DES MOINES — Seven Republican candidates sat around a mocked-up Thanksgiving table here on Friday night, gathered to discuss issues of hearth and home before an audience of more than 1,000 Christian evangelicals.
But rather than the social issues the candidates might have come ready to address before some of Iowa’s most influential conservative voters, geopolitics and the threat of terrorism intruded, as they are likely to at many American tables this holiday season.
Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster who served as moderator of the event, conjured a scenario in which New York City is attacked on Sept. 11, 2017. As president, he asked the candidates, whom would you immediately call?
He said their answers would be critical in helping the organizer of the forum, Bob Vander Plaats, a leader of the Christian right in Iowa, award his influential endorsement, which he has promised to announce soon.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida ticked off a list of federal agencies. But former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Carly Fiorina offered visceral responses that seemed more politically attuned to the audience, who had braved Iowa’s first snowstorm of the season to attend the event in Des Moines’s convention center.
“First thing you do, you get on your knees and you make a call to God,” Mr. Huckabee said.
“The first thing I would do, honestly,” echoed Mrs. Fiorina, “is fall to my knees and pray.”
Sure she would.
Trump, Kasich, Christie and Bush skipped the event. They aren't seriously vying for the evangelical vote in Iowa. Of course, it's hard to believe that Fiorina and Paul are either but they'll go anywhere where there's a forum.
Anyway, it appears that other than praying none of them had much to offer on Syria or terrorism. They did have a lot to say about a more serious enemy:
Early on, the forum was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, including two who held a banner reading “Deportation: a family value,” a reference to the candidates’ restrictive immigration positions.
The protests triggered a lengthy discussion of what candidates deemed the lack of civility on the left. Mr. Rubio blamed Mr. Obama for setting a divisive tone in political discourse. He “has deliberately divided Americans against each other for political gain,” he said.
“Did you ever notice,” Mr. Huckabee added, “liberals come to events like this and yell at us, but did you ever hear one of us going to their events and yelling?”
Well, except for stuff like this, he's absolutely right:
(You'll note that Democrats were equally upset by the protests as these conservatives are. But let's not pretend that Republicans are more "civil" that Democrats.)
Anyway, ironically enough they immediately pivoted from calling for the smelling salts over liberal rudeness to a full-scale condemnation of political correctness, which is really a complaint that they aren't allowed to be uncivil anymore:
The conversation turned to political correctness, which several candidates said was invoked by the left to silence dissent. “It’s used as a control mechanism, and it’s used for intimidation,” Ben Carson said.
“Why do these protesters want to stand up and scream?” asked Mr. Cruz, a champion debater in college. “Because they can’t handle the truth. They want to shout you down. We’re seeing universities all across this country with leftist coddled kids, usually with trust funds,” protesting against “microagressions.”
God, he's such a smarmy piece of work.
In a kind of lightning round, the candidates were asked to name the greatest moral threat to the country.
“The loss of God-consciousness,” said Mr. Huckabee.
Former Senator Rick Santorum offered the “breakdown of the American family.”
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky: “Losing track of where rights come from.”
Mr. Carson: “Our willingness to adopt political correctness.”
Mr. Cruz: “The assault on our values coming from Washington, coming from the media, coming from Hollywood.”
Nobody can accuse Carson of being politically correct:
Mr. Carson was asked about his mother, who has Alzheimer’s. “If she didn’t,” he said, “she’d be out there with a shotgun, shooting all these liars,” a seeming reference to his opponents on the left.
With stuff like that and his insistence that there should be no laws or rules in warfare ("politically correct wars") I'm beginning to think those stories about his murderous streak are really true.
Anyway, some bad news for Rubio:
Mr. Vander Plaats has said that conservatives must coalesce behind one candidate to ensure that the party would not be stuck again with an establishment nominee, like the ones they blame for defeat in the past two general elections.
He's having a hell of a time walking that line and I don't think it's working. He can't compete with the true Bible-thumpers or attract the angry-Trumpers. Cruz is the guy who is fluent in wingnut. I doubt the can attract any establishment types but at this point you have to wonder how many of them there are left.