DES MOINES --Nearly a dozen presidential contenders or likely contenders showed up to Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Dinner on Saturday night to pitch themselves and their ideas.
We will update this post throughout the night...
5:50 p.m. Welcome to the Lincoln Dinner.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) May 16, 2015
Guests were greeted by a Abraham Lincoln impersonator. The night opened up with welcomes from the state chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Both encouraged candidates to participate in the party's straw poll planned for August, which has already received one declined invitation from Jeb Bush. There was also a quick video about the political craziness that will soon hit this "flyover country" state as the caucuses approach.
6 p.m. Rick Santorum goes first.
Rick Santorum’s speech was heavy on foreign policy as he assailed President Obama over his negotiations with Iran and asserted that as a former senator from Pennsylvania he has the international experience to be a strong commander in chief. At one point, he distilled his foreign policy views into four short words: “Iran, enemy. Israel, friend. It’s real simple.”
Santorum reminded the audience that he narrowly won the 2012 Iowa caucuses and urged Iowans to look at his record, as well as his vision, in giving him another shot at the nomination in 2016.
"You can look at what they say, you can even look at what they propose, but the most important thing to look at is what they’ve done,” Santorum said. “The record matters.”
6:10 p.m. Ben Carson talks about violence in Baltimore.
Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no political experience, lamented that too much of societal discourse revolves around partisan politics. He cited the recent riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody as an example.
“Everybody tried to make it out to be a racial issue, but I don’t think it really was a racial issue,” said Carson, who lived in the Baltimore area when he practiced at Johns Hopkins University. He noted that Baltimore’s mayor and police chief are black.
Carson also tried to wrap his candidacy in religious terms.
"We must stop being afraid of being people of faith and having faith in God,” he said. "This is a Judeo-Christian nation. It is those values that allowed us to go from nowhere to the pinnacle of the world in record time. It is those values that will return us to the pinnacle."
Ben Carson on B'more: "Everybody tried to make it out to be a racial issue. But I don’t think it really was a racial issue.” #LincolnDinner
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) May 16, 2015
6:15 p.m. Bobby Jindal focuses on religious liberty.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) told the crowd that the U.S. faces two major threats: Radical Islam and attacks on religious liberty. The latter earned him the loudest applause.
Jindal had this message for the president, Democrats and the media: "The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America."
Jindal spent a chunk of his time telling the audience about how his parents moved from India to Louisiana at a time when there was no way to Google and see what waited for them. He added that while his parents love India, they consider themselves Americans -- as should all immigrants.
"I am tired of the labels and the hyphenations," he said. "We're all Americans."
And he closed with a jab at the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Rodham Clinton: "We can beat Hillary. We must beat Hillary. We will beat Hillary."
6:30 p.m. Jeb Bush talks up his conservative record.
Jeb Bush took the stage by announcing America is 541 days away from the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. From there, he contrasted his record as governor of Florida with Obama’s record in the White House — on taxes, the debt and the size of government payroll.
Bush's point was obvious: to show Iowans that although he may be perceived as a moderate, he actually governed as a conservative.
“There’s a difference between the liberal, progressive agenda and a conservative agenda applied the right way,” Bush said.
Bush highlighted the “scandals of epic proportions” in the Obama administration, including at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he said there should have been “scores fired” — a line that drew applause from the crowd.
Bush also trained his rhetorical fire on Obama’s foreign policy, saying the country must improve its relationships with Israel, Arab nations and other important allies.
"Name a country where the relationship is better than the day that Barack Obama came into office?” Bush asked. “Iran. Cuba. I rest my case.”
6:40 p.m. Rick Perry really, really loves all of Iowa's cornfields.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry (R) took the stage, flashed a thumbs-up and declared: "It's good to be back in Iowa." Then he began talking enthusiastically about driving through the state and seeing farmers out in their fields, planting corn and other crops. Perry said that it was a symbol of the risks that small businesses take each year, optimistic about the future.
"This is the time of year when hope springs eternal," Perry said.
Optimism is a word that Perry kept using over and over again. Perry said that he understands why people are no longer optimistic -- there are not enough jobs, the economy is lagging and too many are dependent on government programs like food stamps. He added that while things might seem desperate right now, the country is only a few good decisions and a leadership change away from being vibrant again. He then touted the jobs that he created while governor of Texas and the strong stances he would take as chief commander.
"I'm so optimistic about the future of this country," Perry said. "And I'm so optimistic about the future of the world."
6:50 p.m. Rand Paul is the first speaker to really go after Clinton.
In a lineup of 11 presidential hopefuls, Sen. Rand Paul stood out both by beginning his remarks with a focus on constitutional issues like NSA wiretapping as well as by unleashing particularly stinging attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s foreign policy record.
The Kentucky senator noted that all week Jeb Bush has faced questions about his brother’s legacy starting the war in Iraq. He said the media should instead be quizzing Clinton about her legacy as secretary of state in Libya.
“Someone needs to ask Hillary Clinton — if she ever takes any questions — was it a good idea to topple Qaddafi in Libya?” Paul said. “I think it’s a disaster.”
Paul said that Clinton’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, should disqualify her from serving as commander in chief.
“I think Hillary Clinton, by her failure to defend the embassy, by her failure to defend the ambassador — [that] should forever preclude her from holding higher office,” Paul said.
