Insight on party decoration, gleaned at 6:30 p.m., 11/4/2008: Abundant balloons, in the absence of abundant human beings, is a real downer. When I arrived at a lobby restaurant in the downtown Los Angeles Marriott, Ohio had just been called for Barack Obama. The crowd of about 20 McCain-Palin supporters had gathered for an election-night party sponsored by an impressively lengthy line-up of Republican organizations in Los Angeles (the Hollywood Congress of Republicans, the Southern California Republican Club, the Korean American Republican Association, the San Fernando Valley Republican Club, and the Republican National Hispanic Assembly), but the event felt rather like a surprise bash for a birthday boy who didn’t show. So the guests glumly nursed drinks, chewed on miniature burgers, and watched Brit Hume. “Based on his associations with people like Khalidi and Ayers,” said Daniel Stroncak, a screenwriter and member of the Hollywood Congress of Republicans, “Obama normally wouldn’t even get the security clearance I had when I was in the military.” And now, Stroncak noted with dismay, Obama was going to command the whole apparatus. “In four years, we’ll make a correction,” he said.
I’d driven down to the Marriott and shelled out for valet parking ($1.75 per 15 minutes, a pre-recession--dare I say Republican--price) as part of an election-eve mission to search for Republican life on a Democratic night in a Democratic town. I particularly wanted to get a sense of whether the great debate about conservative first principles was about to be re-launched. Clearly, however, the Marriott crowd wasn’t going to be large enough give me much of an impression. Disappointed (although grateful for the complimentary miniature burger), I headed inland to the Pacific Palms Resort, a spiffy golf retreat about 20 miles inland in the City of Industry. Here, the crowd was a little more promising, with about a hundred people gathered at an establishment called Red, billed by the Republican Party of Los Angeles County as “The Hottest Restaurant & Coolest Bar.” The event took place outdoors under heat lamps on a large stone terrace overlooking what seemed to be much of Los Angeles County. Once again, Fox was the preferred news outlet, and enormous screens were stationed all about, but the volume was nearly off.
I made my way to a quiet patio where the results of local races were being projected onto a screen. “I’m pretty upset,” said Sylvia Ortega. “I don’t understand why Hispanics go for Democrats. They’ve done nothing but hold us back, creating greater welfare states.” Ortega was especially miffed at the Hispanic rejection of George W. Bush. “I love President Bush,” Ortega said. “He has been very good to Hispanics, but they didn’t appreciate his love.” And she was also displeased with the media. “I really didn’t appreciate the way they treated Joe the Plumber,” she said, adding that she was worried for Joe’s safety. Still, Ortega was a Mitt Romney fan, and I assured her that a Romney run was one of the more certain events of 2012. (I didn’t mention that liberals are grateful for this, too.) She seemed unconsoled.
Others had slightly more self-critical assessments of the GOP, but confidence in the brand still seemed high. “We need to get back to our core beliefs,” said Nick Rosales, who was running for the city council of Azusa. “That means fiscal responsibility and family and values.” Victor Valenzuela, a former state assembly candidate, had a similar prescription. “I look at this as comparable to ’76 and ’92,” he said, referring to the defeats of Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. “It’s an opportunity.” To the extent that there was disagreement, it centered on how to handle the liberal media. Had McCain been seduced into thinking the press was his friend? Or had he merely fumbled in his handling of the enemy? It wasn’t exactly a revisiting of first principles. No one was suggesting moderation, and most foresaw a fairly prompt comeback.
Sunniest of all was Dilan Desai, age 11, a fervent McCain supporter who had been volunteering on weekday evenings and weekends for the campaign. “They said, yes, we’ll try him out,” explained his father, Henry Desai, who noted that he’d insisted on homework being completed first. Dilan said that his main task had been to place calls to undecided voters. “I would tell them that Obama would raise their taxes while McCain would keep them lower,” Dilan told me. “And that Obama would withdraw from Iraq while McCain would fight on to victory.” That was a pretty clean pitch, and it occurred to me that Dilan had probably won McCain more non-evangelical votes than Sarah Palin. He told me he hopes to run for Senate and eventually for the presidency, and he intends to turn California from blue to red.
When Obama appeared on screen to make his acceptance speech, about 20 people gathered around a plasma screen on a stone terrace. Some left in disgust. “Hope and change, hope and change, hope and change,” muttered one. But most of the viewers stayed, several of them smoking cigars that had been provided at a nearby table. There were no catcalls, but there were many long sighs.
T. A. Frank is an editor at the Washington Monthly and an Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation.