TIME 2016 Election

Lindsey Graham Forces Foreign Policy On 2016 GOP Field

Senator Lindsey Graham
Senator Lindsey Graham speaks at a press conference in Washington on January 13, 2015. Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The talk on the trail these days is focused on Main Street. But that could change.

At the moment his staff hit publish on a new pre-presidential campaign website, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham had distinguished himself from the rest of the already unwieldy Republican 2016 field. “Security Through Strength,” was the name of his new group, with a military-style combat unit shield as its logo.

Foreign policy would be Graham’s focus, and his tack would be unmistakable: He would be the candidate who could update Ronald Reagan’s Cold War vision of “Peace Through Strength” for the ongoing battle against radical Islam. Visitors had to read a couple hundred words of filler before any mention of domestic policy appeared. “Graham is also a leader in cutting spending,” the copy reads. Also, as if it were an afterthought.

As a political strategy, this was a bold move, given that most of his challengers have been focused their rhetorical fire on the cause du jour, the economic frustrations of the struggling American middle class. But then presidential campaigns rarely end where they begin, as Graham’s biggest backer, Arizona Sen. John McCain learned well in his 2008 race. That contest began squarely in McCain’s wheelhouse, as a foreign policy debate over the Iraq War. But it ended with an economic crises that McCain was not equipped to handle. “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should,” he was on record admitting in 2007.

There is a real potential for 2016 to follow the same pattern in reverse. Domestically, the economy remains stuck in neutral for most Americans, but gas prices are dropping, the labor market is firming, and the ground may be set for incomes begin to rise again. Overseas, however, the world is as tumultuous as it has been in a decade, with terrorist attacks in Europe, a virtual proxy war bubbling up between NATO and Russia in Ukraine, tense nuclear negotiations with Iran and Sunni radicals redrawing national boundaries in the Middle East.

In this environment, Graham stands relatively alone in clearly presenting a foreign policy vision. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the point where we need to be,” former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told TIME. Bolton is contemplating a run for president to keep foreign policy in the national conversation. “Having two paragraphs in a stump speech should not be confused with having a foreign policy,” he said.

Some would-be candidates have talked about foreign policy more than others. On Sunday evening at a panel hosted by a group affiliated with the Koch brothers, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, had as much criticism for the governors as he had for ideological rival Sen. Rand Paul, who has presented a more modest vision of U.S. power abroad. “Taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger,” Rubio said, in apparent reference to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was at the Koch event and is planning a trip to the United Kingdom next month.

Similarly, Mitt Romney has made clear that foreign policy will be a central theme of his third run, should he choose to continue with the race. “The President’s dismissal of real global threats in his State of the Union address was naive at best and deceptive at worst,” Romney said Wednesday, in a speech before students in Mississippi.

But other Republicans, especially the deep bench of governors with White House ambitions, have yet to find their footing. Instead of offering a vision, they have been focused on schooling themselves in the arts of international trade craft.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been receiving briefings by a team including Bob Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank and U.S. Trade Representative, and Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state and Romney campaign advisor. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been soliciting briefings from foreign and domestic policy experts for more than a year to study up for a second campaign. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has co-authored a hawkish foreign policy white paper last year with former Sen. Jim Talent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who launched his political organization this week, is expected to start receiving policy briefings in the next several weeks, with Marc Thiessen, the American Enterprise Institute scholar—and co-author of Walker’s book—expected to play a key role.

The former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, supported his brother’s foreign policy while in office, but has rarely spoken out on more recent threats. Last month he called for strengthening, rather than weakening, the U.S. embargo on Cuba, for instance. It is not clear whether he has started formal briefings, but he has been reaching out to an array of experts in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the calls.

Some Senate aides have pointed out that the state leaders could find themselves at a steep disadvantage in the general election. “We need someone who can credibly push back against Hillary Clinton’s failed record,” said an aide to one Senator eyeing the White House. “And the governors can’t do that.”

