Walker walked away with the best notices. He already has the most productive record of any candidate, but was never known for electrifying audiences. On Saturday, especially in the later parts of his speech, he actually did electrify the audience.
Cruz was more polished than Walker, but he’s more polished than about any other speaker anywhere. It was a Cruz kind of crowd, and he was expected to do well, but it’s fair to say he lived up to already-high expectations.
For his part, Christie won praise for a heartfelt and serious presentation that defied the popular image many people have of him from YouTube videos of his more confrontational moments. Speaking earlier, Carson’s remarks — more a TED Talk than a stump speech — did not exactly pump up the crowd but revealed a deep well of affection conservatives have for the retired surgeon. And even a complete unknown, former executive Carly Fiorina, was able to impress the crowd and leave them receptive to future Fiorina visits to Iowa.
The one thing they all had in common: They’re new. They don’t carry the baggage of losing campaigns of the past. Of course they share many of the fundamental beliefs of Republican candidates who have gone before, but they expressed them in new ways and in the context of different experiences. The bottom line: It’s not impossible for second-time-around candidates to win the hearts of voters who have seen and heard them before, but with the quality of new faces in the 2016 race, it’s going to be very, very difficult.