NASHUA, N.H. — Republican presidential aspirants converged on Nashua, N.H., today for a “First in the Nation Summit,” a two-day GOP fanfest where potential 2016-ers are addressing several hundred political activists. A look at some notable moments:
By turns inspirational and apocalyptic, Rubio won a standing ovation from the audience both before and after his talk, in which he recounted the story of his immigrant parents, his proposals to make college more affordable for students, and his grim view of threats facing the U.S.
The U.S. should not have entered negotiations with Iran over nucleare capabilities, Rubio said, because economic sanctions were working. Allowing Iran to have any nuclear capacity is a mistake because it could not be sufficiently monitored to prevent development of a nuclear weapon. “We’ve seen this movie before. It’s called North Korea,” he said.
“We may have to decide at some point what is worse: a military strike against Iran or a nuclear armed Iran,’’ Rubio said. “I am not a cheerleader for war,” but Iran with nuclear weapons is “an unacceptable risk for the region.’’
The threat of terrorist attack in the U.S. has only grown since he entered the Senate in 2010, Rubio said, dismissing concerns raised by, among others, his potential presidential rival Rand Paul about government electronic surveillance. “This risk is real. It is not hyperbole.”
Rubio, who had the marquee dinner time speaking slot, unleashed a patter of introductory jokes that was late-night-TV worthy: After his introduction by former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, Rubio said Brown was the only senator who actually used the Senate gym to work out. “Everybody else is just there to watch Morning Joe on the TV.” He also ribbed Brown for telling him that Hillary Clinton plans to raise $2.5 billion for her presidential campaign. “That’s a lot of Chipotle, friend.”
New Hampshire Republicans famously focus on fiscal issues — taxes, spending and debt — but Jeb Bush got a question from the Republican crowd about his position on same-sex marriage. He opposes it, he said, because of his Catholic faith. (Some Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage have said they feel it is a matter for states to decide.)
“The architecture of my life isn’t driven by politics, it’s driven by my faith,” Bush said. “I have no animus in my heart, no hatred or bitterness in my heart for people who have a different view.’’ But his potential candidacy, he said, is driven by a desire to improve the economy and improve national security. “While I may disagree with you on (same sex marriage), we need to find ways to unite behind broader issues with broader support.’’
Asked if he is genuinely conservative, Bush touted his record in Florida, mentioning for the second time in one day that the state’s bond rating improved to AAA during his two terms. That could also have been a dig at Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor who spoke shortly before Bush, whose state has suffered repeated credit downgrades.
If he seeks the nomination, “I will have to earn it,” Bush said. “I’ll share my heart. I’ll share my ideas to help people move up, and I’ll share my record.’’
But he denied that the Republican establishment has united behind him to push him into the nomination.
“I don’t see any coronation coming my way, trust me,” he said. “We’ve got 95 people running for president — I’m really intimidating a whole lot of folks.,” he joked.
He spent his usual amount of time talking about his blunt personality and how that would never change, but the New Jersey governor took his turn in front of Republican activists to push his proposal for entitlement reform.
Social Security and Medicare make up the majority of federal spending and should be the top issue of any candidate, Christie said. “If they’re not going to do something to fix that problem, we’re not going to be able to fix any other problems,” he said.
“There are ways to put our fiscal house in order, and we need to, and everybody … should answer for you what they’re going to do about the cost of entitlements and what they’re going to do to make it fair for everybody, not just one generation.”
Christie has proposed eliminating Social Security payments to seniors with more than $200,000 in annual retirement income. He wants to eliminate the payroll tax for people working beyond the age of 62. And he wants to tighten eligibility for Social Security disability payments and require rehabilitation plans for those who are temporarily disabled. “For those who are gaming the system, it’s bankrupting the system.’’
“If you want to start a national conversation, lets start one that matters,” Christie said.
Entitlement reform is “politically risky,” Christie said. “I didn’t run for governor of New Jersey to be elected prom king. I’m not looking to be the most popular guy in the world, I’m looking to be the most respected one.”
First up among the better-known hopefuls was former Texas governor Rick Perry, whose toughest question came from a self-described supporter in the audience: “Tell us what is going to be different this time around.”
Perhaps Perry’s biggest challenge in attempting a second run at the Republican nomination would be overcoming the memory of his poor debate performance during the 2012 campaign, when he forgot a central part of his own platform. At the time, he blamed his memory lapse on recent back surgery.
“You gotta be healthy, you gotta be on your game,” Perry said. Preparing to be president “takes years of intense study. I spent the last three years in that mode.” He said he had talked to policy experts “from the Hoover Institute to the Brookings Institute and everything in between.” (The Hoover Institution is generally considered conservative, and Brookings is liberal.)
“The next president of the United States really needs to be someone who has deep experience as an executive,” Perry said. “That’s what, if I decide to run, the value that I’ll be able to lay in front of the American people.”
Perry referred to former secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “the orchestrator” of failed U.S. foreign policies that led to Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory. He said that Dodd-Frank financial regulation is “strangling” small banks.
Perry called for cutting corporate tax rates, which he said would create jobs. “Every blue-collar worker in this country ought to be standing up and saying, ‘I’m for the Republicans because they’re going to lower the corporate tax rate so I see my wages go up.’ That’s what the story ought to be about by the Republican Party.”
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