What Was Wrong At The Southern Republican Leadership Conference?

What a weird conference. There. I said it. The Tea Party received the biggest cheers. The Republicans bashed their own party. Attendees were optimistic and cheerful. Politicians were purposeful and focused on 2010–a marked shift from the usual perspectives at SRLC which has been a conference that gives voters a first look at potential Presidential candidates. Ron Paul’s groupies were suitably worshipful and idealistic. Mitt Romney’s posse were mission-focused as always. But something was off.

It wasn’t the city or weather. New Orleans was more beautiful than I have ever seen it and the weather was perfect. Food? A+. Gambling? I wouldn’t know, but people had fun. A shooting did clear a friend’s restaurant, though–so it’s the same old New Orleans we know and love.

It wasn’t the venue or organization which was okay–although the scheduling was unorthodox. The speakers didn’t get going until the afternoon every day while the delegates had various brunches. It made for an excellent blogging schedule.

What simmered below the surface of the event, though, made me uneasy. And it was who didn’t attend the event that concerned me.

Eventually, Mitt Romney is going to have to show up at an conference with other political contenders. Will he get more cheers than Newt or Sarah or Mike Pence or Rick Perry? I know he’s hoping to wait them all out, gather to himself a gagilliion dollars and be the presumptive nominee. That method worked in the past, will it work now?

Haley Barbour endorsed Charlie Crist who is miles behind Marco Rubio. Barbour was RNC chair during the 1994 revolution. Many of these old dogs are still around and enjoying power. They remember sweeping in and they don’t want to be swept out.

The recent arm wrestling being done by the NRSC and NRCC against the RNC might actually be wasted effort. If donors are by-passing all of them and funding the Rubios of the world, the party bosses might matter less even as the give full-throated endorsements to establishment candidates who have zero chance of getting elected.

One Republican said to me, “It’s like the Republicans are ten years behind the times. They’re looking for women candidates, when the voters are beyond that.”

What he meant was, the voters now, men and women, want a good candidate who follows, as Rick Perry mentioned, first principles. Gender matters little anymore. Beliefs matter most.

But first principles are inconvenient when an old-guard politician is trying to keep power and money. And so beneath a placid, optimist surface, there is struggling. The struggle would seem to be philosophical: big government Republicans against tax-assailing and small government conservatives with some Tea Party help.

Unfortunately, the struggle seems to be more base than that: who is going to man the ship when Republicans get power back in November? There are lots of Republicans angling for chairmanships and sweet deals and that seems to be a more important fight to them than fighting Democrats and a President who are trying to do to dismantle freedom and the American way.

Politics, like business, has many aging boomers who love their jobs. They don’t want to give them up. Terrified of becoming relics and irrelevant, they fight like badgers to hold on to personal power while not paying attention to what they’ll even be owning after they “win.” If the establishment Republicans rip the party apart, they may have power in a party that no longer matters. Do they recognize this reality?

Many of the old guard are suspicious of the Tea Partiers and conservatives in general. Cozying up with small government types, makes keeping a big government difficult.

Bottom line, the leadership of the party isn’t at the top anymore. The grassroots are leading, amoeba-like, toward a philosophical goal of smaller government, less taxation and more freedom. So far, no presumptive presidential candidate has taken on that mantal.

After the November mid-term elections, I expect a very wild presidential campaign. And while Mitt stuffed the ballot boxes at the Southern Republican Leadership Council, I don’t think his place as the new face of the GOP is anywhere near certain.

The Republican party will change, people will give them one last chance, because voters burned themselves with Ross Perot going third party. But if the party isn’t responsive to the base’s concern after the last two years, I’m afraid there will be a new party building and the old guard will be manning an empty ivory tower.

Tabitha Hale has more. She has a controversial take on the opening speaker who decided that the most important issue facing the nation is gay marriage.

Here are some interviews I conducted at SRLC:

Texas Governor Rick Perry Talks Texas….And A National Run? Also here.

Ted Cruz, former Texas Solicitor General who has argued many cases before the Supreme Court (and won) discusses the possible legal approaches to get rid of Obamacare. Also here.

A great Republican running against Deborah Wasserman-Schultz: Learn about Brian Reilly here.

I also got to spend 10 minutes with Herman Cain. That video is still loading, but I’ll add it to the cue.

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