt. Graham comes off as relaxed and intelligent, ditto for Fiorina.
What was interesting is that, for the most part (the major exception being the person I didn’t like) they were all genuine with little to distinguish them on policy. All were hawkish on foreign affairs, Graham perhaps the most and Carson seemingly the least concerned with it. And every single one of them, guess what, didn’t like the deficit. (Israel was a whole lot more popular than it is in the White House — and with the audience as well.)
Okay, I’ll stop being cute. The one who disturbed me was Huckabee. He seemed like a retail politician from another era, going on and on about his opposition to free trade not, it appeared, because he had thought through the economics or even cared about it (every president since Reagan, even Obama, has been for free trade for good reason) but because it was the way he campaigned back in Arkansas twenty years ago and it worked then — old time religion, not new thinking. And maybe it was just body language, but he gave off a competitive vibe with the other candidates, something notably missing from them. (Carson graciously and publicly thanked Rubio for changing places in the speaking order with him, because the doctor had to catch a plane.)
Which leads to the serious question of how we are going to distinguish between these people. Victory in November 2016 is a primary consideration, but only one. Graham was honest about adding means testing to Social Security in order to save it. I would advocate other ways (I liked the Bush privatization plan) but I give Graham points for being open about his intentions with a largely rightwing crowd. He was well-received for it and he should have been.
If you were looking for new ideas from Boone, I have to say I may have inspired one. When interviewing Carly Fiorina, it suddenly occurred to me that the former Hewlett-Packard CEO might be better prepared for the presidency than many in this era of intense data theft (not to say email erasures) from China, Russia and others. We are already in a time of cyberwar that is growing quickly and it would help to have a chief exec who understands the territory.
I asked Fiorina about this and you can see her answer on the video of my interview with her. It will be up in a day or so, also those of the other candidates I was able to speak with. (Yes, I asked Rubio the tough questions about his driving habits. If he gets to be president, I hope he doesn’t channel Harrison Ford and want to pilot Air Force One.) A YouTube preview of all the interviews appears above.
It will be interesting to see how all this plays out — who will be the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, how they work and play with each other. Are we looking at some potential cabinet members? As they say, we have only just begun.
Roger L. Simon – Co-founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media – is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and prize-winning novelist. He is covering the election of 2016 at Diary of a Mad Voter.