A lot of digital ink has been spilled over the last couple of days here and elsewhere about Jamie Radtke’s speech at the RedState Gathering – more certainly than such an inconsequential event would otherwise merit, but for the Radtke campaign’s decision to somehow make an issue out of RedState. Because Erick was not present for the speech, I thought it incumbent to write up a firsthand account of what I saw.
One of the most important points to make about this entire affair that seems to be lost on many people is that the RedState Gathering is not CPAC. It did not last 3 days, but rather just over 24 hours. Unlike CPAC, we had one stage (instead of several) from which candidates could speak. Into this tight schedule, we had to wedge three sitting governors, a senator, two candidates who had been visiting the RedState gathering since its inception (Ted Cruz and Michael Williams), presentations from two activist groups, a presidential campaign announcement, three event dinners, and a movie screening. It simply wasn’t possible to give a speaking slot to everyone who wanted one. Lots of grassroots/TEA Party candidates were not even invited.
Radtke, on the other hand, showed up and, because many of us were generally supportive of her campaign, an invitation was extended for her to introduce Stephen Bannon, director of The Undefeated, which we were screening during the closing dinner. Given that there was simply no speaking slot available, it was thought that this would give her a good opportunity to say a few words about her candidacy. Again, this was her assignment: introduce Bannon, say a few words, let people watch the movie.
Even though her job was to introduce Bannon, we took the extra step of giving her an introduction – a job which fell to me since Erick was indisposed. Although I had never met her personally, I gave her what I considered to be a rousing introduction, comparing her to Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and others who were challenging the Republican establishment. And to correct at least one falsehood that has been widely circulating, there was an Eagle executive present for the Gathering who was sitting right there near the front of the audience for her speech. I could see him from the podium.
Needless to say, the comparisons to Lee and Rubio were entirely unwarranted and I felt embarrassed for having made them. The length of her speech, as it went on and on and on, progressed from being mildly inappropriate, to embarrassing, to downright disrespectful. I am confident that her “introductory remarks” were at least 30 minutes long. And although the crowd was initially receptive and responded to the obvious applause lines, as Radtke went on and on, repeating the same platitudes over and over and over again, people just fell in to eating their food and giving each other awkward glances. After she had been going for about 20 minutes (the time Erick had texted her that she could take), a couple of my friends in the audience caught my eye and mimed me giving her the shepherd’s crook, as though I could do anything to stop the debacle that was unfolding on stage.
Radtke clearly lacked the basic skill incumbent upon any passable public speaker to know whether or not she was connecting with her audience. Either that, or she knew she wasn’t connecting and somehow thought that repeating the same things over and over again – with even weirder pauses and inflections – might just do the trick. It has been suggested that Radtke’s performance could have been due to not having prepared remarks handy – a strange explanation for someone who showed up and asked to be given the chance to speak and had twenty-four hours advance notice that she would be speaking. But even so, not having prepared remarks is usually not an excuse that is given for a speech that is inappropriately long and rambling, as opposed to being inappropriately short. And yes, I did have several people approach me afterwards to ask if she were impaired – I have no idea whether she was or not, but that was certainly the most common explanation offered for her performance.
By all objective measures, Radtke’s performance at the RedState Gathering was both a failure and was disrespectful. I can tell you that the unanimous opinion of the attendees I spoke with was that Radtke had demonstrated clearly that she was not the Marco Rubio of Virginia, and had zero chance to inspire a movement to defeat George Allen. Nonetheless, we had determined not to make an issue of it until her campaign – doubtless acting on some bad advice – decided to claim that RedState threw her under the bus because of “social connections.”
One last word: people have been demanding to see video of the speech. It would surprise me if such video exists. They were not filmed by RedState. Furthermore, her remarks came during a time when everyone present was eating – I seriously doubt that anyone took the time to pull out a Flip camera and record either all or part of her remarks. And if they did, they would have put those cameras away long before Radtke’s interminable speech ended for fear that their food would get cold and/or be taken away by the waitstaff.
It is regrettable that this entire incident has been blown up to these proportions, and it certainly was not the wish of anyone at RedState to fire first. However, having extended this opportunity to Radtke, only to have her campaign respond in this fashion, proves that in politics, no good deed goes unpunished.