The RNC’s “winter retreat” for major donors at Los Angeles’ Beverly Wilshire Hotel featured such party stalwarts as Karl Rove, RNC chairman Robert Duncan, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, as well as some Hollywood types, including Dave Berg, a segment producer and “political director” for "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.
But chief among the RNC’s concerns were how to keep a tight grip on the White House this fall. Plenty of lowbrow Hillary Rodham Clinton jokes were tossed around at the three-day event, but of highest concern was the notion of Obama seizing the Oval Office in a contest against presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.
“We all dislike Hillary,” declared Southern California Rep. Ken Calvert, from the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, echoing thoughts of the roughly 75 attendees at a Sunday morning RNC session.
“Forgetting who will be the easiest to beat, I've got to tell you, a President Hillary doesn’t scare me nearly as much as a President Obama.”
RNC Chairman Duncan as well as Co-Chairman Jo Ann Davidson opened the Sunday session with a Power Point presentation outlining five main strategic attacks against the Obama candidacy. A Politico reporter witnessed the document, but not the presentation.
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The first called for pointing out what the GOP views as a seeming incongruity between Obama and the mantle of commander in chief. The second point harkened back to Obama’s days in the Illinois state Senate, noting how his “pattern of voting ‘present’ offers many openings to question his candidacy.” The third offered hope to the GOP faithful that “we can be confident in a campaign about issues.” A fourth bullet point relayed how “undisciplined messaging carries great risk,” while the fifth and final attack point stressed, “His greatest weakness is inexperience. He is not ready to be commander in chief. He is not ready to be president.”
The RNC event also broached taking control of traditionally Democratic issues such as health care, with even Rove stressing a need for Republicans to start addressing the matter. Congressman Calvert described health care as “one of the seminal issues” of the upcoming election and asked, “Are we going to move towards socialized medicine or away from it? Because we can’t move towards the middle.”
Calvert spoke during a morning session of California congressmen including Brian Bilbray, John Campbell and Dan Lungren, which focused mainly on immigration and lowering taxes, as well as more esoteric matters such as water rights. Throughout the event, the subject always seemed to return to this November.
“The American people are yearning for leadership,” said Lungren, who represents a Sacramento-area district. “We can win this election. We will win this election. Forget the carping about John McCain not being the perfect conservative. Ronald Reagan wasn’t a perfect conservative, but he was pretty doggone good. I’m not saying John McCain is Ronald Reagan: John McCain is John McCain. But we can win this election.”
For most of the weekend, however, the retreat gave the chance for donors who contributed $15,000 or more to bask in the 70-degree Californi sun, enjoy some golf or tennis at the L.A. Country Club, wolf down Wolfgang Puck pizzas at Spago, tour the Getty Center and Paramount Studios, and pay tribute at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library a half-hour away in Simi Valley.
Berg, the "Tonight Show" segment producer, delivered an informal talk about the pride and pitfalls of being a conservative working in Hollywood. Peppering his speech with references to Michael Moore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and other Tinseltown lefties, he argued against the liberal mindset that he believes dominates the industry.
“We [conservatives] believe capitalism isn’t a dirty word,” he said. “If you’ve seen Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of a greedy, sinister oilman in ‘There Will Be Blood,’ it’s just another example of the Hollywood left’s contempt for capitalism.
“People have called Hollywood conservatives ‘the new gays,’ but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case,” Berg contended. “The gays have been accepted in Hollywood for years. They’ve long been out of the closet. In fact, they’re fixing up the closet, decorating it, and it looks nice, actually.”
Berg centered his talk around the “unintended consequences” of the recent Writers Guild of America strike against networks and studios, which ended last week. Berg placed blame on the WGA’s “radical” negotiators, with writers earning six-figure salaries casting themselves as “poor, exploited, downtrodden” workers, “acting like it’s 1957” and they were UAW members trying to get back on the assembly line building Corvettes.
“When the writers went on strike Nov. 5, they entrusted their futures to a leadership that essentially believes Karl Marx is still relevant,” he said. “This was a revolution against The Man.”
Berg discussed the return of "The Tonight Show" without its writers in early January, when the only guests consenting to cross the WGA picket lines were NBC News anchors, goofy animal acts and Republican presidential candidates, including McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.
“The WGA cut a side deal with David Letterman but not with our show,” he recalled. “We had to go back to work as the No. 4 network with no writers and no stars. Actors would not cross the line. I didn’t read this anywhere, but they were threatened with blackballing if they crossed the line to do our shows” — ironic, he says, since he believes Hollywood is “obsessed” with the 1950s blacklisting era of Joseph McCarthy. “The true threat of McCarthyism,” he says, “is coming from the left.”