But governors may also have an advantage, not having their foreign policy so clearly defined before they run. Paul has been largely defined as an isolationist, while Rubio and Graham are affiliated with neo-conservatives, and Ted Cruz is has taken a hawkish line on many issues but favors budget cuts to defense programs.

“We don’t know very much of the foreign policy viewpoints of Jeb, Christie, and Walker,” said a veteran Republican policy aide to presidential candidates. “They have an opportunity to formulate and articulate the worldview that makes the most sense given time and space.”

That strategy works better if no one is forcing foreign policy questions into the debate at this early point in the cycle. In other words, a good day for Lindsey Graham, who enjoys easy access to the national press off the Senate floor, may be a bad one for many of his rivals in the months to come.

TIME

Mitt Romney to Attack Hillary Clinton in Speech

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland in 2013.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland in 2013. Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images

Said to be "seriously considering" another run at the White House, the former Republican presidential nominee will attack the Democratic frontrunner as 'clueless' on foreign policy and the economy

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will make his most forceful public case yet against likely Democratic contender Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions in a speech Wednesday at Mississippi State University.

According to his prepared remarks, Romney, who said earlier this month he is “seriously considering” another White House bid, will seek to tie the former Secretary of State’s record to that of President Barack Obama, who defeated him in the 2012 election. Romney laid out a three-pronged message for a potential candidacy in an address to the Republican National Committee in San Diego, but it largely focused on Obama, not his would-be Democratic rival.

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cluelessly pressed a reset button for Russia, which smiled and then invaded Ukraine, a sovereign nation,” Romney is to say. “The Middle East and much of North Africa is in chaos. China grows more assertive and builds a navy that will be larger than ours in five years. We shrink our nuclear capabilities as Russia upgrades theirs.”

Romney will also reference Clinton’s comments last year in a stump speech for Democratic Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley that “don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.”

“How can Secretary Clinton provide opportunity for all if she doesn’t know where jobs come from in the first place?” Romney will say.

Clinton aides later said she had misspoken and meant to refer to tax breaks for businesses, but the line is sure to be a potent GOP attack in the coming campaign.

Romney is also set to restate his new focus on raising people out of poverty, a policy area on which his 2008 and 2012 campaigns were largely silent.

The former Massachusetts governor has been calling donors as he works to retain his political network should he decide to mount a third White House bid. But he faces new challenges this cycle, including a crowded field of qualified candidates and his self-inflicted wounds from the 2012 cycle. Many Republicans have openly expressed their preference that Romney step aside to allow a new generation of leaders to step up.

Democratic National Committee Communications Director Mo Elleithee responded to Romney’s attack on Clinton Wednesday afternoon in a statement. “We don’t really need to hear a lecture on ‘where jobs come from’ from a guy who’s best known for bankrupting companies and profiting off of outsourcing,” he said. “Under this Administration, we just saw the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s, and we’ve created 11 million private sector jobs. I don’t know if Mitt Romney thinks 47% of those folks are ‘takers,’ but I am sure he’s not the right guy to talk about expanding opportunity.”

Excerpts of Romney’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

“Following my campaign and the years since, there are three concerns that are foremost in my mind.

First, We need to help make the world a safer place. The President’s dismissal of real global threats in his State of the Union address was naive at best and deceptive at worst. We have only recently mourned with the people of France. Our hearts likewise go out to the people of Nigeria and Yemen. Hundreds and perhaps thousands were slaughtered by radical jihadists. ISIS represents a new level of threat given its oil revenues, vast territory, and ability to recruit even in the West. I don’t know how the President expects to defeat the jihadists if he won’t even call them what they are.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cluelessly pressed a reset button for Russia, which smiled and then invaded Ukraine, a sovereign nation. The Middle East and much of North Africa is in chaos. China grows more assertive and builds a navy that will be larger than ours in five years. We shrink our nuclear capabilities as Russia upgrades theirs.

