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.
In a more serious vein, Palin criticized the administration’s policies toward friend and foe:
Meanwhile, this administration alienates our friends. They treated Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai poorly and acted surprised when he reacted in kind. And they escalated a minor zoning decision into a major breach with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East.
Folks, someone needs to remind the President: Jerusalem is not a settlement. Israel is our friend. And the critical nuclear concerns of our time are North Korea, who has nuclear weapons, and Iran, who wants them.
So, “yes we can” kowtow to our enemies and publicly criticize our allies.
Yes, we can. But someone ought to tell the President and the Left that just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Following her speech, Palin lingered a bit to shake some hands and sign some autographs. It struck me that her security situation, both in the ballroom and out in the lobby when she was mobbed making her way to her car, should be a concern. Louisiana state troopers were there but, whether by her request or not, failed to keep the enthusiastic crowds from pressing forward and thrusting camera phones and copies of her book toward her for her signature.
Following Palin was a real corker of a speech by Texas Governor Rick Perry. Governor Perry is, without a doubt, one of the strictest of strict constructionists in the party. Perry believes the federal government’s responsibilities should be limited to:
Have a strong military, secure our borders, and deliver the mail on time. And that’s it. …
And until you can get those three right, how about leaving everything else alone?
His defense and support of the Tenth Amendment is, if anything, even more a reflection of his belief in first principles:
Basically, what it [the Tenth Amendment] says is that the federal government was created to be an agent of the states — not the other way around.
Perry has a knack for getting liberals’ blood to boil when he talks like this. I think he was exaggerating a little about what should be the responsibilities of the federal government. Texas is dependent on Washington as much as any other state. But Perry is a shrewd operator, having just dusted off a serious challenge from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, easily beating her in their recent primary. He seems a near lock for reelection.
Might he be a candidate for president in 2012? He wouldn’t be the first Texas governor to make a run.
Finally, a word about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s address. He repeated his disinterest in national office and jabbed indirectly at Michael Steele with a little joke about Bourbon Street:
Jindal took to the stage and welcomed conference-goers to New Orleans. He told them to “enjoy our great food, our great music, our great culture.”
Then this: “A word of warning to RNC staffers: You may want to stay away from Bourbon Street,” he said. “Just a word of advice.”
The joke drew laughter and applause from the crowd.
If the GOP can laugh at their own folly, that may be a sign that the controversy can be laid to rest with no further damage to the party’s prospects in November.
Jindal was much more animated and at ease than he was in his disastrous response to President Obama’s State of the Union. He still has a way to go to recover from that performance, however, and it would appear that while he is still an attractive and intelligent potential candidate with a terrific personal story, he has some convincing to do regarding his ability to connect with an audience.
That may come with time. Until then, he is doing well as governor and should have a strong case to make for reelection when he runs in 2011.
Fifty-eight RNC members have now signed the letter in support of the embattled RNC chair. As Allahpundit points out, Steele’s job appears safe at the moment.