Dave Begley: Not live from Council Bluffs

Nebraska attorney David Begley has covered the appearance of the presidential candidates in Iowa over the past year. We’ve posted his reports in the “Live from…” series (usually “…Council Bluffs). As the Iowa caucuses approach, Dave takes a look back:

For a non-journalist, I may be unique in having seen and reported on all of the major (and some minor) 2016 candidates with the exception of Jeb Bush. Readers should know that the GOP field is impressive and this election.

Thanks to Scott Johnson for publishing and editing my reports. Scott’s editing made them better.

I saw Hillary Clinton four times. All the events were imperially staged and she never took questions from the press or public. Hillary is the favorite. The continued high poll numbers of Bernie Sanders, however, reflect the fact that many in the Democrat base are dissatisfied with her campaign.

Polls state that 60 percent of the electorate find Secretary Clinton to be dishonest and untrustworthy. Think about that fact for a second and consider that she might become President.

Put aside her poor character and unlikable manner. Examine what she offers on policy. Not much. She wants to enact the Buffett Rule and raise income taxes on millionaires. She says she wants free college tuition at public universities. She will lower drug prices. She wants to further regulate non-bank financial companies. Solar panels on every house. Open borders, sanctuary cities, and amnesty. And, my personal favorite, mandatory biofuels for military jets. All of this, I am sure, is poll-tested, and all of it is bad and/or stupid policy.

And here’s the cynical side to her proposals: For many of them she can solicit major campaign donations from the targets and beneficiaries of her legislation and regulations. I’m sure the drug companies and financial industries know this and contribute just on the hope they can work a deal.

With little ability to pass legislation on domestic matters, a President Hillary Clinton will be left to the powers of the Executive in the Constitution with an emphasis on foreign affairs as Commander-in-Chief. Make no mistake: in those areas she will preside over the third terms of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Expect more failures.

I will divide the GOP field into two tiers. The top tier is Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Carson.

Trump is sui generis. His appearance in Sioux City was more pep rally than politics. (He is set to appear in Council Bluffs on Tuesday.) I wrote then that it was a “free-form stream-of-conciousness ramble, but there are pegs to it.” His main theme is “Make America Great Again” and he rose to the top of the field on the strength of his stance against immigration.

Trump is the anti-Obama. Who can disagree with the goal of restoring America’s greatness? Especially so after President Obama – in matters large and small – has degraded America on every front.

I have studied the candidates closely and it is clear to me that Trump is no conservative. He also is loose in his language and his campaigning. He easily could have called for a moratorium on visas from certain Middle East countries but he had to create a firestorm by saying he would ban Muslims. Imprecise and practically impossible to enforce as a visa applicant could lie about his religion.

Trump’s lack of appeal to the middle 10 to 20 percent of voters is reflected in the fact that polls show him losing badly to Hillary. A loss to Hillary would be devastating. The GOP doesn’t want to nominate a loser, does it now? In my opinion Trump’s numbers would only get worse in a general election as the Clinton campaign is currently working a gold mine of opposition research on him. Trump backers need to think about that serious flaw.

The knock on Ted Cruz is that some people don’t like his looks or think he is too stiff. I say get over it. We have had a President with high likability numbers and a great smile. We know how that has worked out. In person, Ted Cruz is very good. He is a solid conservative on policy. He is off-the-charts smart but he doesn’t flaunt it or talk down to crowds. He can get a crowd fired up. He knows his strengths and plays to them. He is also a real outsider in the Senate and that has appeal.

Marco Rubio has that JFK-movie star thing going for him. He is an equal to Cruz in a debate and that is no small matter. Ted and Marco would mop the floor with Hillary in any debate. Rubio’s strength is foreign affairs and the military. I don’t know if he has effectively answered voters’ distrust of him on immigration due to his sponsoring the Gang of Eight legislation.

Dr. Ben Carson is about his life story and his persona. In a smaller field and at a different time he might have received more traction in the polls. For a man who went from brain surgery to competing in the top tier for the presidency, he has done remarkably well. But his inexperience and small missteps have been magnified by the media when compared to more experienced opponents.

After seeing Carly Fiorina four times, I endorsed her here on my blog. She is an outsider and a leader with clear plans on what needs to be done. Her three-page tax code and zero base budgeting appeal to me. From the very first event, she has gone after Hillary Clinton and I think that focus is essential.

Paul Mirengoff and I saw Chris Christie in a tiny bar in Council Bluffs. He just stood in the middle and took questions. It was effective and it appears he is sticking to that format in New Hampshire. During the debates he displays the same type of directness. Like the smart lawyer that he is, he plays to his strengths and has good answers for tough questions on his weak points. He also was able to hit some emotional chords regarding his late mother and addictions. Don’t be surprised if he does well in New Hampshire.

The only candidate I didn’t like was Rand Paul. He has some supporters from his father’s campaign and he hits the libertarian and isolationist themes hard. Given that people aren’t pressing to audit the Federal Reserve and that Islamic terrorism is on the march again, he has no chance. I really resented the misrepresentation he made about the ten-year federal RICO prison sentence for a man convicted of wetlands law violations. It was dishonest and he should have cut it from his stump speech long ago.

It was obvious to me that Rick Perry was very well prepared this time but the electorate had moved on. On a personal note I forgot to express my admiration to him for his toughness in light of really improper and purely political criminal charges brought against him in Texas with one count still pending. Rick Perry is a good man and a fine public servant.

Scott Walker also is a tough guy but he wears his toughness lightly. Death threats were directed at him and his workplace was occupied by Wisconsin goons. The large field and his contrasting calm manner just never caught on and he had no big policy proposals. Like Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan, he was smart to cut his losses when he retired from the field.

Bobby Jindal is very smart and a strong conservative. Again, the size of the field really worked against him. Huckabee and Santorum are both struggling trying to recapture past successes in Iowa. John Kasich is a successful governor from Ohio and I only hope he works hard to win the Buckeye State for the GOP.

Finally, and in my opinion, it is necessary for everyone but Trump to move beyond his six-point plans and offer the voters something new and bold. Trump has moved the Overton window and he will continue to dominate the news. The candidates’ proposals are reflected in their current numbers and if one wants to win the nomination then new ideas need to be floated.

Maybe it is a demand that the Senate keep sanctions in place on Iran. The climate alarmists have been wrong for over a decade and voters certainly don’t care about the issue. Maybe a direct frontal assault on the Green movement and AGW would gain votes. My personal favorite issue is North American energy independence bolstered by a tariff or fee on OPEC oil. Saudi Arabia controls the price of oil as the swing and marginal low cost producer and it is in the process of damaging our oil industry. I imagine voters would agree to $3 stable gasoline prices in exchange for American jobs and the certainty we won’t soon see $100 barrel oil funding terrorists. Saudi Arabia is the home of much of the Islamist dysfunction and we don’t need their oil anymore as the United States is the number one producer and has way more upside with stable west Texas oil at $50.

Right now I don’t see any events in western Iowa for January 2016. If there are some, I will attend. I hope these reports were helpful and informative. Happy New Year.