Doesn’t the President understand that some of what we are seeing in the world is in part the result of his timid foreign policy, of walking away from his red line in Syria, of paring back our military budget, and of insulting friends like Israel and Poland? Strong American leadership is desperately needed for the world, and for America.

Second, we need to restore opportunity, particularly for the middle class. And that will soon include you–you deserve a job that can repay all you’ve spent and borrowed to go to college. Short term, our economy is looking up. But it is a lot better for the few, and pretty darn discouraging for the many. Incomes haven’t gone up in decades. And I can’t count how many recent college graduates I met who expected a high paying job at graduation and instead were waiting tables.

How can Secretary Clinton provide opportunity for all if she doesn’t know where jobs come from in the first place? And how does President Obama expect to make America the best place on earth for businesses, as he promised in his State of the Union address, if he persists in business taxation that is the highest in the developed world, regulations that favor the biggest banks and crush the small ones, a complex and burdensome healthcare plan, and a slanted playing field for unions and trial lawyers. We need a president who will do what it takes to bring more good paying jobs to the placement offices of our college campuses.

And third, we need to lift people out of poverty. Almost every week during my campaign, I met folks who had fallen into poverty as result of an unfortunate event, like losing a job. These folks were almost uniformly optimistic about finding their way back into the middle class. But I also met folks who had been in poverty from generation to generation. These we have to help escape the tragedy and the trap of chronic generational poverty. For fifty years and with trillions of dollars, Washington has fought the war on poverty with failed liberal policies. They haven’t made any headway whatsoever. It’s finally time to apply conservative policies that improve America’s education system, promote family formation and create good-paying jobs.

TIME 2016 Election

Perry Says 2016 Plans ‘Moving Right Along’ Despite Indictment

Former Governor of Texas Rick Perry speaks at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24, 2015.
Former Governor of Texas Rick Perry speaks at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24, 2015. Jim Young—Reuters

Still expects to announce a run in May or June.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said his plans to run for president in 2016 are “moving right along” despite a Texas judge’s decision Tuesday not to throw out a pair of indictments against him.

A Texas grand jury indicted the then-governor in August on two abuse-of-power charges which claim he violated the law when he threatened and ultimately vetoed funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s office following a high-profile drunk driving arrest for its district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg. The longest-serving Texas governor and his legal team argue the charges are baseless and amount to a “criminalization of politics,” and Perry reiterated Wednesday that he’d do it again if he had the chance.

On Tuesday, a judge poked holes in the prosecution’s indictment, but declined to throw out the two charges, saying he was unable to do so before trial. Perry’s legal team is filing an appeal of that decision, an effort expected to take several months.

Perry, who ran for the White House unsuccessfully in 2012, has been laying the groundwork for a repeat bid for more than two years, traveling heavily to the early presidential states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to support local candidates and build a network of supporters. He said in a press conference that his plans are continuing despite the ongoing criminal proceedings against him.

“We’re going to continue on,” he told reporters, suggesting that the prosecution would bolster his argument to voters. ” Americans are looking for a leader who’s not afraid of standing up, who won’t be intimidated.”

Perry indicated he has already made a decision to seek the White House, and is planning an announcement in the spring.

“We’ll make a decision—or, actually, make an announcement, it’s a better term—in the May, June timetable just like we intended to,” Perry said Wednesday.

After the indictment, Perry’s political team sold t-shirts showing his smiling booking photo with the slogan “Wanted: For securing the border and defeating Democrats” on one side, and Lehmberg’s less-glamorous one and the text: “Guilty: driving while intoxicated and the perversion of justice.”

Likely GOP rivals, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Govs. Chris Christie Scott Walker, released statements Tuesday in support of Perry.

 

TIME Education

Obama Drops Effort to Tax College Savings Plans

President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address - DC
US President Barack Obama delivers his sixth State Of The Union address to the nation at the US Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2015. Olivier Douliery—SIPA

He just proposed it in the State of the Union.

