Friday, March 10
The elevator doors open in the Peabody Hotel, headquarters for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and there’s Karyn Frist. Not far away, husband Bill meets and greets supporters, looking dapper in a light brown suit and colorful tie. He’s also wearing his familiar “Remember to smile when talking with humans” grimace as some overly enthusiastic delegate rattles on about the importance of family….
RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman just cited every terrorist event that’s remotely affected the U.S. since the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. “Ladies and gentlemen, on Sept. 12, under the leadership of George W. Bush, the terrorists finally got war in return,” he says. Take that, Richard Nixon….
Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney is a pretty good speaker. He’s got poise, applause lines (“If you’re going to be successful in America, you’ve got to speak the language of America,”) and even sings a song about Bill Frist, to the tune of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” But he just said it’s time to unseat Gov. Phil Bredesen. Does he realize how popular Bredesen is with Republicans?...
A thin, fortysomething man with a Brooks Brothers garment bag hanging on his luggage cart checks to see if he has enough change to tip the bellhop who’s pushing it….
There’s a group of disabled people gathered outside the hallway many delegates use. Apparently, the convocation of wheelchairs, scooters and a seeing-eye dog is some kind of protest. An earpiece-wearing hotel security guard tells them they can stay as long as they don’t hand out any literature or “cause any confusion.” The whole place is confusion, though, and plenty of other folks are allowed to hand out literature….
It’s getting close to 4 p.m. as Newsweek’s Howard Fineman is interviewing a group of old ladies. His comb-over is looking pretty shabby. After he leaves the huddle, one woman says, “That’s mainstream media.” She means it as an insult….
At 7:30, the smell of horseshit is literally emanating from this place. That’s because there’s a carriage parked out front. It’s time for Marsha Blackburn’s speech. Before the session convenes, a preacher delivers a geopolitically charged invocation that includes the scriptural quote, “If you are with us, who can be against us?” But this isn’t a religious war or anything….
Marsha: “We Tennesseans really are a bunch of God-fearing, freedom-loving, flag-waving, guitar-picking, country-music-singing, NASCAR fans, and we believe that if 10 percent is good enough for God, then it is for damn sure good enough for the government.…”
King of all black Republicans, former Rep. J.C. Watts has the crowd eating out of his hand. Why is it again that they’re not running this guy for president? Meanwhile, at the media table, Howard Fineman has his head in his hands….
Sen. John McCain gets a cool reception from the right-wingers, but they warm to his both-armed embrace of George W. Bush. And who can resist those torture stories? Funny, no mention of Bush’s opposition to his torture ban….
It’s late Friday night. Some old guy in the bathroom learns I write Political Notes for the Scene and starts regaling me with dildo stories. So much for no talking in the men’s room.
Saturday, March 11
Sen. Lindsey Graham is friendly but underwhelming, kind of like the nice, dopey guy in middle school who was doing his damnedest not to get picked on. A hotel security guard soon sidles up and asks me to identify the notables around us. Then he starts talking politics. “Might as well make me president,” he says, bringing up Bush’s ham-handed handling of the Dubai ports deal. He speculates that the president probably owns some land “over there,” meaning the U.A.E. I tell him I’m going to take a stroll. Sizing up the Republicans around us, he says, “I can see why….”
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee—from the much-reviled town of Hope, Ark.—says he has a trust fund: “Trust in God.” Boo-yah! Ride that line all the way to the White House, Mike. Oh man, he just used Larry the Cable Guy’s “Git ’er done” line….
“Clear the shot.” “Sir, you just walked right through the shot.” “That’s the worst possible spot.” These Hardball people think they run the lobby. Meanwhile, there’s Fineman again. And, later, state Sen. Steve Cohen and U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., both Memphis Democrats, make an appearance. Cohen seems to have been at the Conference USA basketball tournament, while Ford’s just in for lunch. Ford stops and chats with Matthews and the Hardball gang….
Overheard: “If Cheney were here, do you think they’d still let the ducks march?”…
House Speaker Dennis Hastert addresses the convention. He’s big and awkward, for the most part a lousy speaker, pretty much what you’d expect from a former high school football and wrestling coach. He just said Frist’s job was “like herding cats.” Apparently he’s forgotten that while in medical school, Dr. Bill used to “rescue” cats from animal shelters, only to perform experiments on them and kill them. A few members of the media chuckle. Meanwhile, Hastert kind of looks like Michael Moore, of all people. They’re both big, plainspoken, square-glasses types with Midwestern accents. Weird….
Overheard (young woman in lobby, to friend): “MSNBC—a bunch of old people watch that….”
Sunday, March 12
The Hardball crew is starting to pack up, people are milling around waiting to see those damn ducks again. “Welcome Creative Teaching for Nursing Educators Annual Conference” reads a sign where Republican propaganda once stood. Leaving the Peabody, I come upon Chris Matthews talking with a couple of delegates. I start to take his picture, and he interrupts himself to pose with the lady nearest him but of course can’t keep his mouth shut long enough for me to snap the photo. Just then, a sweaty jogger in a sports bra who’s been loitering nearby says she’d like a picture, too. “Lady, you’re naked. I can’t take a picture with you,” he says with trademark boyish bluntness. He starts to go inside. And the political season, like those ducks, marches on.