Sarah Palin served up a generous helping of conservative red meat today, comparing President Obama to white-collar criminal Bernie Madoff, mocking New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his support of a jumbo soda ban and criticizing the GOP's post-election attempt at "putting a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party" rather than focusing on "restoring the trust of the American people."
On the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington, D.C., Palin delivered one of the most well-received speeches of a weekend that has featured such Republican luminaries as Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Pausing numerous times for standing ovations, she reserved particular vitriol for President Obama.
"He is considered a good politician," the former vice presidential nominee said, referring to Obama, "which is like saying Bernie Madoff was a good salesmen. The difference being, the president is using our money."
She exhorted him to "step away from the teleprompter and do your job."
Dressed in a zippered black jacket, an American flag cuff, and a gold Star of David necklace, Palin lit up the room. It was a stark contrast to Romney's address on Friday when he did not even mention the president. But her barbs were not only aimed at Obama. She broadened her criticism to include the "permanent political class" who are in "permanent campaign mode."
"Never before have our challenges been so big and our leaders so small," Palin said.
The former Alaska governor, whose level of influence within the Republican Party is a matter of some debate now that she no longer holds public office, declined to run for president last year and decided against renewing her contract as a political commentator on Fox News, said she brought a message from the "heartland of America," which was simply this: "Things are bad out here."
During her remarks, which lasted more than 26 minutes - more time that many other prominent speakers were allotted at the three-day gathering of thousands of conservative leaders and activists - she displayed the same renegade sensibility that won her the admiration of so many Republicans when she emerged from relative obscurity (a "hockey mom from Wasilla," as she referred to herself today) to become Sen. John McCain's running mate in 2008.
"Now is the time to furlough the consultants," she said, echoing a commonly-heard refrain at this weekend's conference. "If we truly know what we believe we do not need professionals to tell us."
And on Saturday she waded in to one of the country's most intractable policy debates: gun control.
"Background checks? Yeah, I guess to learn more about a person's thinking and associations and intentions. More background checks?" she said. "Dandy idea, Mr. President - should have started with yours."
Palin also delivered a series of memorable one-liners:
On gun ownership: "You should have seen what Todd got me for Christmas. Well, It wasn't that exciting. It was a metal rack, case for hunting rifles to put on the back of a four-wheeler. Then though, I had to get something for him to put in the gun case, right. So, this go around, he's got the rifle, I got the rack."
On Mayor Michael Bloomberg's large soda ban: Palin held up a Big Gulp, sipped from a straw and said, "Bloomberg is not around, our big gulps are safe. We're cool. Shoot, it's just pop with low-cal ice-cubes in it."
On the current state of politics in Washington: "We don't have leadership coming out of Washington, we have reality television."
On young conservatives: "My only piece of advice to our young college Republicans is you've got to be thinking Sam Adams, not drinking Sam Adams. And that's just a joke. I don't want to know hear from the CEO of some brewery accusing me of being an anti beer-ite."
On freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who introduced her: "We need more Americans like Ted Cruz. Coming from Texas, Ted Cruz comes to town, chews barbed wire, and spits out rust."
On Obama administration transparency: "Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Barack Obama, you lie."
ABC's Arlette Saenz contributed reporting.