Just one week after proposing the idea in his State of the Union Address, President Obama was forced to withdraw a proposal to change the way tax-preferred college savings plans work after criticism from Republicans and members of his own party.

A White House official confirmed Tuesday that Obama is no longer calling to tax income from so-called 529 plans in his budget to be released next week, but will maintain the other elements of his plan to make college more affordable. The administration had argued that the plans benefited those higher on the income scale and planned to use the savings to pay for the president’s free community college proposal and expanded tax breaks that would help those at lower incomes.

“We proposed it because we thought it was a sensible approach, part of consolidating six programs to two and expanding and better targeting education tax relief for the middle class,” a White House official said. “Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the President’s broader package of tax relief for childcare and working families, paid for by eliminating the trust fund loophole and making sure the wealthy pay their fair share.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pressed Obama to drop the proposal with administration officials Tuesday aboard Air Force One as she joined Obama on his trip from India to Saudi Arabia. The White House said that Obama’s other proposals to close the so-called trust-fund loophole on inherited wealth and a new fee on the liabilities of the nation’s largest financial institutions would more than cover the cost of his education proposals.

On Tuesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner called on Obama to withdraw the proposal. “529 plans help middle-class families save for college, but now the president wants to tax those plans,” he said. “It’s another example of his outdated, top-down approach­ when our focus ought to be on providing opportunity for all Americans. And so, for the sake of middle-class families, the president ought to withdraw this tax increase from his budget when he submits it soon.”

TIME 2016 Election

Cruz, Paul and Rubio Defend Outside Spending in Koch Brothers Forum

Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 17, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Three likely presidential candidates defended the growth of outside spending in politics Sunday evening at a forum hosted by a group affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers.

The “American Recovery Policy Forum” hosted by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce featured Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio making their case to an audience of well-heeled business owners and featured sharp divisions over foreign policy. But one area of agreement a defense of the rights of billionaires and millionaires who are playing an ever larger role in the political system.

“Do you think there is too much influence in politics by super wealthy donors on both sides,” ABC News’ Jon Karl asked the presidential hopefuls in his final question as moderator. “As opposed to Hollywood or the mainstream media, you mean, or other multi-million dollar entities that try to influence American politics everyday,” Rubio asked, eliciting the loudest applause of the night.

“I believe in freedom of speech: I think that political spending and political activism is a form of protected speech,” Rubio said, noting that Democrats have billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer supporting their efforts. “The people who seem to have a problem with it are the ones who only want unions to be able to do it, their friends in Hollywood to be able to do it, and their friends in the press to be able to do it,” he added, to another big round of cheers.

Sen. Ted Cruz then got in on the action, lambasting Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for his longstanding attacks on the Kochs, whose network is a powerhouse on the Republican side. “There are a bunch of Democrats who have taken as their talking point that the Koch Brothers are the nexus of all evil. Harry Reid says that every week. Let me be very clear: I think that is grotesque and offensive.”

“I would love to see more and more conferences five times this size, 10 this size, of citizens of small business owners across the country fighting to change the direction,” Cruz added.

Karl then asked the three whether they would guarantee that their supporters would not have special access to them should they win the White House. Rubio, speaking for the three, said that doesn’t happen. “We run for office and people buy into our agenda,” he said. “Most of the people who support us support us because they agree with what we are doing, not because we agree with what they’re doing.”

Sen. Rand Paul indicated he would support a narrow effort at campaign finance reform to restrict the political activities of those seeking government contracts.

“Special interests can have a bad influence on government,” he said. “The special interests that I’m concerned about are those who do business with government, get government contracts, get the government money, and then try to get more contracts. And I am for some limitations.”

 

TIME White House

Drone That Crashed at White House Was Quadcopter

Drone Quadcopter
Getty Images

A drone that crashed on the White House grounds Monday, causing a brief lockdown, was a two-foot wide remote-controlled quadcopter that is sold in stores, officials said.

