TAMPA – Last week, Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer was creating a national sensation by criticizing President Barack Obama’s plan to speak to the nation’s schoolchildren.
Tuesday, after the speech, prominent Florida Republicans seemed reluctant to talk about the speech or Greer’s sharp criticism.
Greer seemed to back off from his contention that Obama changed the speech after Greer’s comments.
“I don’t know that to be factually when asked by CFP on Tuesday night about that contention, which he made on national television.
Among those who wouldn’t discuss the situation, or gave limited comments, were Gov. Charlie Crist, Greer’s political patron; Crist’s opponent in the U.S. Senate primary, Marco Rubio; and Attorney General Bill McCollum, who’s running for governor.
Among GOP activists who did comment, some panned Greer’s role in the controversy and some praised it.
“Pandering” was the reaction of Dee Williams, president of the Sun City Center Republican Club. She said Greer is attempting to heal the rift between Crist and conservatives in the party.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not surprised at anything that comes out of his mouth,” she said of Greer.
But Republican National Committee member Paul Senft of Haines City said he believes Greer’s stance was justified “to a certain extent.”
“Sending lesson plans has never been the function of the federal Department of Education,” Senft said, referring to lesson plans made available to schools in advance of Obama’s speech. “They left themselves open to question about why they were doing that.”
Last week, Greer sent out a news release accusing Obama of using the speech “to indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.”
Late last week, the U.S. Department of Education revised a few details in the lesson plans that appeared to focus on Obama’s image rather than the intended message.
Greer has been on a media tour since, appearing on at least 10 national news shows. Monday, he said in a CNN interview that he saw nothing wrong with the speech itself but seemed to contend that it was changed along with the lesson plans.
“It’s an upbeat speech, but is it the one the president was always going to give?” he said in the CNN interview.
“Clearly, last week there was a plan with the Department of Education … leading the students in an effort to push the president’s agenda,” he said.
Asked whether he had evidence the speech had been changed, he said, “No, I don’t, but I would anticipate, based on this president being so aggressive and so vocal, … I believe the speech he was going to give, based on the lesson plans, was different.”
Tuesday night, he sounded different.
“I don’t know that to be factually true,” he said. Asked whether he had made that claim on CNN, he responded, “I think I said we don’t know. I think there’s potential. I have no evidence of it.”
Crist, who backed Greer for chairman of the state party, appeared to defend Greer in comments to reporters Friday, according to news reports.
Tuesday, his campaign’s only response was a staff member’s e-mail saying Crist “is pleased that the speech now focuses on staying in school, studying hard and striving to achieve your dreams.”
There was no response as to whether that means Crist also believes the White House changed the speech.
Rubio, who often has accused Crist of refusing to take a stand on issues in his Senate campaign, had no comment on the speech or Greer, a campaign staff member said.
But Rubio couldn’t stop himself from tweeting about it.
“I have no problem with President giving political speech to kids……..if his name is REAGAN,” he said in one Twitter message.
McCollum, asked about the speech during a news conference Tuesday, said he saw nothing wrong with the Obama addressing schoolchildren.