Benchmarks For Candidates at Steve King’s Vet-a-Thon on Saturday

I’ve been talking more than most Political Animals about the Steve King/Citizens United Iowa Freedom Summit this weekend in Des Moines. It’s the first real cattle call of the 2016 cycle and Steve King’s ex post facto evaluation of their performance could matter a lot while putting implied pressure on the field to get wild and crazy for what will be a highly carnivorous audience.

So I was very interested to read the assessment by The Iowa Republican‘s Kevin Hall of what the various proto-candidates need to accomplish at this event. Here are the key excerpts:

John Bolton:

The former ambassador will need to show he can appeal to caucusgoers on issues beyond foreign policy if he hopes to gain any traction.

Ben Carson:

[D]elivering fiery speeches is not Carson’s forte.

The two prominent speeches he delivered in Iowa last year ran between 45 minutes and an hour. Although they were well received, Carson does not electrify a crowd the way some of the other speakers are able to do.

Since there is a 20-minute time limit Saturday, Dr. Carson will need to find a way to deliver a concise, yet inspirational speech in order to continue his positive momentum in Iowa.

Chris Christie:

The national media on hand will likely focus on Christie’s speech more than anyone else’s. Yet, he might be the least popular candidate on the stage Saturday….

Governor Christie can significantly help his presidential aspirations on Saturday if he finds common ground with a crowd that leans more conservative than he does. He could also severely damage those aspirations.

Ted Cruz:

Cruz has spent extensive time in Iowa and many of Saturday’s attendees have heard his speeches before. Cruz will need to offer some fresh material and another fiery speech to emerge from this event still considered among the upper echelon of Iowa Caucus contenders.

Carly Fiorina:

Fiorina’s one major speech in Iowa, delivered last September, was well received by the 125 members in attendance. However, the former Hewlett Packard CEO needs to show she can appeal to an audience that will likely be more conservative than that one.

Fiorina will also likely be judged against a more prominent female speaker on hand Saturday: former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Mike Huckabee:

[T]he field of conservative candidates is stronger and more crowded now than it was in 2008. Huckabee needs to come across as a full spectrum conservative. That will not be easy. The former Arkansas governor’s support of issues like Common Core will turn off many of his former supporters.

Mike Huckabee needs to show that he can maintain his affable personality while also being a conservative warrior who will fight for the issues Iowa Caucusgoers hold dear. That is a difficult balance to maintain, especially in a short speech.

Rick Perry:

He is a completely different candidate than he was last cycle. The passionless, scripted speeches are gone. Perry stole the show at The Family Summit last August with a fiery, red meat-laden dialogue. That came as a shock to many who watched him flounder in 2011-12.

Saturday, Rick Perry needs another performance like that one last August.

Rick Santorum:

Iowa conservatives like Santorum, but he is not beloved the same way as Mike Huckabee. Santorum is also largely absent from the national spotlight.

The former Pennsylvania senator is adamantly pushing Republicans to expand their reach to blue-collar workers. His recent Iowa speeches push that mantra.

However, that group will not make up the core of the attendees on Saturday. Santorum needs to convince Iowans he remains the best full-spectrum conservative in the hunt. Fiery speeches are not Santorum’s forte, but he could definitely use one on Saturday.

Scott Walker:

Walker can make a big splash Saturday with a strong, substantive speech. He is not the most electric speaker, but Walker is right on most of the issues Iowa conservatives champion.

Scott Walker needs to show he has the ability to ignite the passion of a large crowd. Many are ready to embrace his bid, but a speech that does not stand out could find Walker quickly eclipsed by others in the field.

You will notice no one is being encouraged to project a statesmanlike image or reach out to the general electorate. It’s all about igniting passion and feeding the audience red meat and outdoing the competition in those respects.

I figure the “winner” could be the first speaker who quotes Steve King’s famous remark about most DREAMers having “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling bales of pot across the border. All the stuff about “igniting passion” is simple code for making it clear that the project of running for president makes the candidate in question more, not less, inclined to pander to Iowa’s ravenous conservative activists.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.