Newt Passes on Southern Republican Leadership Conference

Behind me, a silver-haired woman in a “Newt 2012″ button-adorned, GOP elephant-styled sweater is shaking her head, forlornly thumbing out a text message to friends and family.  The former House Speaker, scheduled to speak at about 9:30 a.m. at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, has chosen to cancel his appearance and move on with his day of stumping.

At about 9:00 a.m., rumors began to swirl that Gingrich would not be attending.  A few minutes later, a representative from his campaign went on the record saying that the former Speaker indeed would be passing on the event due to poor attendance at the TD Arena in Charleston but would be available for the rest of his events throughout the day.  A few minutes after that, former Congressman Bob Livingston made the official announcement that Gingrich was missing due to a “scheduling conflict.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to the attendance here, to describe it as “sparse” would be understatement of the year.  I feel like I’m at a needlepoint conference.

Still, I must wonder aloud about the wisdom of Newt passing on his obligation to speak here.  While I was working yesterday, the word was that attendance was sparse then, too, and yet folks like former Congressman J.C. Watts, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Congressman Tim Scott, Senator Lindsey Graham and presidential candidate Rick Santorum all honored their obligations to speak.  Congressman Ron Paul honored his obligation a few minutes ago.

While my criticism of the Gingrich campaign over Twitter was met with a response from Slate political reporter and MSNBC contributor Dave Weigel that the “choice was between some minor stories about cancellation or photos of him speaking to an empty #fail room,” I must disagree.  The spin from this will be unfortunate.  The AP reporter seated next to me earlier framed the story as “Resurgent Frontrunner Cancels Speech Due to Poor GOP Turnout.”  That’s not good.

Still, the event went on.

Introducing Congressman Ron Paul was J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department official who initially prosecuted the New Black Panther Party members for voter intimidation during the 2008 election in Philadelphia only to be tossed from the DOJ after he came out saying that Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to drop that case was based solely on race.

In his introductory speech, Adams characterized the Justice Department as political organization being run by Eric Holder, “a man who insisted upon Mirandizing terrorists caught on the battlefield fighting our brave men and women abroad.”

Curiously, Adams said that the DOJ is “using clandestine investigators” wearing surveillance equipment to go into welfare offices throughout the country to see if officials in those offices are urging welfare recipients to register to vote ahead of the 2012 election.  In the case that they are not, Adams said, the Justice Department “sues that particular state.”  Remind me to follow up on that one.

Ron Paul lamented the lack of emphasis of foreign policy in last night’s debate.  But you can’t talk about economic policy without talking foreign policy.  “War is always a drain on the economy,” he said, maintaining that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have actually “undermined our national security.”

On the national debt, Paul said that we are barely sustainable, and that the spending is now “on autopilot” while the situation here gets worse and worse.  “We still live with this fiction that the world will trust us to print the right number of dollars,” he said, “and that we will continue to do so.”

Poor attendance aside, I have no doubt that the political obsession of the Palmetto State has reached a fever pitch.  Further, even with Newt’s decision–wise or not–to skip the SRLC, I have no doubt that momentum will continue to grow.  I’ve been saying it for a while now — it will be Newt standing at the podium tomorrow night, pointing out that South Carolina has correctly picked the eventual GOP nominee every election year since 1980 and insisting that this year is no different.

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