Republican Dinner Raises Questions About GOP Leadership

Major GOP dinner raises questions about the rifts in the minority party.

ByABC News
June 9, 2009, 7:21 AM

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2009— -- Some may consider it a snub, but Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was seemingly undeterred when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich replaced her as the keynote speaker at a major Republican event.

With husband Todd by her side, the former vice presidential candidate attended the joint Senate and House of Representatives fundraiser Monday night despite being dis-invited as the keynote speaker.

Palin, hailed last year as the rising star of the GOP, was picked to headline the event in March but was replaced by Gingrich after she failed to give organizers a firm response. She was reportedly asked again last week to speak, but then the invitation was rescinded.

Despite the snub, Palin managed a fair share of the spotlight as speculation over whether she would or wouldn't attend dominated political discussion throughout the day. She ended up making an appearance and sat at a table near the front of the hall. Palin was recognized by National Republican Campaign Committee's Chairman Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Gingrich, in his 56-minute speech.

"Despite every effort of the elite media to prop up Joe Biden and pretend he actually knows what he's doing, I felt, looking at John McCain and Sarah Palin, this country would have been amazingly better off had they been in the White House," said Gingrich, referring to their reunion before the event.

Gingrich, who has come to the forefront as a critic of the Obama administration, is considered Palin's potential rival for the Republican's presidential pick in 2012, although neither has discussed their political aspirations.

Questions remain as to who will emerge as the new leader of the party facing an identity crisis.

Some are eyeing Palin for the post. Clearly popular with the GOP's political base, the Alaska governor has the ability to draw huge crowds. Nearly 20,000 people came to hear her speak in upstate New York this past weekend.

But others say she has a long way to go before setting her eyes on the White House.

"I was a big Palin fan. She was exciting, new, different, which is good for GOP," former press secretary for George W. Bush Ari Fleischer told "Good Morning America." "I've come to learn ... she has a long distance to go before she rises to the level of being a serious presidential candidate. ... The substance needs to come first."

At the same time, Fleischer said Gingrich is also unlikely to be the new leader.

"Newt is a wonderful, fabulous dinner speaker. ... But he's not going to be the next nominee of the Republican party," Fleischer said. "It cannot be back to the future, it's going to be a new future."