Sarah Palin may have been the headliner at the Friday afternoon session of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, but there was some maneuvering behind the scenes regarding the Michael Steele controversy that sought to lay the matter to rest — at least with the Republican establishment.
Thirty-one state party chairmen signed a statement of support for Steele — a signal he needed badly before his scheduled speech to the delegates on Saturday afternoon. While the buzz about Steele had subsided somewhat on Friday, the issue loomed in the background.
The statement said in part:
The charge of any national Chairman is to raise money and win elections. With over $100 million raised, victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and victories in 29 of 37 special elections, Michael Steele has demonstrated that under his Chairmanship the RNC has the ability, focus, and drive to lead Republicans to a sweeping victory in November.
The RNC under Chairman Michael Steele is a full partner with state committees, responsive to our needs, and intensely interested in providing the support necessary for victory. That process is not an easy process. Technology has had a great impact on the art of politics. That impact has required the RNC to adapt and change to work effectively in this modern environment. Change can sometimes be difficult. But the changes Michael Steele has brought to the RNC were essential for our party to adapt, and win, when we do not, for the moment, hold the White House or Congress.
We stand behind Chairman Steele as he continues to lead us on the path victory in November.
By papering over the controversy, party leaders are hoping the focus can return to where they think it belongs: on the Democrats and President Obama. On that score, Sarah Palin did not disappoint.
Indeed, Steele can thank Palin for sucking the oxygen out of any other storyline at the conference. And that includes the retirement of Justice Stevens; not one speaker has mentioned that yet. The atmosphere in the Grand Ballroom prior to Palin’s entrance was thick with anticipation and excitement. She followed Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, whose speech proved that while cultural issues like abortion may have been downgraded by some — or, more accurately, de-emphasized by some of the more pragmatic Republicans — the pro-life issue is still near and dear to the hearts of most in the GOP. Perkins received a prolonged standing ovation for his rousing defense of the pro-life position. Some Republicans may wish the issue to merge into the background, but that wouldn’t be the choice of most attendees at this conference.
Palin seemed at times to rush her address a little, stepping on applause lines so that the flow of her speech was a little choppy. But she made up for it with some real zingers tossed at President Obama, including a sarcastic response to the president’s dismissal of her knowledge regarding nuclear weapons:
“And President Obama, with all that vast nuclear expertise he acquired as a community organizer, a part-time senator, and a candidate for president, has accomplished nothing to date with Iran or North Korea,” she said.