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[Political Asylum]

In Search of the RNC Cocktail Lounge

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The Texas delegation, which in 2004 distinguished itself by wearing Band-Aids with inked-in hearts on them to mock John Kerry’s service to his country—in the cause of a man who went permanently AWOL from the Air National Guard—was wearing not only the plastic cowboy hats they always favor, but little, red-and-blue matching uniform tops yesterday. They sat together on the campaign floor, looking less like the pep squad at a high school basketball jamboree I’d initially thought than like a brilliant costuming idea thought up by Corky St. Clair.

This Republican convention seems strangely down-at-the-mouth compared to the one in 2008, and shabbily organized compared to the last one I attended in person, in New York in 2004. No one seems to know how to navigate the various blocked-off staircases and escalators of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, a small, undistinguished hockey arena decorated everywhere with the lightning-bolt insignia of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

Up on the fifth level, by the cheap seats, is what is designated a “Prayer Room.” It is little more than an indentation in the wall, with a flimsy curtain around it, more of those oh-so-Christian lightning bolts, and a couple of very old and battered Bibles.

No one is praying or reading scripture, though. Instead, they mostly mill about, trying to find their seats, or else refreshments. One middle-aged, balding man in a raspberry-colored polo shirt demands to know where the Republican National Committee cocktail lounge is at. This baffles the unfailingly polite young ushers, and he strides off, silent wife in tow, gnawing aggressively at the end of an unlit cigar. Strangely, in an arena with thousands of people in it, I spot him three times in forty-five minutes, in increasing states of agitation as he searches for his elite watering hole.

“Like Diogenes before him,” Jack says sadly, “he searches for the last open bar.”

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