GOP presidential hopefuls descended on New Hampshire over the weekend as part of the Republican Leadership Summit, a two-day event that drew about 500 activists and the party’s entire 2016 field to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua.
The event’s speakers ranged from party front-runners to little-known candidates, all of whom offered up criticisms of President Barack Obama, espoused conservative principles and sought to distinguish themselves from the rest of the GOP pack.
On Saturday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, real estate mogul Donald Trump, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul took the stage. The day before, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry made their case.
Here’s a look at what the candidates had to say:
Scott Walker: The Wisconsin governor loved to talk about Kohl’s. His tax theory was the “Kohl’s curve.” His attack on Hillary Clinton’s aloofness was that she’s probably never shopped at Kohl’s. His suit came from Jos. A. Bank, but the shirt? That was from Kohl’s. And probably purchased with coupons he pulled out of the newspaper.
For Walker, it was his way of emphasizing his penny-pinching conservative ways, as well as the value of a dollar for an up-and-coming family.
Walker talked of working at McDonald’s (at the same time Rep. Paul Ryan worked at another McDonald’s down the road). He said his first job was at a countryside restaurant, washing dishes.
Then Walker transitioned into a riff on the American dream—and how Republicans should measure their success by the number of citizens they are able to shift off welfare programs.
“It comes from empowering people to live their own lives and their own destinies with the dignity that is borne of work,” Walker said.
He added: “In America, you can do and be anything that you want. The opportunity is open to all. But the outcome should be up to each and every one of us.”
Walker also promised to “bring the fight to them” when it comes to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He said Clinton is “really an extension of the third term of Barack Obama … and we’ve got a real choice out there.”
Ted Cruz: The most fiery comments of the day came from the Texas senator, who laid into President Obama’s handling of immigration and foreign threats.
The Obama administration is so bad, he told the all-Republican crowd, that the final 20 months of its second term will be “like Lord of the Flies.”
“If only the terrorists attacked a golf course,” Cruz said, taking a long pause, “that might actually get the White House’s attention.”
He said he won’t vote for Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, drawing applause.
Cruz also praised New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who, like Cruz, was among the 47 Senate Republicans who signed a letter to Iran’s leader warning that the nuclear deal negotiated by the United States and five other world powers might not survive Obama’s presidency. He also mocked Democrats who have called that letter a political vulnerability for its signers, and said his only regret is that, like John Hancock, he didn’t sign his name larger.
Mike Huckabee: Introduced as “the real hope from Arkansas”—a play on the hometown of Hope that he and Bill Clinton share—the former Arkansas governor talked about running against “the Clinton machine.”
Huckabee said he opposed a Clinton himself or a candidate for whom the Democratic family was campaigning in nearly every run for office he’s made.
“If somebody wants to know what is it like running against their organization and their apparatus, come see me. … I’ve got some scars,” he said.
Huckabee offered red meat, hitting President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and added that “I want the Republican Party to start acting like the Republican Party.”
He called for term limits for both Congress and judges, compared challenges the United States faces in the Middle East, particularly Iran, to “a viper that will bite us,” and called for a “fair tax” that would replace all others with a national consumption tax on retail sales. He also railed against the IRS, which he said has become “a criminal enterprise, and we need to get rid of it.”
John Kasich: The Ohio governor who’s weighing a dark-horse bid for the White House sought to leverage his more than three decades as a player in Republican politics as he offered what he described as a message of unity.
He started from the beginning: 1982, when President Ronald Reagan’s popularity was flagging, but Kasich embraced the Republican president during his first run for Congress.
“I was the only Republican in America that year to defeat an incumbent Democrat,” he said.
Kasich climbed the ranks in Congress, eventually becoming the House Budget Committee chairman, where he helped negotiate a 1997 budget that put the United States on track for a major surplus.
After leaving the House, he eventually ran for Ohio governor and was elected twice, winning a second term in 2014 with nearly 64% of the vote in the “swingiest of swing states,” he said.
“So what’s the lesson of leadership? No polls, no focus groups, no consultants in the back telling you what to say. None of that. You, as a leader, need to know what you’re for,” he said.
Lindsey Graham: Warning that “9/11 is coming again” if the United States doesn’t combat the rising threat of terrorism, Graham called for new U.S. military action in the Middle East.
“You know how you defeat radical Islam? You go over there and you fight them so they don’t come here,” he said.