According to a Secret Service spokesman, a uniformed division officer stationed on the South Grounds of the complex “heard and observed” the device flying at a low altitude, before it crashed on the southeast side of the 18-acre secure zone around the executive mansion shortly after 3 a.m. Monday. The incident triggered a lockdown of the White House and nearby buildings, as officials scrambled to study the device and ensure it did not pose a threat.

According to Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary, an individual called the agency Monday morning after seeing news reports of the crash to report that they had been in control of the quadcopter. “The individual has been interviewed by Secret Service agents and been fully cooperative,” he said. “Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device. This investigation continues as the Secret Service conducts corroborative interviews, forensic examinations and reviews all other investigative leads.”

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were in India when the incident occurred. It is not clear whether other family members were present.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed that a device had been recovered. “There is a device that has been recovered by the Secret Service at the White House,” he said in a press briefing in New Delhi early Monday. “Early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat right now to anybody at the White House.”

The crash follows several high-profile security breaches at the White House that have shaken the Secret Service, including an incident last year when a disturbed man armed with a knife jumped a fence and managed to enter the mansion before being apprehended by officers. Obama subsequently asked the agency’s director to step aside, and her interim replacement has taken steps to reform its top leadership.

Under longstanding Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, no unmanned aerial system may be flown in the 12-13 mile area around Washington Reagan National Airport, which includes airspace over the White House, Pentagon, Naval Observatory and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The proliferation of small drones is posing new challenges not just at sensitive government facilities, but around the country, as cheap systems equipped with cameras pose new privacy concerns and reports of close encounters with private and commercial aircraft rise.

The Secret Service released a photo of the device Monday afternoon, identifying it as a member of the popular DJI Phantom line of quadcopters which retail for several hundred dollars online. It was not immediately clear whether the device was equipped with a camera, or whether it was recording during its flight.

United States Secret Service
TIME 2016 Election

Chris Christie Launches PAC in Preparation for 2016 Presidential Run

Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie speaks at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines
Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie speaks at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2015 Jim Young—Reuters

Several other Republican candidates have long-standing political groups as well

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie launched a federal political action committee, or PAC, Monday as he seeks to lay the groundwork for a likely 2016 presidential campaign.

The new group, Leadership Matters for America PAC, will allow the 52-year-old to travel the country to raise money and support like-minded politicians, but it can’t specifically advocate on his behalf. The launch comes two days after Christie appeared at a conservative cattle call in Iowa, where he sought to prove he could reach out to a skeptical party base.

The PAC’s website features a smiling Christie holding court at one of his signature town halls, and its mission statement hews closely to Christie’s rapidly developing stump speech. News of the PAC’s formation was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“America has been a nation that has always controlled events and yet today events control us,” it states. “Why? Because leadership matters. It matters if we want to restore America’s role in the world, find the political will to take on the entrenched special interests that continually stand in the way of fundamental change, reform entitlement spending at every level of government, and ensure that every child, no matter their zip code, has access to a quality education.”

Former Republican National Committee Finance chairman Ray Washburne, who announced earlier this month he would step down to take a position with Christie, will hold the same role for the new group. Former Republican Governors Association executive director Phil Cox and longtime Christie strategist Mike DuHaime will serve as political advisers. Matt Mowers, the outgoing New Hampshire GOP executive director, and Phil Valenziano, a former aide to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, will be the PAC’s on-the-ground presence in those two presidential early states.

Earlier this month, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush launched a leadership PAC and a super PAC in preparation for his presidential run. Several other Republican candidates have long-standing political groups as well.

Christie is set to return to Iowa on Feb. 9 to address the Dallas County Republican Party, and has planned trips across the country in coming weeks to fundraise and boost his political profile. He is not expected to make a final decision on his candidacy until the spring.

