A Completely Different Sense of the GOP’s ‘First Tier’

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

American Politics Should Not Require So Much Travel to Iowa in Winter.

A great big crowd of conservatives met in Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend to watch aspiring presidents kiss the ring of Representative Steve King.

Okay, that’s a metaphor, but you know each contender in town intensely hoped to leave a lasting impression with the socially conservative, staunchly anti-illegal-immigration congressman. Our John Fund declares, “The field this cycle is the most open and competitive I’ve ever seen.”

Our Eliana Johnson was there and brought back this key takeaway:

The love affair between the Iowa voters and Ted Cruz is going strong.

The Texas senator, pacing across the stage at the Iowa Freedom Summit in a tan jacket and slacks, praised the state’s “unique and special role in the political process.” Iowa voters, he said, have a responsibility “to scrutinize every candidate for national office, to look them in the eyes and to hold them to account.”

The tea-party darling urged them to be discerning when presidential contenders begin streaming through the state vaunting their conservative credentials. It helps, of course, that nobody can out-conservative Ted Cruz.

“Every candidate is going to come in front of you and say I’m the most conservative guy who ever lived,” Cruz said. “Well gosh darnit, talk is cheap. One of the most important roles men and women of Iowa will play is to say, ‘Don’t talk, show me.’”

Allow me to offer a completely different grouping of the big names than you’ve seen elsewhere:

First Tier:

Scott Walker: He’s serious and accomplished enough for the “Establishment,” and indisputably conservative enough for the grassroots. The Left threw everything it had at this guy and he’s still going strong. Despite the questions about his charisma, he’s getting rave reviews for his passion in his appearance this weekend.

Marco Rubio: He’s arguably the best communicator in the Republican party, and the Republican party desperately needs a good communicator as its nominee.

With rave reviews from Charles Krauthammer and James Pethokoukis, he could end up being the conservative pundits’ favorite choice. Yes, there’s still irritation about the gang of “Gang of Eight” and anti-Senator skepticism to overcome, but he’s speaking about the broad, unifying national theme of American exceptionalism since 2010. Obviously, he offers a fantastic contrast with Hillary.

Rick Perry: The former governor of Texas is likely to be the only rerunning candidate who improves upon his past performance. He still has a sterling economic record to point to, he’s been going toe-to-toe with the Obama administration consistently, he’s got enough charm to work on Jimmy Kimmel. This time, he won’t be coming off back surgery, he won’t start late and we’ll see just how much the hipster glasses help.

Bobby Jindal: Yes, he needs to speak slower. Yes, it’s not clear that a style that works in Louisiana will work on the national stage. But he’s a bit like Walker in that he’s amassed an indisputably conservative record while getting things done in two terms. There’s probably not another contender who knows more detail about more policies, and he’s guided his state through some severe challenges — post-Katrina rebuilding, a pair of serious hurricanes, the Deepwater Horizon and the drilling moratorium. What’s more, he’s been fighting the administration on issues like school choice for years and he moves fast when an opportunity opens like the House GOP botching a late-term abortion bill.

Second Tier:

Jeb Bush: Sure, he’ll have the money, and he’ll have the name. But let’s not even get into the immigration, Common Core, business ties or family dynasty issues yet. Republican primary voters, particularly conservative ones, think that the Obama presidency is the worst calamity to hit America in their lifetimes, and fear it is doing permanent damage to the national values, identity, and standing in the world. GOP primary voters are going to want a fighter, and do they think Jeb Bush has been leading the fight against Obama?

Mitt Romney: When people tell Mitt Romney, “Governor, I really wish you had won in 2012,” they’re not saying, “Governor, I think you would have been one of the greatest presidents in our lifetimes.” They’re saying, “Governor, Obama is really, really, really terrible, and electing you would have spared the country a lot of pain.” He’s a good man, but a lot of Republicans are ready to move on to new options. Plus, you know . . . Gruber.

Chris Christie: If Bush and Romney are both in, you have to wonder how many big donors stick by him. He did better in his Iowa appearance than some might have expected, and he’s undoubtedly going to be a dominant figure in the debates. But he’s positioned himself in opposition to the rest of the party way too often, and you can’t win the GOP nomination from the Jon Huntsman slot, as the Republican nominee most acceptable to the Acela class that can’t stand Republicans.

Rand Paul: He’ll have his dad’s network, and he’s way more compelling than his father was. But there’s a ceiling to Libertarian-minded candidates in the modern Republican party, and it’s going to be tougher to sell quasi-isolationist non-interventionism as the world blows up and grows even more dangerous in Obama’s final two years in office.

Ted Cruz: He will easily get elected President of Conservative America. The question is whether he can win votes among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who don’t already agree with him. The path to being king-maker may be easier to see than being king.

Mike Huckabee: He will easily get elected President of Socially Conservative America. The problem is that his less jovial analogue, Rick Santorum, tried the same approach in 2012 and you remember where that got him: leverage phenomenal popularity with social conservatives to a win in the Iowa caucuses, concede New Hampshire, don’t do quite as well in South Carolina as you hoped, and then you’re the dog chasing the big-spending frontrunner’s limousine.

Rick Santorum: See above. He’s got the same odds as 2012, except that Huckabee’s competing for the same base of support.

Ben Carson: He’s got buckets of charisma and a dedicated fan base, but some primary voters are going to be wary about him having zero experience in government. Plus . . . you know.

Carly Fiorina: Whether she is open about it or not, she’s running for vice president, not president. The thing is, the way she tears into Hillary and touts her own accomplishments, she may be a much more serious contender for that slot than most people think right now. For example — did you know she’s with CSIS? Here’s her speech:

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 traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is an activity not an accomplishment. I have met Vladimir Putin and know that it will take more to halt his ambitions than a gimmicky red “Reset” button. 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 is a state-sponsor of cyberwarfare and has a strategy to steal our intellectual property. I know Bibi Netanyahu and know that when he warns us, over and over and over again, that Iran is a danger to this nation as well as to his own, that we must listen. And unlike Hillary Clinton I know what difference it makes that our Ambassador to Libya and 3 other brave Americans were killed in a deliberate terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9-11 and that the response of our nation must be more forceful that the arrest of a single individual a year later.

For someone who has never been elected to anything, she’s got a pretty good résumé.

The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.