Rice's forceful and surprisingly partisan 13-minute address — audio of which has been obtained by BuzzFeed — won her two standing ovations from the gathering of big-money donors and GOP elite. It was widely considered the highlight of the weekend, several people present told BuzzFeed.
The standout performance took several people in Romney's orbit by surprise. One surrogate said he was surprised by the red meat rhetoric employed by Rice, who has largely eschewed the political arena in recent years, devoting her time instead to an academic career at Stanford.
"She's either very worried about a socialist threat to America, or she wants to be Vice President," the surrogate said.
Rice would still be an unlikely selection as running mate. She is, for example, a supporter of abortion rights, and Romney has specifically promised anti-abortion groups that his running mate will share their views.
But Rice's speech in Park City aptly captured the mood of conservatives, painting a bleak portrait of the "dangerous, chaotic times" facing the country, and blaming President Obama for bringing on international weakness, class warfare, and fiscal recklessness. She even urged those in attendance to "storm Washington D.C." on behalf of Romney.
Framing her speech around three major "shocks to the international system" in the past decade — the 9/11 attacks, the global financial crisis, and the Arab Spring — Rice said Obama's failed governance has thrown the world deeper into crisis.
"What we're feeling most is not just that tumult, we've been through tumult before," she said. "What we're feeling is the absence of American leadership."
She continued: "When our friends aren't certain that they can count on us — and they aren't so certain now — and when our foes don't fear us or respect us, this is what you get: tumultuous, dangerous chaotic times," Rice said.
Riffing on the Arab Spring, which she dubbed "in many ways, the most dramatic of all these shocks," Rice said the various dictator-toppling movements were the inevitable and ultimate consequence of authoritarian rule. She compared it to the 1989 Romanian Revolution, when Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed by his own people.
"The Ceaușescu moment is when what separates a dictator from his people, when fear breaks down," she said, adding, "That's what you see in the Middle East."
She sounded other hawkish themes as well, condemning Obama for allowing America to be "governed by the lowest common denominator collective will of the so-called international community of the United Nations." And she Romney's absolute belief in "American exceptionalism."
But the first moment that brought the crowd to its feet came when she moved from foreign to domestic policy, blasting the president for pitting the rich against the poor.
"It is a narrative that is being pushed by our current president, that 'I'm doing poorly because you're doing well,'" she said. "That has never been the American narrative. Ours has never been a narrative of aggrievement, and ours has never been a narrative of entitlement."
And then, moments later, she received her second standing ovation by declaring, "It is time for all of us, in any way we can, to mobilize, get our act together, and storm Washington D.C."