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Three Takeaways from the GOP Cattle Call in Iowa

Walker makes a splash, Romney and Bush are targets and Common Core looms large.

We learned three important things from Saturday’s Republican cattle call in Iowa, which was hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-IA). First, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made a splash. “Activists say Walker came out on top after 10 hours of candidate speeches,” The Hill wrote. Now we also remember when Michele Bachmann made an early splash in Iowa (winning the Ames Straw Poll in 2011), and look where that got her. But if you believe -- as we do -- that the GOP presidential contest is divided up into at least three different brackets (the establishment bracket, the conservative/insurgent bracket, the governor bracket), well, Walker helped himself here. Second, as NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell observed, the rhetorical red meat wasn’t directed at President Obama -- but instead at Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton. Here was Donald Trump: “It can't be Mitt because Mitt ran and failed. He failed. The last thing we need is another Bush. He's totally in favor of Common Core. He is very, very weak on immigration.” And here was Carly Fiorina: “Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something." And third, as conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt pointed out on “Meet the Press” yesterday, Common Core was a bigger issue in the speeches than immigration was at a Steve King event. File that away.

Working on their weaknesses

NBC’s Perry Bacon has another observation from Saturday’s cattle call: The speakers tried to address their vulnerabilities. “Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won over evangelical conservative voters in his 2012 run but struggled with other blocs in the GOP, spent most his speech discussing economic and foreign policy issues… Walker walked around the podium like an evangelical pastor, and both showed humor and intensity that was lacking during his speeches in 2014, when he was running for reelection in Wisconsin.” More from Bacon: “‘Anybody who tells you that [I like Common Core] is being plain dishonest,’ [Mike Huckabee said], explaining he has supported an earlier version of the education standards, which many Republicans hate, but opposes what they have become now. Christie, too, was very direct in addressing one of his perceived shortcomings. ‘I have read and heard conventional wisdom that a guy from New Jersey would not be welcomed in Iowa. Too blunt, too direct,’ he told the 1,200 conservative activists in attendance. ‘Let me ask you,’ he added. ‘If I was too blunt, too New Jersey for Iowa, then why do you people keep inviting me back?’”

The price of paying homage to Steve King

Yet lost in much of the coverage of Saturday’s Iowa cattle call was this unmistakable fact: A substantial number of potential Republican presidential candidates paid political homage to one of the most hostile voices to undocumented immigrants in the country: Steve King. In 2013, he said: “For [every undocumented immigrant] who’s a valedictorian, there’s another hundred out there who weigh a hundred and thirty pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.” And last week, he called a “dreamer” sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union “a deportable.” Notably, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul did NOT attend King’s confab. But almost everyone else did -- Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry. It's worth remembering the words from that post-election RNC report: “It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.” So it’s significant these folks all showed up at Steve King’s confab. Then again, it also was significant who DIDN’T show up.

The weekend’s other cattle call in Palm Springs

King’s event in Iowa, however, wasn’t the only GOP cattle call over the weekend. Late last night, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio participated in a panel discussion at the Koch Brothers’ winter retreat in Palm Springs, CA. The Washington Post’s write-up: “Three of the likely Republican presidential contenders decried the nation’s income gap and argued that President Obama deserves little credit for the improving economy in a forum Sunday night that offered a preview of the themes expected to dominate the 2016 election.” (Pretty jarring that income inequality was a big message at this meeting.) The Post adds that foreign policy sparked some disagreements among the threesome. “Paul and Rubio quarreled over Obama’s recent announcement that the United States would begin taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba… And the three senators got in a heated debate about U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. ‘I am a little cautious, I would say, perhaps skeptical about negotiating with someone who has openly said he wants to force all of us to either be like him or die,’ said Rubio… Paul took a more measured tone. ‘I do not trust the president, I don’t believe or support him on almost anything he does,’ he said, ‘but at the same time, I think diplomacy is better than war and we should give diplomacy a chance.’”

Christie creates PAC, steps up travel

Chris Christie filed paperwork late Friday with the Federal Election Commission to form a PAC called Leadership Matters for America, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports. There is a vehicle now” aides said, “for donors to get involved.” (Note: This PAC isn’t the same as a presidential campaign committee, but it would allow Christie to raise funds, travel the country and support other candidates.) Leadership Matters will be run by Finance Director Ray Washburne and senior advisers Phil Cox and Mike DuHaime. O’Donnell adds that Christie plans several political trips in February. Aides say he will make stops for fundraising in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and California. And he is scheduled to speak at Republican dinner events in Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire in February. Christie travels in his capacity as governor to the United Kingdom on a New Jersey mission this weekend.

Huckabee confirms he’s almost certain make another White House bid

Meanwhile, on “Meet the Press” yesterday, former Mike Huckabee confirmed he’s almost certain to run for president in 2016. “Well, you become an active candidate, then you file the FEC papers. But I think it's pretty evident that I'm moving in that direction.” More Huckabee: “And I've never hidden that. But I've always said that my timetable is some time later in the spring, and that still is the timetable today.” Don’t miss what Huckabee said about immigration, either. “You don't punish a child for something his parents did. I want to get control of the borders. I want to make sure that we have a better handle on immigration. It's totally out of control. But I don't know that we've ever been a nation that said, ‘If you're in the back seat of your car when your dad is speeding, we're going to charge you in the back seat for what your dad did up in the front seat.’ That just doesn't ring true to me.” When asked if that means he supports Obama’s 2012 executive action on the so-called “dreamers,” Huckabee replied, “[H]e didn't have the authority to do it, and he said he didn't have the authority to do it when he was interviewed just a year before.”

Ready for Hillary -- in April?

“Hillary Clinton is in the final stages of planning a presidential campaign that is likely to launch in early April, and has made decisions on most top posts, according to numerous Democrats in close contact with the Clintons and their aides,” Politico writes. “Campaign advisers say the likelihood of a campaign, long at 98 percent (she never really hesitated, according to one person close to her), went to 100 percent right after Christmas, when Clinton approved a preliminary budget and several key hires.”

Former Israeli ambassador: Netanyahu should cancel his speech to Congress

Finally, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren has made things slightly more difficult for Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and House Speaker John Boehner regarding Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress (which takes place two weeks before Israel’s elections). “Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his upcoming address to Congress, scheduled for March 3,” Haaretz writes. “Oren, an American-born Israeli who served as envoy to Washington under Netanyahu from 2009 to 2013, reportedly said House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to the Israeli premier and the subsequent behavior involved ‘created the impression of a cynical political move, and it could hurt out attempts to act against Iran.’ ‘It's advisable to cancel the speech to Congress so as not to cause a rift with the American government,’ Oren added. ‘Much responsibility and reasoned political behavior are needed to guard interests in the White House.’”

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