TIME 2016 Election

The Invisible Presidential Campaign Kicks Off in Earnest

Iowa Freedom Summit Features GOP Presidential  Hopefuls
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Presidential candidates-to-be, and a passel of well-known clingers on, converged in Iowa this weekend with all the flash and fun the nation has come to expect of the Grand Old Party.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina managed substantive introductions, alongside businessman Donald Trump, who declared there is “nobody like Trump,” and Sarah Palin, who struggled with diction and metaphor, offering phrases like “We don’t sit on our thumbs this next time when one of our own is being crucified.”

The real action, however, lay elsewhere, off the stage and out of sight, in an invisible primary taking place behind closed doors in states not known for their place in the nominating calendar. Candidates have been crisscrossing the nation and working the phones, dialing for dollars and loyalty in a contest that may prove far more consequential than speech that can be given before any crowd at this point.

The goal is not to win votes, but to win the support of Republicans like Bobbie Kilberg, who hosted an off-the-record event in Virginia for Christie last week with 96 corporate technology leaders. In recent months, she has taken not one, but two calls from Mitt Romney informing her of her thinking, as he edges toward another campaign. And having worked for the administrations of both Presidents Bush, she feels a special affinity for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose son, George P. Bush, she recently supported in his race for Texas land commissioner.

“I have three wonderful friends in this race,” said Kilberg, who runs the Northern Virginia Technology Council, but supports candidates only in a personal capacity. “My expectation is that all three of them will run.”

But the physics of political fundraising does not allow for her fealty to be equally divided for long. Connecters like Kilberg now face enormous pressure to decide on a single candidate to benefit from their vast Rolodexes. “I think there is enough donor bandwidth for all three of them in the center right lane,” Kilberg explains of the three candidates. “The finite group are the bundlers.”

Securing the 2012 nomination cost Romney $76.6 million, raised in increments up to the legal limit of $2,500. His super PAC, Restore Our Future, which could accept unlimited contributions, added nearly $50 million to the tally.

Operatives affiliated with multiple campaigns say candidates will need at least $50 million to win the nomination this time around, but predict more of the spending will tilt toward the outside groups.

Bush, Romney and Christie are especially squeezed by the fundraising pressures, as their candidacies are set to rely heavily on their predicted ability to match Hillary Clinton’s formidable potential. The early start to the race — candidates are traveling the country earlier and more frequently than ever on the Republican side — adds strain across the board. Complicating matters further are changes to the nominating calendar with fewer debate opportunities and a compressed timeline that favor well-funded candidates once voters get to the polls.

Kilberg and her husband Bill, a prominent Washington lawyer, helped bundle together more than $100,000 in checks of less than $2,000 in 2004 for George W. Bush. In 2012, she helped lead Mitt Romney’s fundraising in Virginia, bringing in a reported $322,000 at just one event at her home. The Tuesday event Kilberg had with Christie and northern Virginia technology executives was not a fundraiser, she said, but a get-to-know-you session.

At almost the same time the event was happening, Bush was meeting in the offices of Dirk Van Dongen, a Republican fundraiser who runs the National Association of Wholesalers. Dongen, a Washington fundraiser for another White House aspirant, Marco Rubio, plans to support Jeb Bush this time, if he runs.

The Bush events were not fundraisers either, though forms were distributed inviting donors to begin bundling for Bush’s new political action committee, Right to Rise. The main purpose, as with the Virginia events, was to win over the networkers who traditionally hold the purse strings of presidential politics. According to people who attended, Bush spoke broadly about his views of the country and the best way to approach the presidential race. He said a winning candidate would have to connect with middle-class anxiety by walking in the shoes of regular people, said one attendee.

“The contrast was obvious,” the attendee said, explaining how Bush appeared to be contrasting himself with Romney’s 2012 campaign. “That’s 100 degrees from the 47% comment.”

