From Dana Milbank at The Washington Post:
As the Republican faithful filed in for cocktails at last night’s fundraiser at the Washington Convention Center, a musical group called the Right On Band was entertaining them with a soul tune:
Rock the boat, don’t rock the boat baby
Rock the boat, don’t tip the boat over
Guess what, kids. They didn’t listen. They rocked the boat…
It seems that even the band had heard about Sarah Palin’s appearance at the dinner.
First the Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee was invited [by Pete Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC)] to be the keynote speaker at the party’s annual congressional fundraising dinner.
Then she was not the keynoter, [Sessions and his Senate counterpart Senator John Cornyn] replaced [her with] former House speaker Newt Gingrich .
Then she was invited to speak, again. Then that invitation was rescinded.
Then she let word slip out that she was unhappy about the whole state of events and was thinking of not attending at all.
Then — after much public bickering between Palin loyalists [especially fundraiser Fred Malek] and party officials — she finally agreed to come, speaking slot or no.
Everyone showed up for the big event!
(l to r: John Cornyn, John Boohoo Boehner, Captain Underpants, Todd Palin, Princess Sarah, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Pete Sessions, Orrin Hatch, Michael Phathead Steele, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, David Vitter, Jon Kyl)
In that sense, the Right On Band was spot-on with its choice of songs for the Republican lawmakers and donors. Palin’s relationship with her party represents nothing so much as a lovers’ quarrel, and the mostly Motown musical selection — “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “My Girl,” “Baby I Need Your Lovin’ ” — hit all the right notes: passion, jealousy, love and guilt. In a burst of optimism, organizers allowed two knives to be placed at each of the 2,000 place settings — one, apparently, to stick in the food and one to use on fellow Republicans.
The wine on the table, modest bottles of Woodbridge, fit the austerity of the times. Gone were the metal detectors of recent years. Instead, little-known Republican congressional leaders with names such as Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl were escorted in by their security details. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana entered the room, unescorted, with a mostly empty glass of wine.
But the buzz last night was less about the dollar take than about who would be appearing on the dais. In past years, President George W. Bush had been the dinner’s keynoter. Whoever the party leaders selected for last night’s keynote could legitimately claim a modicum of heir transparency.
This much is clear: Palin was invited to be the keynote speaker at the dinner. What happened next, however, is a matter of hot dispute. Party officials say she accepted and reneged. Palin loyalists say she was merely mulling the offer. Either way, the party moved on and invited Gingrich to be the substitute keynoter.
In recent days, Palin was reinvited to the event, but that invitation was rescinded over concerns that the darling of the conservative base would steal the spotlight from Gingrich.
Finally, a compromise of sorts was reached: Palin would attend the event, and be given a seat of honor, but would not have a speaking role.
The master of ceremonies, actor Jon Voight, tried to fire up the minority party […] “We are becoming a weak nation. . . . Free the nation from this Obama oppression. . . . Bring an end to this false prophet Obama.”
The applause was polite but didn’t entirely replace the sound of cutlery on china.
The focus, meanwhile, was on a table in the first row, where a certain governor was holding court.
Several speakers ignored the elephant in the room, but when Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, head of the Senate Republicans’ election effort, rose to speak, he mentioned Palin. “Thank you for being here with us tonight,” he began. The ovation in the hall drowned out the next words.
Gingrich, a skilled politician, knew what to do. “I also want to thank Governor Palin and Todd for coming tonight and being part of this,” he said. Recalling the two couples’ joint walk at the start of the dinner, he said they were greeted coming off the stage by Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s presidential candidate last fall. “I felt, looking at John McCain and Sarah Palin, this country would have been amazingly better off had they been in the White House,” he said.
It was the easiest applause line of the night.
So, even though they’d love to stab each other in the back, Princess Sarah and Newtie did what they had to do for their own political sakes.