Hall of Wonders: Round One of the GOP Convention

Perry gives a crowd-pleasure; Straus gets a chilly reception


I’ll leave it to others to report the minutiae of the day. Suffice to say I’m here, in Dallas, reveling in the joys the Republican Party Convention. Or more accurately, the Republican Party Convention Trade Show. Have you ever wanted a bumper sticker, button or hey, a hat? Well, do I have the place for you!

Imagine hundreds of booths, each with memorabilia and pithy messages (Thanks Texans for Lawsuit Reform!). Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Attorney General Greg Abbott both have the equivalent of theater sets in their shops: Abbott’s got a water tower while Patterson has a veritable WWII hideout. Lots of people dressed in red, eagerly asking to buy or just take the wares. This is the Roman marketplace—if, you know, Romans were more about gun rights and less about nudity.

The actual convention events take place in what looks like a darkened warehouse. (I’m holding out for a rave.) Most of the delegates have spent the day there, watching speech after speech, and as time passed, the getting testier.

Perry’s one o’clock performance was the governor at his best. The speech was a great blend of bloody-shirt waving and optimism for the state. He got standing ovations when he emphasized the need for voter ID and the need for more border security. He criticized the Obama administration for expanding government (“they tighten the red tape with which they bind us”) and White for supposedly supporting cap and trade (a charge White denies). Perry then asked if “liberals [are] that blinded by intellectual elitism?”

Bam. It’s a good line of attack—White’s strength, after all, is his nerdy, I-went-to-Harvard appeal. Perry didn’t mention the recent questions about White’s investments while mayor. I might note, however, that Russian and Chinese communists have historically gone after “bourgeois intellectuals.”

He ended with a crescendo:

“We all have to understand that this next election is not a mere academic exercise—it’s not a hobby to pass the time. It will determine the very fate of our nation. So I ask, you will you stand for what’s right? Will you stand for Texas values? Will you stand up against Washington? Will you defend our children’s future with your vote?”

What—you gonna try saying no to that? The crowd was on their feet in no seconds flat.

Joe Straus, the GOP House speaker and a relative moderate, wasn’t so lucky. When Rep. Dan Branch introduced the speaker of the House, boos and heckles rose from the back of the crowd. The noises cut off once Straus took the stage, but in the walkway to the hall, two 14-year-olds offered another assessment. They held papers saying “Speaker Joe Straus Raising money for State Representative Democrats” and “Speaker Joe Straus Appointed Liberals to Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee and Ways and Means Committee.” The boys eagerly explained that the liberals weren’t even Democrats—their friend who had made the copies was a bit older and had told them, you see.

In other Day One news, the race for GOP chair rages on; incumbent Cathie Adams, a longtime Eagle Forum activist, faces two challengers. The party’s had debt problems for quite a while, and Adams has taken heat for much of it. But she’s got support from most of the party stalwarts, and Perry even gave her a nod when he thanked her for the convention, already paid for in full. Adams touted the $2 million she’d raised for the party, although challenger Tom Mechler pointed out those $2 million didn’t include the costs of such fundraising. Steve Munisteri, Adams’ other challenger, gave a speech for Tea Party values, but he’s spent quite a bit of time criticizing Adams in his earlier campaigning. Most of the delegates predict a tight race.

That is, if they make it out of the trade hall to pay attention. I’m still looking for buttons.