Romney, meanwhile, has been reactivating his own donor base, having chosen a donor event in New York early in the month to formally announce his decision to begin pursuing a third presidential campaign. The former private-equity executive has been working the phones since then, telling donors he is serious about considering another bid.

Senator Marco Rubio, meanwhile, held his annual retreat for his top donors in Miami over the weekend, a move designed to keep his loyalists close while he considers his options. He later joined fellow Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul on stage in Palm Springs at the winter meeting of the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a spending vehicle for the billionaire GOP megadonor Koch brothers and their allies. Also in attendance, after a well-received appearance in Iowa, was Walker, who was making the first stop on a multi-day West Coast fundraising swing for his new fundraising committee, which will be announced as soon as Monday.

While Republican voters have more than a year to decide on the candidate they want to take on Democrats in 2016, the donors clock is ticking. Quarterly fundraising totals, which will come out early this summer and again in the fall, will help shape the race, determining which candidates have the money to mount serious contests, with the grassroots organizing ability and television firepower to withstand the early contests.

“It’s really what we would call in the business a pre-sell,” says a senior Republican strategist about Bush’s visit to Washington this week. “They’ll come back in the next 60 days and do some big fundraising, and they’ll hope to get a lot of those same people to be on their committee.”

For those keeping score, the results of such appeals will be the ones that count, not the applause of activist crowds. In this democratic process, the voices of the people only matter after the first waves of money have been counted.

TIME 2016 Election

Christie Seeks Common Ground With Iowa Conservatives

Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie arrives to speak at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines
Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie arrives to speak at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24, 2015. Jim Youg—Reuters

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie brought a clear message to skeptical Iowa conservatives Saturday: We may not always agree, but you can work with me.

Christie spoke toward the end of a daylong 2016 presidential cattle call hosted by Iowa Representative Steve King, highlighting his fights with unions in his home state and his pro-life stance on abortion. Christie’s participation in the event turned heads, given King’s hard-line position on immigration and the audience’s more conservative bent. Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney both skipped the event on account of scheduling issues, and proved to be frequent targets on stage from other would-be candidates and activists.

Christie has spent years trying to reach across the aisle in preparation for a presidential run but has been dogged by questions whether he could win over the party’s base.

“I have heard and read all the conventional wisdom that somehow a guy from New Jersey would not be welcomed or understood at the Iowa Freedom Summit — that somehow I’m too loud, I’m too blunt, and I’m too direct,” Christie said, as the crowd chuckled. “The conventional wisdom from Washington, D.C., that says we aren’t friends … They’re wrong again today.”

King used his introduction to boost Christie’s conservative credentials. “He vetoed the gay-marriage bill in New jersey,” he said. “He is pro-life.” Christie has since declared gay marriage a “settled” issue in his state after the state supreme court declined to stop same-sex unions in 2013.

Speaking calmly and slowly, Christie was self-effacing about “the blunt New Jersey stuff,” using it to introduce himself to Iowa voters with the story of his childhood.

“In a trusting relationship, you need to tell people what you really believe and what you’re thinking,” he said, noting he’s sure that not everyone would agree with him on every issue. “You’ll always know who I am, you’ll always know what I believe, and you’ll always know where I stand.”

He argued that if the party is looking for purity, “we will never win another national election. Ever.”

Reading off prepared remarks, Christie’s speech was an amalgamation of his notable addresses of the past several years, presenting the clearest preview of a full-fledged presidential stump speech.

“The next century does not have to be a Chinese century,” he said, calling for stronger American leadership overseas. “The world can’t do without a second American century.” His opposition to abortion was juxtaposed with his efforts in improving his state’s drug treatment programs to be “pro-life” at all stages of life.

He highlighted his electoral success in his blue home state, noting he won Hispanic voters and made inroads with black voters in his last election.

