John Feehery: Where are the adults?

John Feehery: Where are the adults?
© Greg Nash

"If you build it, they will come.”

Steve King is no Shoeless Joe Jackson, but you have to give him some credit. 

ADVERTISEMENT

A full year before the Iowa caucus process usually gets started, the conservative congressman is helping to jump-start the imaginations of a few thousand activists. By hosting the Freedom Summit in Des Moines this past weekend, King has built a platform for himself and for a dozen or so pretenders to the throne in 2016. 

Co-hosted by Newt Gingrich’s American Legacy PAC and by Citizens United, famous for winning the Supreme Court case that created this brave new world of campaign finance, the Freedom Summit was billed as the place where conservatives could focus on “how we can get America back on track.”

King is no shrinking violet when it comes to controversy. He regularly produces carefully crafted cringe-worthy sound bites, meant to get himself in the news. He called one of President Obama’s guests at the State of Union “a deportable.” He claimed “that for every child of illegal immigrants who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds, and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

It’s unclear how much King’s reputation will rub off on the candidates who came to his confab. Some of the potential candidates for president, like Sarah Palin and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE, agree with King and his sentiments. But others, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, surely don’t subscribe to the notion that writing off the fastest growing segment of the electorate is good politics.

It’s interesting to note the contrast between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the folks who showed up at the King version of “Field of Dreams.”

Bush addressed a convention of auto dealers, 4,000 strong. He offered a positive vision of the future, free of dire predictions of gloom and doom. He offered real solutions to problems. He didn’t peddle in Twitter-ready sound bites, and he engaged in what was billed as an “adult conversation.”

Can the conservative movement handle an adult conversation? 

King, on the other hand, challenged those running for president to sign a pledge to repeal ObamaCare, abolish the IRS and pass a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget. 

None of those things will happen in two years, and I doubt they will happen in my lifetime. 

These are talking points meant to fire up a crowd, not realistic policy ideas that will be implemented to make America a better place to live.

Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGermany calls on Congress not to sanction Nord Stream 2 pipeline: report Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' Biden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress MORE, who was a featured speaker over the weekend at King’s event, likes to humiliate Republican leaders by demanding that they “do what you said you would do.”

In many ways, he has a point. Political leaders who cynically make promises that they can’t keep should face the wrath of the voters. 

But that lesson was largely lost at the Freedom Summit.

There, all kinds of people were making all kinds of claims, knowing damn well that they didn’t have the power or ability or the constitutional authority to make it happen. 

It is one thing to serve up red meat to a red-meat crowd. It’s another thing to promise a juicy steak without ever intending to deliver it to the table. 

Bush has been a little light on serving the red meat. In many ways, he is telling conservative voters things that they don’t want to hear, like, “Eat your vegetables.” He thinks we should be realistic on immigration policy. He thinks we should have higher education standards. He thinks we should be respectful of all points of view when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. 

He is attempting to have an adult conversation, focusing on practical solutions to intractable problems. 

There is a long way to go before Republicans actually select their nominee for the White House. But we already see the contours of the race. It’s the wise adult vs. the angry children. And in a party that usually falls in line but doesn’t fall in love, it’s better to be the wise adult. 

Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).