That was a presidential campaign speech Haley Barbour just gave. How surprising should this be? Not very; he did not, as he has in the past, request that his name be struck from the presidential straw poll. And after he wrapped, he stuck around for quite a while, shaking hands with a mixture of fans and D.C. mainstays who've met him before. (Roman Buhler, a Hill staffer turned lobbyist who's been running around the conference arguing for something called the Madison Amendment, got a big hug.) Few politicians get along better with the press than Barbour, but he dropped two acid references to the "liberal media elite."
So this was a presidential campaign speech, and a pretty good one. Mitt Romney and John Thune put applause lines in their remarks like tripwires, placed carefully for precise effect. Barbour's jokes were part of the text. "Permits to mine coal are harder to get in America than a heart transplant," he said at one point, confusingly, but syrupy enough to get the room going. On the idea that Barack Obama is tacking left, a constant subject of commentary here: "The Gipper woulda chuckled at that." He compared it to a trick football play.
Half of the speech's substance was a salute to his record in Mississippi. The accomplishment he focused on the most was a policy to require Medicare recipients to re-register in person, as an anti-fraud measure. That kicked the number of people on the rolls from 750,000 to 600,000 -- big applause. The other substance: A discourse on energy policy, with scary reminders of how Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu wanted gas prices to reach European levels. "This isn't an energy policy," he said. Liberals want to "raise the cost of energy so that people use less of it." (This is accurate.)