GOP Looks for Leader in New Orleans

The Southern Republican Leadership Conference wound down Saturday in New Orleans after a three day session that served as a pep rally for this fall's elections as well as a preview of the 2012 presidential race.
CBS
The Southern Republican Leadership Conference wound down Saturday in New Orleans after a three day session that served as a pep rally for this fall's elections as well as a preview of the 2012 presidential race.

One look at the conference gives a good sense of the energy and enthusiasm the party will be taking into the mid-term elections this fall, CBS News National Correspondent Dean Reynolds reports. Speaker after speaker brushed off the Obama administration as incompetent or worse.

"The most radical president in American history," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.

"Disastrous for our country," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said.

"The country is broke," Texas Rep. Ron Paul said.

"There is no shame in being the party of no," former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said.

While Palin excited the crowd, it's hard to ignore the polls, including the CBS News survey which found that only 24 percent of the country views her favorably.

This is a party very much in search of a leader.

"Do you think the next president is at this conference?" Reynolds asked one conference attendee.

"Honestly, I don't know," Joann Caillouet told Reynolds

Sometime candidates Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney were no-shows, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty addressed the conference only by long distance video, leaving the stage to Palin, Gingrich and lesser lights.

"House Republicans will not rest until we have repealed that government takeover of health care," Indiana Rep. Mike Pence said.

It does not help to have the chairman of the Republican party, Michael Steele, embroiled in a series of embarrassing controversies that call the GOP's competence into question.

"Essentially, the party lacks leadership," said CBS News Political Analyst Marc Ambinder. "It lacks prominent faces who command the respect of the American people."

Others say it's too early to worry about leaders. A party out of power must first find out what it stands for then find a leader who fits the bill.

"You're going to see a set of principles and ideas that are going to kind of bubble up, and people will coalesce around those ideas," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

At this conference, the party seemed torn between whether to continue its wall-to-wall opposition to all things Obama or to provide an alternative, more positive agenda.

Coverage from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference:

Mitt Romney Wins GOP Presidential Straw Poll
Michael Steele Tells GOP Faithful "I've Made Mistakes"
Jindal Jokes RNC Staffers Should Avoid Bourbon Street
Sarah Palin Fires Back at Obama, Mocks His "Experience" on Nuclear Issues
Is This How Straw Polls are won?
"Evangelicals for Mitt" Step Into Romney Vacuum
Newt Gingrich: We Need a President, Not an Athlete
Liz Cheney: Obama Putting America on Path to Decline

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.