“We need a coalition that covers all parts of the country, all ethnicities, a coalition that is comprised at its core of our proud, yet underserved and underrepresented working class in this nation,” he said, in an implicit critique of former Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. He even alluded to growing income inequality, adding, “The rich are doing fine, that’s great. We don’t demonize the wealthy like so many folks in the Democratic Party, but nor should we cater to the wealthy at the expense of our middle-income workers and the working poor who are the backbone of every American community.”

Christie’s reception paled in comparison to Senator Ted Cruz, whose faith-themed address was red meat for the audience. But Christie accomplished what he sought out: demonstrating he is unafraid to appear before social conservatives and proving that he could even earn a standing ovation. In a crowded field where he will hope to have the support of the party’s establishment, that may be enough to go the distance.

TIME 2016 Election

Walker Shows His Dark-Horse Strategy in Iowa

Scott Walker
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker waits backstage before speaking at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24, 2015. Charlie Neibergall—AP

Scott Walker isn’t the first choice for president of most Republicans, but he’s banking he can win the White House by being their second.

The Wisconsin governor arrived at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a conservative cattle call organized by Rep. Steve King Saturday, set to be overshadowed by stem-winder speech-givers like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee. Instead he proved why he will be a player in the Iowa caucuses and the coming nominating fight with a stem-winder of his own, highlighting his ability to appeal to all corners of a fractured party.

Coming off a 2012 cycle fueled by flavor-of-the-moment front-runners, Walker is preparing to run a slow-and-steady campaign, hoping that Republicans dissatisfied with one or another of the front-runners will slowly move his way.

“We’ll leave the ‘shock and awe’ to other people,” said an adviser. “This is about going the distance.”

The populist son of a preacher, Walker is betting that Republicans will find Jeb Bush too moderate; Chris Christie’s style off-putting; and Huckabee, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz too far from the party’s mainstream. In Iowa, he smoothly combined the social and economic conservative messages that could attract both camps into a passionate 20-minute speech touching on everything from gun rights to education reform.

Walker highlighted his the massive protests in his state over his efforts to weaken the state’s public sector unions that resulted in a 2012 recall election to cast himself as a fighter for conservative principles.

“Someone sent a letter saying they would gut my wife like a deer,” Walker said, eliciting a smattering of gasps, and thanked Iowans for their support and prayers as he won his third election in four years last November.

He also took jabs at Christie and Bush. “Our property taxes are lower today than they were four years ago, how many governors can say that,” he said, as he trumpeted his state’s fully-funded retirement accounts, both sore points for Christie. He highlighted his efforts to tackle teacher tenure rules, allowing the state to remove poor-performing teachers, while calling for local control of schools in a reference to the unpopular Bush-backed Common Core standards.

“In every fight for conservative principles Gov. Scott Walker has stood firm,” said David Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United in an impassioned introduction. “This country is a better place because Scott Walker answered the call to lead.”

A week before, Walker was in Coronado, Calif., to make his case before the Republican Party elite, but his potential appeal on the stump was more apparent in Iowa, as he paced the stage in shirtsleeves telling stories about his frugality shopping at Kohl’s.

“Scott Walker’s a guy you want to have a beer with — a Miller Lite,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said of Walker last week.

Walker won’t formally announce a bid until he passes his budget in Milwaukee around June, but he is hiring staff and embarking this week on a cross-country fundraising swing for his soon-to-be-announced political organization. He announced a trip to New Hampshire next month and is planning a South Carolina swing for the weeks after. From Iowa, he will attend the Koch Brother’s summit on Sunday in Palm Springs, bringing together top-dollar donors and business leaders.

Last week Walker announced the hiring of veteran Iowa operative David Polyansky to run his efforts in the presidential early state, while former Republican National Committee political director Rick Wiley will serve as his campaign manager. Further staffing announcements are expected in the coming days.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad called Walker “a proven vote-getter,” and highlighted his ties to the state, where he went to school until the third grade.

“I think he will relate well [in Iowa],” he said.

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