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There was plenty to take away from this weekend’s Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina, which featured nearly a dozen Republican presidential candidates (here’s a tick-tock of the day’s proceedings from a local publication). Such as:
1) Hawks. Maybe it has something to do with South Carolina (the first shots of the Civil War were fired in Charleston Harbor). Republican after Republican took the stage — and took the opportunity to demonstrate some good old-fashioned rhetorical saber-ratting. That would include former Texas Governor Rick Perry (“Terrorist armies must be defeated by strength, not words”), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (“Have you seen the movie Taken, with Liam Neeson? . . . We will look for you. We will find you. And you will kill you”). Noticeably missing: native son Lindsey Graham, maybe the most hawkish of the GOP contenders, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who’d like to declare war on ISIS but otherwise has a complicated foreign-policy message.
2) Jeb Jabs. Jeb Bush wasn’t in Greenville (he was up in Virginia, giving a commencement speech at Liberty University), but he didn’t go unmentioned. After describing a humble existence as the son of a pastor and a part-time secretary, there was this zinger from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: “From our family, we didn’t inherit fame or fortune, what we inherited was the belief that if you work hard and you play by the rules you can do and be anything you want.” Remember this line when the field gathers in mid-August for its first en masse debate. Will Walker take direct jabs at Jeb? If you were advising, which would you recommend as the smarter strategy: for Walker to build up his argument as a blue-collar champion, or to try to portray Bush as an over-privileged blue-blood? Or both?
Then again, Walker and all other hopefuls might get upstaged on that debate stage if the field continues to include Donald Trump, who also happened to be in Greenville this weekend (just as he appeared at the Iowa and New Hampshire versions of the Freedom Summit).
Two things about Trump:
1) Should We Really Be Paying Any Attention? As you’ll see in this chronology of “The Donald’s” “big political surprises,” this isn’t his first political rodeo. There was talk of a third-party presidential run in 2000, a stab at governor of New York in 2006, hints of another White House run leading up to 2008, again in the 2012 cycle, and now pre-2016. Is Trump serious this time around? He’s set up an exploratory committee and has hired political operatives. Here’s a more cynical view: while NBC wants to continue with a 15th season of Celebrity Apprentice, Trump has said he won’t do the show so that he can focus on his presidential aspirations. Is he really running, or holding out for more money from The Peacock?
2) Should Someone Put Him In His Place? At the Freedom Summit, Trump was territorial (he accused Scott Walker of poaching his “Make American Great Again” theme), bombastic (“I don’t give a s— about lobbyists”), cocky (“I would be the greatest job president ever, in my opinion, but I think I would be even better at security”) and jingoistic/delusional (“The greatest builder is me, and I’m going to build the greatest wall that you have ever seen . . . And you know who’s going to pay for the wall? Mexico”). Not that Trump has a snowball’s chance of winning a primary, but the outlandish soundbites are catnip for reporters. As such, it contributes to a distraction/image problem for the GOP. Should a presidential contender go after Trump? Then again, isn’t attention what he wants most?
Here’s Trump’s Greenville speech, judge for yourself if it’s worth the GOP’s worrying: