NASHUA, New Hampshire – Republican presidential hopefuls descended en masse on New Hampshire Saturday for the second day of the GOP Leadership Summit, where they trotted out newly sharpened attack lines against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton – and sometimes each other.
It was not easy to stand out in the state party’s kickoff event for the first-in-the-nation primary contest, which on Saturday included Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
“It is, I think the broadest, deepest, smartest most experienced and most capable collection of potential presidential candidates I’ve seen in my lifetime,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu told the crowd over dinner Saturday.
One popular play for attention from almost every speaker was trying to produce the best zinger against Clinton.“I’m starting to worry that when Hillary Clinton travels, she’s going to need two planes: One for her entourage and one for her baggage,” Paul quipped in his speech.
“Just listening to her is like something out of North Korea,” Graham said of the candidate’s Iowa listening tour. “Would you like to meet the dear leader and ask them anything you’d like?”
Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, jokingly referenced Clinton’s recent remark that “all my grandparents” immigrated to the United States, a slip that turned out to be true of just one of them.
“I want to talk to you about my grandparents who immigrated – I’m sorry I’ve got the wrong notes, this is Hillary Clinton’s speech, I’m sorry,” Jindal said.
Walker focused his speech on his record in Wisconsin, boasting how he confronted unions, tamed deficits, and cut taxes. But even he found time for some shots late in his remarks. After describing how chain store Kohl’s business plan of selling discount clothes at high volume was a model for tax reform, he added: ”I doubt the presumptive nominee for the other party has ever been to Kohl’s.”
“This isn’t a third term of Bill Clinton,” he said later of his Democratic rival. “This is a third term of Barack Obama.”
Clinton will soon get a chance to rebut the field personally: she’s heading to New Hampshire for a pair of round-table conversations on Sunday and Monday.
Once the obligatory Hillary jokes were out of the way, the standout divide between the candidates on Saturday was on foreign policy. The day’s speakers included the most dovish Republican in Paul, one of the most hawkish in Graham, and one of the more unconventional candidates in Cruz, who has sold himself as a mix of the two camps.
Paul led the morning batch of speakers with a speech laying out his case for a non-interventionist approach to foreign affairs based on heavy skepticism of military action and humanitarian aid to advance American interests.
“There’s a group of folks in our party who would have troops in six countries right now, maybe more,” Paul said.
The libertarian senator also defended due process for Americans accused of terrorism and took a shot at Graham for saying in 2011 that suspected terrorists should be told to “shut up” when they ask for a lawyer.Graham took his own jabs at “the people taking this stage saying leave these people alone” in the Middle East, calling instead for a sustained troop presence to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other threats. Paul has endorsed military action against ISIS, but has strongly criticized the Iraq War, U.S. intervention against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and has broken with Graham in opposing military aid to Syrian rebels.
“Leading from behind’s not working, but replacing leading from behind with libertarianism is a bad move,” Graham told reporters after the speech.
Cruz stuck to White House bashing, avoiding the internal party conflict with a general set of jabs portraying Obama as weak on radical Islamic groups abroad.
“If only the terrorists attacked a golf course,” he joked. “That might actually get the White House’s attention.”
He called the Iran nuclear framework currently under negotiation a “terrible deal” and pledged to “repudiate” any agreement he felt undermined national security if elected president in 2016.
Walker riffed on Obama’s foreign policy as well, an issue where the governor has struggled at times but has planted his flag firmly with the hawks.
“It’s so frustrating to me as we see that we got a president who a couple of years ago drew a line in the sand and then allowed people to cross it, we got a president who calls ISIS just a year ago the jayvee squad, who called Yemen a success story, who called Iran a place we can do business with,” Walker said.
Walker is scheduled to speak in the evening, the final 2016 prospect of the two-day gathering to address the event. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton spoke on Friday.