From Here to Anonymity (RNC 2012, Tuesday)

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus got convention week off to a fine start by having his ass handed to him by Chris Matthews on Monday’s Morning Joe. After a good cry in his hotel room, Priebus re-emerged to gavel the convention to order. Seconds later, the handful of conventioneers who had bothered to show up got a welcome break when he gaveled the session into recess for the day.

Monday also brought a slew of announcements about the hastily rearranged schedule for the rest of the week. Among other happy tidings, the Party of D’oh decided to drop billionaire birther buffoon Donald Trump, while Bobby Jindal and Rick Scott both withdrew voluntarily, citing an urgent need to pretend to be doing something about hurricane preparedness. One prestigious speaking slot for Thursday night still remains unspecified, so it’s not entirely out of the question that they’re finally going to dig up Ronald Reagan and put him in front of a microphone one last time.

The Republicans did, however, get to unveil their snazzy US national debt clock, which immediately put me in mind of the ones they didn’t have at their 2008 and 2004 conventions. It was the finishing touch to what the New York Times giddily described as a “Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired” stage, which I guess would be an apt description if the architect had ever been a set designer for Max Headroom.

Yesterday’s official theme was “We Can Do Better” and of course the balance of the week will demonstrate that, in fact, they can’t. Tuesday, however, was “We Built This” night, so let’s review what the Grotesque Old Party cobbled together from spit, chewing gum and bold ideas lifted from Ayn Rand’s wastebasket.

7:05 PM:

CNN ignores the convention and reports that Hurricane Isaac has made landfall in the Delta, and trots out some flyover animations interspersed with live footage of Anderson Cooper in the rain to prove it. I’m convinced.

PBS, on the other hand, is sticking with the convention. Mark Shields and David Brooks join anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. Brooks, fresh off a startling satirical piece about Mitt Romney, reverts to post turtle punditry and enthuses that the excerpts of Ann Romney’s speech “look good.” I’m not convinced.

7:10 PM:

In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, a notably pale John Boehner insists that the election is going to be “a referendum on the President’s economic policies,” which is no more accurate than his observation a little later that Mitt Romney is “a shy guy, a humble guy.”

Flipping back to PBS in disgust, I’m told by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy that the country is “going to fall in love with Paul Ryan.”

7:16 PM:

Having run out of lies to tell Dana Bash, Boehner gavels the evening session to order. He then embarks on an extended metaphor comparing America to his family’s bar back in Cincinnati. Whoever told Boehner he should underscore his famously thirsty image by talking about taverns should probably be fired. Somehow, though, I expect it might have been the Speaker’s idea.

Boehner comments briefly about the candidate’s father, describing George Romney as a “can-do kind of guy.” And indeed he was, when it came to releasing his tax returns, for example.

7:23 PM:

Reince Priebus takes the stage, sounding a little tipsy himself. He drones on for a few minutes about something or other, using a little body English to waft his remarks out to the convention hall. He finally shifts into high gear when he declares that “Barack Obama has a problem with the American dream.” By the time he gets to a line about “our generation’s rendezvous with destiny,” he’s bobbing and fidgeting like an overamped parrot on a perch. Shortly after, he wanders backstage in search of a cuttlebone to sharpen his beak on.

7:44 PM:

Utah Republican Congressional candidate Mia Love, a rising star in her party (because she’s, A, an African American, B, young and attractive, and C, a colossal conservative blockhead) provokes the night’s first convention floor “USA” chant. She paraphrases, poorly, Lincoln’s legendary 1862 message to Congress, and exits to loud applause. David Brooks proclaims her “truly a star,” which probably means the poor woman’s political career is doomed.

7:55 PM:

Sher Valenzuela, who hopes to become Lieutenant Governor of Delaware, takes the podium to talk about her autistic son who’s now in college and her army veteran husband, a second-generation Mexican American with whom she runs an upholstery business that employs over 70 people. She says their firm has taken work from Chinese and Mexican competitors, and urges everyone to vote for Mitt Romney, a guy she doesn’t realize would be happy to see those jobs sent back abroad as long as his “blind” trust turned a quick buck on it.

8:02 PM:

Valenzuela laments the Obama Administration’s “all-out assault on free enterprise.” I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t either. The crowd in the Tampa Bay Times Forum almost certainly doesn’t, but that doesn’t stop them from cheering madly.

Reviving a tradition that helped make their 2008 convention coverage so pitiful, CNN flashes one of their little “facts” at the bottom left of the screen; we learn that, among other things, whole fruit and baseballs are not allowed within the RNC security perimeter. How did we survive before the advent of 24-hour “news” networks?

8:05 PM:

The Oak Ridge Boys sing an a cappella version of “Amazing Grace,” a concept so novel I can only marvel that nobody’s ever thought of it before. It’s cheesier than a Denny’s Moons Over My Hammy Omelette, but with less nutritional value.

8:09 PM:

First (and only) “We Built It” chant from the delegates. Intuitively aware that it doesn’t seem to scan very well, the crowd soon withers into silence.

