The sky above Tampa, Florida, where the Republican National Covention is happening this week, looks like a foreboding movie trailer. The kind of clip that opens up with long, still shots of some abandoned landscape and a grave monologue about “a storm coming” just before a quick cut to exploding cars. The thing is, a storm is coming. Tropical Storm Issac is expected to hit the Tampa as a Category 2 hurricane, and the RNC has postponed its events for a day, meaning that there’s nothing really going on down here today.
The weather setback has prompted jokes online like, “Maybe the storm is divine punishment!” Real funny guys, but it’s clearly a consequence of global warming (Republicans would probably sooner admit God hates them then the world is getting warmer.) Local officials are issuing public service announcements about all the great tourist attractions that are perfect for RNC visitors stuck in the area with nothing to do. A number of Tampa’s local museums are closed this week for private events, but there is always Hooters, which originated in Tampa and is one of the classic American success stories—a business built on tits, bad food, and marketing.
I don’t usually cover politics (I’m a music writer from Chicago), so I didn’t know what to expect when I got here. My first real taste of the convention life was meeting Tony Miller, a delegate from Oregon, on the shuttle bus from the airport. Sensing I was a bit of a fish out of water, he tried to break it all down for me. He explained that there are two factions in the Republican Party right now—the “Liberty” faction and the “Establishment” faction. Obviously, Tony’s on the “Liberty” side and his big issues are repealing the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act. (Which were originally Bush policies, and not high priorities for the national GOP, but whatevs.) Tony also explained the process of becoming a delegate to me, which, in his case, involved a lot of “Forrest Gumping,” or stumbling through whatever was thrown his way. I, too, will be Forrest Gumping it in Tampa.
On Sunday, businesses were boarding up their windows and the roads were lined with plastic orange barriers and parked police cars with their lights flickering. It felt like an action movie where everyone else had evacuated the city and I was the sole idiot frantically driving back in to save someone.
The police were patrolling the streets in groups of eight or ten, sometimes on bikes, dressed in beige fatigues that seem equipped with more gear than Batman’s utility belt. Behind the big fences, National Guardsmen stood toting huge machine guns. Heavy security like this is a reality of every convention, regardless of party affiliation. But with the impending hurricane and my feelings of otherness among the GOP loyalists, it all came off as an unwelcoming omen to the point that I was too spooked to take pictures.
Maybe the big guns are less jarring for delegates who were actually invited, although one alternate delegate from Wisconsin that I talked to seemed similarly worried that the guys walking around with guns were at least as creepy as they were reassuring.
I attended my first RNC event on Sunday afternoon. It was a panel discussion on the difficulties of being a conservative woman. Apparently, they get sexualized and dismissed as crazy. Possibly, this is because the most prominent Republican women are Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin—the latter of which isn’t speaking at the convention due to her craziness.
I didn’t really care about the panel, but I was looking forward to the talk’s after-party, which I was hoping would have lots of sexy but crazy Republican women. My ticket—which I got thanks to my status as a member of The Media—directed me to a gorgeous-looking house that seemed perfect for parties. But I ran into trouble at the door, where my credentials were questioned. The two door guys checked the list and conferred for a moment before an event organizer was summoned. “The event is overbooked,” Mr. Important Event Guy explained, and my “registration came in too late.” Fair enough, I thought. But why did I have a ticket in the first place? He went back inside to check, and when he came back he asked me if I had a blog.
I figured my chances of getting in were shot at that point, but this was a party for bloggers, after all, so I thought maybe mentioning I had a blog would be to my advantage. I told him, “Sort of,” and that I write for VICE. He went inside, only briefly this time, and then came back to tell me: “They know.”
I was background-checked—apparently a standard procedure for after-party guests at the RNC—and they've seen my Tumblr, which has a lot of posts about rap and a couple of things that might suggest I have some liberal views. He apologized profusely, but said that something—he wouldn’t say what—on my Tumblr disqualified me from entering the house. “There are going to be certain personalities at this event who have been the recipients of threats from domestic terrorists,” he said. “The background checks are just a precaution.” A precaution from what, nerdy white music journalists from Chicago? My Tumblr might lean left, but it’s pretty conservative by the standards of the internet—no nudity, no violence, no “We Are the 99 percent” banners.
Maybe the unfortunate denial was a metaphor for the way the Republican Party is unwelcoming and dangerous to people who don't fit its rigid worldview? Or maybe, like most people, they just don’t want knuckleheads ruining their party? Whatever. I got in my car and headed home back through Tampa, where lines of police officers were doing drills. Hopefully I’ll find my way into a party or two once the events start really ramping up on Tuesday.