It is showtime today for me. The annual RedState Gathering kicks off at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead.
Starting Friday they get an opportunity for damage control from Thursday night’s debate. Gov. Chris Christie will start the RedState Gathering. Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, and Sen. Marco Rubio will all speak, too. Saturday, former Govs. Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, and Gov. Scott Walker will speak along with Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Three of those candidates, Fiorina, Jindal and Perry did not make it to the main debate stage Thursday night but sought to distinguish themselves. That they did not have to deal with Trump gave them a bit of breathing room. The other candidates, however, had to dance around and be careful.
When I started the RedState Gathering seven years ago, I told the speakers that they should come prepared to talk about what they care about. I think giving speakers assigned topics at forums like this can make for stiff speeches. Hearing what they are interested in and care about makes for a better speech.
This year, I have asked the candidates to tell us their vision for the country. Republicans know the punchlines already. They know the jokes. We have heard the red meat about President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. What we have not heard is what these candidates want the country to look like after their first four years in office. With their re-election, should they get elected in 2016, being in 2020, I asked them for their 20/20 vision of the country. How will it be different?
Beyond the presidential candidates joining me this weekend, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is going to join me too. She will not be giving a speech. Instead, she and I are going to talk on stage. I want to ask her about the Charleston shootings, her response and the effect on her family. Many people do not realize that Haley spends a good bit of time as both governor and a single mother. Her husband is in the military and has more than once been sent overseas during her tenure in office.
A year or so ago, the first gentleman of South Carolina was serving as a soldier in Afghanistan and the governor of South Carolina was serving as mom, getting her kids out the door to school. She locked herself out of the Governor’s Mansion in the mad scramble to be on time for school. I have been fortunate to get to know Gov. Haley and call her a friend. These past few months in South Carolina have defined her in a way no one could have expected a few years ago. Sitting and asking her about these events and her career will probably be the big event of the weekend outside the candidates.
The other event will be Donald Trump. We rented out the College Football Hall of Fame and invited Trump to close out the RedState Gathering this year. He will fly Trump Force One into Atlanta and his motorcade will whisk him to the event with spectacle that he will no doubt enjoy.
Trump has shined as the man throwing punches and loving it. He also has an advantage people do not realize. The other candidates are treating him as a side show and not a contender. As long as they do that, Trump can keep going up in the polls. Saturday night, Trump will get on stage at the RedState Gathering still the front runner. But the election, for perspective, is still 15 months away.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.