8:11 PM:

New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte comes on to decry job-killing government regulation, offering – as Republicans are wont to do – absolutely no examples of same. She then introduces a metal fabricating entrepreneur from her state, Jack Gilchrist, who leans into the loaded phrase “taxpaying Americans,” by which I assume he means Republicans, although not necessarily Mitt Romney.

Gilchrist gives a moving and entertainingly accented account of owning a business in Barack Obama’s America. “I blame no one else for the challenges we face, ” he claims, before whining that the “Federal government is killing us out there” with rules and regulations that are “too hard to follow.”

8:23 PM:

Ohio Governor John Kasich emerges from the wings, dripping charisma, to the strains of “I Gotta Feeling.” I got one myself, and it only moves deeper into my abdomen as Kasich blathers on.

Kasich spends most of his time at the podium gushing about Ohio’s enviable turnaround since 2010. From 48th to 4th in job creation! Improved credit outlook! 122,000 new jobs! Sounds like a splendid example of recovery under Barack Obama’s economic policies, which seems to prompt him to scurry back on message. He points to the debt clock, to show that, yes, America is in debt. He condemns “smothering regulations” but fails to cite a single one. Then he throws in some humor, praising Mitt Romney’s “history of being a great job creator” and how Romney’s government-financed rescue of the Olympics “built a shinier and brighter America.”

8:40 PM:

Newt Gingrich, with a straight face, lectures the CNN audience about Democrats’ “straight socialist baloney” and avers that “the government increasingly runs the banks,” something I expect will surprise both the government and the banks.

Then the purulent John Sununu is interviewed. He declares “this party is united” and insists that Republicans are hitting Democrats “on the issues.” He doesn’t explain how his characterizing Democrats as “vermin” just the day before fits into this issues thing; perhaps it’s still being fine-tuned…

I switch back to PBS, where David Brooks comments that “It’s a philosophical night.”

8:59 PM:

Scott Walker takes the stage, downsizes it, slashes its pension, ignores its cries of protest, smirks and exits.

9:18 PM:

Rick Santorum, sans sweater vest, comes out to thank fellow Republicans for sending his presidential hopes packing. He tells a creepy story about seeing his grandfather’s body in an open casket, and marveling at the old man’s “thick, strong hands.” Then he notes that in 1923, there was no such thing as government benefits, “except one: freedom.” He doesn’t mention that FDR rectified that situation in the ’30s. Then he segues back, obsessively, it seems, to the subject of hands. “I shook the hand of the American dream,” he claims at one point. I do not know what this means.

9:40 PM:

Texas senate candidate Ted Cruz forsakes the podium and gives a pointless speech as he paces the stage. It’s as if he’s auditioning to be an evangelist. Or a stand-up comic. He points to the debt clock. Yep, the nation is still in debt.

Cruz bellows, “Government is not the answer,” which makes me wonder why he and his fellow Republicans are so damned keen on being elected to office.

9:43 PM:

Artur Davis is to this year’s GOP convention as Joe Lieberman was to 2008′s. Picture an even less charismatic speaker than Joe Lieberman and you pretty much have the gist of it. He begs Democrats and independents to follow his lead and toady up to the Republicans.

9:57 PM:

On CNN, Roland Martin takes Davis apart brick by brick. Nice.

10:02 PM:

Nikki Haley, still unindicted, is up. Talking. Something about “bullying union bosses.”

10:04 PM:

Shot of Condoleezza Rice, also still unindicted, in the audience, smiling and clapping.

10:05 PM:

Lucé Vela Gutierrez, wife of Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño, comes out to introduce Ann Romney, wife of once and future failed presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney.

10:10 PM:

“Wow! What a welcome!” says a smiling blond lady from center stage. “You might remember me from four years ago, when I was called Cindy McCain.” Okay, she doesn’t actually say that, but I heard it just the same.

Ann Romney soaks up the adoration that is her due. When the crowd finally simmers down, she solemnly comments about Isaac reaching the Gulf Coast, wishing out loud that “no life is lost and no property is lost.” We all know how important property is to the Romneys.

“I love you women and I hear your voices,” she lies. “I don’t think there’s a woman in America who expects it to be easy.”

After that pandering bilge meant to make women forget that the Republican Party is at war with them, she circles around to some bilge about her husband, whose Bain Capital she describes as “another great American success story.” Mitt Romney, she informs us, sees helping others “as a privilege, not a political talking point.” Amazing.

10:30 PM:

“This man will not fail,” says Ann Romney of her husband, Mitt Romney. Shortly after, Romney himself strolls out and gives her a big old family values kiss.

10:32 PM:

Chris Christie has arrived to see out the evening with a bang. He begins by noting, “Well, this stage and this moment are very improbable for me.” Same here, Governor, same here.

His rambling speech seems to have no particular theme, other than the fact that he’s generally pissed off about everything. Why, he doesn’t really explain.

“‘No’ is what is required.”

“We’re going to choose respect over love.”

“They believe in teachers’ unions; we believe in teachers.”

“We lose when we play along with their game of scaring and dividing.”

“Real leaders don’t follow polls; real leaders change polls.”

“A new era of truth-telling.”

At some point, he stops talking, the geriatric crowd stops yelling, and Tampa’s strip clubs brace for a late influx of rhetoric-weary delegates.