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Condi Steals The Show: RNC 2012

Matt Pressberg |
August 29, 2012 | 8:33 p.m. PDT

Staff Columnist

Everyone was waiting for Paul Ryan, but Condi Rice stole the show. (Dawn Megli/Creative Commons)
Everyone was waiting for Paul Ryan, but Condi Rice stole the show. (Dawn Megli/Creative Commons)
Wednesday's main card featured current vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and perpetual Republican vice-presidential candidates Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty, but former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on everyone's mind after the day's pageantry was over.

Portman spoke about Mitt Romney having "earned his money the old-fashioned way" (undoubtedly easier being the governor's son), and argued that Romney's success in finance and investing makes him qualified to run the larger economy

Pawlenty gave a somewhat awkward speech with a bad joke comparing Barack Obama to a tattoo (a good way to further alienate the youth vote), and generally taking the kind of shots that one wonders if he would take if one Barack Obama was in the room. (Pawlenty famously refused to defend a statement he made about Mitt Romney when asked about when Mitt was standing on the same stage.)

The former governor of Minnesota also seemed to feel that President Obama's prior work as a law professor and legislator did not count as real career experience. "A lot of people fail at their first job," he said, to rousing applause.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee began his evangelical outreach spech with a random swipe at DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz but mainly stuck to a "we can do better" argument, implying that President Obama is in over his head.

Huck's most important line, intended for those evangelical voters who remain uncomfortable voting for the Mormon Romney was "I care far less about where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than about where he takes this country."

Rice started out her remarks with 9/11 imagery, an odd line of attack against the guy who approved the mission to kill Bin Laden and one which highlighted the fact that those attacks happened under the watch of the Bush administration. Without specifically mentioning Iraq and George W. Bush, she made a firm case for a muscular American foreign policy to protect freedoms around the world.

"My fellow Americans, we don't have a choice," she said. "We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind"

She spoke of people around the world being inspired by America because  it is "the most successful economic and political experiment in human history."

Rice shifted to domestic policy and won a huge roar when she defended the Republican policy agenda by saying "ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement."

She also took on a favorite target of Republican legislators, the teachers' unions. While talking about her respet for teachers like her mother, she blasted the culture of education, saying "self-esteem comes from achievement, not from lax standards and false praise". She also called poor minority kids "trapped" in failing schools "the civil rights issue of our day."

By the time Rice wrapped up her speech, the Tampa crowd was transfixed and the global audience was already floating her name as a 2016 presidential candidate.

The penultimate speaker, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, started by talking about her family's small business experience starting up a security company. She received a massive standing ovation for talking about carrying a .357 magnum revolver when she was working in the family business as a teenage girl.

Martinez peppered her speech with occasional spanish phrases, but stresed her aspirational experience in this country, saying "success is the American Dream."

Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan took the stage last to deliver the most important speech of his ascendant political career.

"After four years of getting the runaround, America needs a turnaround," Ryan thundered at the beginning of his speech. "And the man for that job is Mitt Romney."

He went on to criticize the president's health care reform act, getting his loudest cheers when he decreed that Obamacare has "no place in a free country," which can only be justified if Ryan feels that none of the states in Western Europe fit his definition of "free." He continued this line of attack, saying "the greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we're going to stop it."

Ryan spoke at length about his family background, hoping to further introduce himself to a national audience not yet entirely familiar with the 42-year-old legislator. He talked about his own mother's decision to start a business and find happiness in her life after her husband had died, referring to her as his "role model."

The self-anointed fiscal hawk placed the overwhelming amount of blame for the slow recovery on President Obama, but he did not shy away from tweaking the George W. Bush administration when it came to spending. "We will keep federal spending at 20 percent of GDP or less because that is enough," Ryan said, an arbitrary metric that nevertheless played well with the crowd.

Ryan addressed foreign policy by continuing with the day's theme of a hawkish and frankly interventionist foreign policy, calling America "the greatest force for peace and liberty that this world has ever known" and not seeming reluctant to deploy said force.

The Congressman from the historic heartland of American populism stressed the argument that the Obama administration is essentially a slippery slope to Eastern bloc communism. Ryan warned of "a government planned life" and "a country where everything is free but us."He talked about the current president viewing Americans in terms of classes and stations, anathema to the American Dream, and very much a retro/nostalgic perspective that should play well with much of the base.


Reach Staff Columnist Matt Pressberg here.

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