Phil Robertson, star of the A&E network’s hit reality television series “Duck Dynasty,” came to New Orleans on Thursday preaching the Bible and the gun to a group of jubilant Republicans.
He had a few words for President Barack Obama as well. “We’re up against evil like I’ve never seen in my life,” he said. “I’m sitting there and I’m thinking, ‘What’s coming out of the White House?’ The only thing I can tell you folks is it’s just downright embarrassing.”
Robertson was catapulted into conservative politics last year after A&E briefly suspended him for making disparaging remarks about homosexuals and suggesting in a GQ magazine interview that blacks in the South were happy during the Jim Crow era.
But he offered no new grist for scandal in New Orleans on Thursday, quoting George Washington and John Adams to bolster his case that America is a Christian nation, but keeping well within the GOP tent in his views on the separation of church and state.
He even went out of his way to discourage racist attitudes. “There’s one race on this planet, and it’s called the human race,” he said. “Therefore you have no right to color-code anyone. We’re all the same family.”
At times, thunderous rhetoric gave way to a distinctly compassionate brand of conservatism. Addressing himself to GOP politicians, he said, “How about telling us, every once in a while, you love us?”
Robertson’s speech found an exuberant audience at the Republican Leadership Conference, a three-day gathering at the Hilton Riverside Hotel featuring some of the GOP’s biggest stars.
Thursday’s speeches tended to come from the party’s far-right wing. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin arrived to make her first appearance with Rob Maness, the Tea Party-backed Senate candidate in Louisiana who is hoping to beat not only incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu but also fellow Republican Bill Cassidy, the congressman favored by much of the state’s GOP establishment.
“Rob Maness isn’t beholden to any political machine,” Palin said. “He’s beholden to the people, and that’s what we need.”
Maness delivered his own fiery stump speech, aimed as much at President Obama and Washington, D.C. — understood here as an epithet — as at his fellow candidates. “We cling to our guns and our religion!” he said.
State Rep. Paul Hollis, another Senate candidate challenging Cassidy from the right, called for a balanced budget amendment and congressional term limits — a dig at Landrieu’s 18-year tenure in Washington.
The effort to do away with campaign finance limits came up frequently. Some of the most prominent activists on that front — David Bossie, the head of Citizens United; Jim Bopp, the lawyer who represented Citizens in a landmark Supreme Court case; and Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman who successfully challenged the cap on total contributions to federal candidates in an election cycle, slammed spending limits as a self-interested effort by incumbent politicians to hold on to their seats.
Gov. Bobby Jindal made some of his most vehement remarks against the new academic standards known as the Common Core — a frequent tea party target that was branded by one conference activist as the “Commie Core.”
“There’s something fundamentally wrong when bureaucrats from Washington, D.C., think they know best and they don’t have to listen to parents,” said Jindal, although he stopped short of saying he would take unilateral steps to keep Louisiana from adopting a new set of Common Core exams next year.
At the state Legislature, where this year’s session ends Monday, lawmakers have yet to pass a bill to that effect and will almost certainly leave the issue in Jindal’s hands.
The governor also made a point again of defending Robertson, framing the controversy around his remarks in GQ as a debate over religious liberty. “The left wants to silence anyone who has a different view or a different perspective,” he said.