7 p.m. George Pataki delves into detailed specifics on his policy stances.
George Pataki started off by telling this Iowa-friendly story: He was governor of New York on Sept. 11 and as New York City tried to recover and rebuild after the attacks, Pataki said that he traveled to Washington and asked lawmakers for financial support. He said many lawmakers turned him down, considering this a state problem and not a national one. An exception: Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
Pataki described how the city has recovered and shared credit with Grassley: "I am proud of it. You should be proud of it."
Then Pataki got round after round of applause as he listed federal agencies with too many employees, including education staffers who handle Common Core issues and IRS employees who oversee the country's much-too-complicated tax system. He said that he cut down the number of state workers when he was governor, noting that was done "in the deepest blue state in the United States."
Other ideas Pataki fired off: Passing a law to make it illegal for former members of Congress to work as lobbyists. Another that would require all new laws to apply to members of Congress, so they cannot kept exempting themselves. Seal the border. And make it a crime to recruit for radical terrorist groups.
7:15 p.m. As halftime hits, Lindsey Graham tells joke after joke.
“It’s halftime,” Lindsey Graham declared as he took the stage. And the senator from South Carolina did not disappoint, putting on a rollicking halftime show of a speech.
He started with some playful ribbing of the infamously frugal Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa): "The one thing I learned about this dinner is it was free for Chuck or he wouldn’t have been here!”
Then he showered love on Iowa’s junior senator, freshman Joni Ernst, who rose to national fame last year with her ad about hog castration. "Joni Ernst rocks! When I saw that ad with the pigs, I made sure I’d never offend Joni.”
Graham praised retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, too. “Isn’t he too smart to be president?” he asked.
“The more you drink, the better I sound, so keep drinking,” Graham told the crowd. “If you need to go to the bathroom, go ahead. Won’t bother me a bit.”
Then the senator got serious. Graham made clear he is positioning himself as the most hawkish candidate in the field.
“If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL [the Islamic State], I’m not gonna call a judge,” Graham said, a reference to Sen. Rand Paul’s earlier remark about how the NSA should call a judge to obtain a warrant before tapping into people’s phone records. “I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you."
7:30 p.m. Donald Trump tells everyone to brace themselves for a big announcement in June.
Trump said that he keeps getting asked questions along these lines: Would you really run for president? Why would you want to do that when your life is so great right now?
"I would do it for one reason: I love our country," Trump said.
Trump then teased that he would be making an announcement in June and that "the announcement is going to surprise a lot of people."
Trump said there are a lot of things that worry him about how America is doing business right now: Too many jobs and businesses are going overseas or to Mexico. Politicians don't do what they say they will do. The U.S. should be taxing imports, especially cars. Lobbyists have too much power. The border isn't secure. The military is not strong enough, and veterans are not properly protected. The national debt is far too high.
Trump said that when he returns to New York from Iowa, his friends often ask what Iowans are like. His response: "I love the people of Iowa… These are hardworking people who love their country."
7:45 p.m. Carly Fiorina gets cheers after being muted.
Carly Fiorina was hitting her stride. She recalled meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Anyone who’s met him knows that a gimmicky red ‘reset' button will not restrain his ambition."
Fiorina said that her first call as president of the United States would be to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to Israel. Her second call, she said, would be to the supreme leader of Iran to threaten additional economic sanctions.
Then Fiorina got to her take-down of Hillary Rodham Clinton, with the audience cheering every line. But suddenly her microphone went silent.
Officials with the Iowa Republican Party, who were running a strict program of 11 speakers allotted only 10 minutes each, muted Fiorina’s microphone after she went overtime.
The move did not go over well with activists in attendance, who stood to give Fiorina easily one of the biggest receptions to date.
When the next speaker, Donald Trump, came to the microphone, he raved about about Fiorina’s speech. “We should bring her back,” he said.
7:55 p.m. Scott Walker invites everyone to his suite for cheese and ice cream.
When Walker took the stage, the big screens flashed an old-school photo of two young boys holding up an Iowa state flag. Walker had a story to go along with it: As a young boy, he and his family lived in a tiny Iowa town. Walker said that he noticed that city hall did not have a state flag -- so he and his younger brother washed out a mayonnaise jar and went around town to collect donations. Forty years later, Walker said that his mother still has the flag that they bought.
Walker then launched into talking about three key areas: Growth, increasing the number of jobs and businesses. Reform, reducing the number of people dependent on the government. And safety, making foreign policy decisions that keep people safe.
Walker also shared details about his recent trip to Israel -- and how it cemented his belief that the United States must embrace Israel as a true ally. Walker said that he met with several officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and business owners. He said the experience that most struck him came during a helicopter tour of the region, from the border of Syria to the Sea of Galilee to the Gaza Strip. It was at that point, Walker said, he realized the sense of fear that Israelis must live with, not knowing when an alarm might sound and they must take cover.
Walker then invited the whole audience to visit his hospitality suite after dinner for three Wisconsin favorites: cheese, ice cream and a Harley Davidson. "Looking forward to seeing you many more times," he said.
8 p.m. Done!
Unlike most cattle-call-style forums, this one ended right on time. Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann again plugged the August straw poll and declared: "What a night! Absolutely, what a night!"