By Andrea Palermo
I recently had the privilege of traveling to Greenville, SC, to volunteer at “Take Back America,” the presidential forum hosted by Heritage Action for America. Ten candidates took the stage in front of a crowd of thousands at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Political junkies often see candidates on television, but I got to see so many of them in person: Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rick Santorum, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Gov. Chris Christie.
Moderated by Gov. Nikki Haley and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham, the event was unique in that it allowed candidates individual time to address policy issues on a deeper level, rather than the typical debate setting where each candidate has only a few minutes – which they tend to spend talking about each other’s flaws.
As these particular presidential hopefuls vie for their party’s nomination, here are three things I learned from my experience that they must apply:
- Stay true to your word.
Donald Trump is currently leading the polls for the Republican nomination. He had confirmed his attendance at the forum, but pulled out just hours before the event to close a “business transaction.” Not ideal when the alternative is addressing a crowd of key conservative voters.
- You can say something without saying anything.
When a crowd of thousands is silent after what’s supposed to be an applause line, it speaks volumes. Candidates must know their audience and what will resonate with them. For example, Rick Santorum said he supports reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, but he was speaking at an event hosted by an organization widely recognized for opposing reauthorization – cue the silence.
- Know how to answer tough questions.
Candidates must confidently answer difficult questions while highlighting their experience and positions on issues. Gov. Haley asked Carly Fiorina about the passing of her stepdaughter, who suffered from substance abuse. Fiorina turned the conversation to a discussion of criminal justice reform, including how our society needs to help these types of illnesses and addictions rather than sending these people to jail.
Being able to hear Gov. Walker speak one last time as a candidate was also a special experience, as his passion was felt across the arena. The announcement just a few days later that he was ending his campaign came as a surprise.
Regardless of who you prefer to be our next president, the opportunity to attend this forum reminded me there’s a field full of very intelligent, passionate people willing to serve our nation. Every time the crowd of thousands would stand up and cheer, I got chills. Maybe you can experience that same surge of enthusiasm by watching a video of the forum.