It was tea party tough talk as the eight announced candidates engaged in one-upsmanship in seeing who could be the bigger critic of the President, and who could offer the biggest slice of rhetorical red meat to the party’s base. Congressman Ron Paul, who once again won the straw poll, told the crowd it was time to shut down any foreign military involvement unless the U.S. was directly threatened. When pizza king Herman Cain called for a continuing policy of support for Israel, the Paul crowd booed loudly. Cain also clarified an important issue in the coming campaign. He prefers deep dish pizza over thin crust.
Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota charmed the crowd with a big smile and tough talk. With Bachmann dressed in white from head to toe, one observer dubbed the candidates Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I interviewed Bachmann for my weekly radio show prior to her speech, and it’s easy to see why her popularity is growing. She grasps your hand, and looks you straight in the eye, ala Bill Clinton. She reminds you that she not only has 5 children, but 23 foster children. Hey, even I’m impressed.
Bachmann warmed up the strong Louisiana crowd by telling them: “You survived Katrina! You survived President Obama’s oil moratorium! There is nothing you can’t survive!” She is the warmest and most accessible candidate of the lot, followed closely by former Pennsylvania Senator, Rick Santorum. And Bachmann is no slouch on details of what she believes. No comparing her to another potential female candidate (You betcha!). Bachmann did get “glittered” by a gay activist, but she just kept smiling and waving to the adoring crowd.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich left most of those in attendance (and yours truly) cold when he went over the top saying that the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are a "secular-socialist machine" that "represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union." He gave the GOP loyalists an off the wall neocon lecture that seemed out of touch with present day foreign policy realities. Newt has become a political dinosaur whose days in the presidential ring, by his own missteps, are numbered.
Then to the podium came bigger than life Texas Governor, Rick Perry. With the swagger, the twist of the head, and the puzzling smile, was it Dubya reincarnated? As Comedian Andy Borowitz, a regular guest on my talk show, suggested, Perry’s campaign slogan could be: “What Harm Could a Governor from Texas Do?” Perry once suggested that Texas ought to secede from the union. Andy suggests Perry should propose that “The United States should secede from Planet Earth and pray for rapture.” The national press, however, seems to be taking the Texas Governor much more seriously. With the South having become completely red, and with no present southern candidate having emerged so far, a number of commentators look to Perry to fill the vacant role of a strong, conservative, tea party- leaning candidate to oppose the present front runner, Mitt Romney.
The most substantive, sensible speech of the convention received a polite but lukewarm response. It came from former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, who has been working for months to get more media attention, with limited success. Roemer has been crisscrossing early primary states in his campaign bus selling his message that what’s wrong with America is that it’s been largely sold to powerful corporate interests. Roemer puts it this way:
“I know when we’re being taken advantage of, and I know our own corporate giants have never been more profitable than they are right now because they keep sending these high-priced American jobs overseas. I will run successfully for President, accepting $100 maximum contributions, like I always do. No PAC money, full disclosure. I will attempt to beat the tyranny of the big check. If we don't do this, the change that's necessary to rebuild America will never happen.” Roemer is the best orator in the bunch, but he can’t get his message across because he has limited his resources.
So what was the highlight of the convention? My friend Andy would say it was when the Obama impersonator took the stage. Reggie Brown had the crowd standing and cheering raucously when he lit into the Democrats from disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner to the President himself. Brown joked that Obama celebrates only half of African-American History Month. But then the crowd quieted down when Brown turned on Republican candidates. “Newt Gingrich’s supporters are dropping faster than Weiner’s pants.” He followed up by put downs on most of the other candidates, until convention organizers had had enough. Brown’s mike was cut off, and the music swelled.
The convention itself was organized and run in a first class manner. Kudos to the Louisiana Republican Party, and the convention CEO, Charlie Davis, who knows how to organize and put on a good show. And what better place to hold such a gathering than New Orleans? As Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour told the republican faithful: “If you can’t come down here and have a good time, it’s your own darn fault.”
Three contenders who, at least for now, have a good shot at the nomination, were not in attendance. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who presently leads in the polls, chose to “stay above the fray,” and skip New Orleans. His strategy seems to be to raise money and not get caught up in the interparty squabbling. Red state south is not fertile ground for the more moderate Romney, where polls show his Mormon faith is troubling to a number of voters.
Minnesota’s former Governor Tim Pawlenty also was a no show, choosing to give a paid speech in California instead. He has been under fire for breaking Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment of not criticizing other candidates in his recent attack on Romney’s Healthcare proposals. In a New Hampshire debate earlier in the week, Pawlenty seemed to wilt like a bodega tulip. Huntsmen, who like Romney is also a former Utah Governor and a Mormon, finished a surprisingly second in the straw poll in New Orleans, but called in sick for the New Orleans gathering.
Despite all the anti-Obama rhetoric, Republicans realize that this coming election will be no cake walk, and that the President is going to be hard to defeat. As former Governor, and once candidate, Mike Huckabee points out, “It's not Obama's performance, so much as his money and a possible lack of Republican unity.” New Orleans was a warm up. These candidates still have a long and rough road to travel before any of them emerge as the one to beat.
“I'm not sure Lincoln would fare well if he were a presidential candidate today.”
David Herbert Donald
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.
Which candidate do you believe did best in New Orleans?
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