When I awakened bright and early this past Saturday morning to do my duty as a delegate to the state nominating convention for the Utah Republican Party, I was anticipating an experience of Homeric length, as I slouched in a chair in the semi-darkness, listening to one set of talking points after another for eight-plus hours, satiating my hunger with a $12 chicken sandwich and slaking my thirst with $4 Cokes. And looking at my watch and wondering if this would have been what Dante would have written had he dreamt up a Tenth Circle. And in that respect, my prediction did in fact come true. But one never knows where each day will take one, and I found myself traveling from one end of the conservative spectrum to the other.
First, to answer the burning question: no, Spencer Cox and Mitt Romney were not in attendance. Cox had gone to the border, and Romney had “other obligations.” Of course. I would have been surprised had it been otherwise. But Cox did send Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson, who probably viewed the prospect of meeting the GOP faithful with the relish normally reserved for a case of scabies. After a somewhat hostile reception, Henderson went on to relate the usual list of administration accomplishments, which were met with the obligatory applause. At one point, however, her remarks were punctuated by a rather loud request from a delegate for her to inform us of her preferred pronouns. And off we went.
These things usually move at a glacial pace. But this time around, it was obvious that a contingent of people wanted to delay the convention. If you have never subjected yourself to this ritual, some of the first orders of business are the adoption of the rules and the agenda. And a group of people was focused on keeping that from happening. One person objected because of his contention that the convention did not adhere to ADA regulations. Another wanted a second test of the “clickers” used in the balloting since they were still being credentialed as the convention opened, and so everything needed to grind to a halt to test technology. Yet another wanted to move the platform amendment and resolutions, scheduled for the end of the day, to the front of the agenda. After a standing vote, another person called for “division,” meaning that every person’s vote would have to be individually counted, in a room full of almost 4000 people.
Why the delays? Well, I am not a political scientist, biologist, or award-winning physicist. But I know Utah politics and this was not my first convention rodeo. Platform amendments and resolutions are boring and time-consuming. Had they been moved to the top of the agenda, there was a chance that many people would have lost interest and maybe even left. And given the attempts mentioned above, the same people would have made sure to drag that process out. One may assume that by the time the convention got around to the main issue, the election of a senator, enough people would have gone home. Enough people to detract from incumbent Mike Lee’s base of supporters. Lee had six challengers this year, including one Becky Edwards. Edwards dislikes Trump and apparently voted for Joe Biden, a move that her campaign manager said she regrets. But a particularly plucky delegate shared with me some posts on social media from alleged supporters of Lee’s opponents. Some posts read:
“As MANY of you predicted, I was elected a state delegate at tonight’s Republican caucus. This is a nightmare for the Republican Party. Thank You”
“Me too! We should meet up. I’ll be one of the hundreds wearing a Becky Edwards pin.”
“I was just voted to be a state delegate for the GOP. The things I will do to get rid of Mike Lee.”
“HEY!!! Me too!!! Honestly, I’m not really happy about it, but I stand by my words that I will do ANYTHING to get Mike Lee out of office. I’ll be voting for Ally Isom because I think she has a better chance of beating Lee.”
“When we broke into caucus nobody else showed so I ran uncontested to precinct chair, co-chair, state delegate and county delegate and I WON!!”
Are the pieces starting to fall into place yet? You, I, and your goldfish all know that had Republicans done anything remotely close to something like this, cries would have gone up, guillotines would have been erected, and the local newspaper would have been shocked, shocked I tell you, at the lack of integrity on the part of conservatives. But since we are talking about Democrats, you, I, and your fish also know that it’s easy to meet non-existent standards for integrity. The bar there is set so low there is no way not to clear it.
The skullduggery did not work. Lee took the convention with 70.74% of the vote. But Edwards and Isom gathered enough signatures to appear on the primary ballot, so Lee’s headaches are not quite over.
Of course, the business is done on the nominating floor, but the fun really happens before the gavel falls. Prior to shuffling into the half-light to subject yourself to torture-by-folding-chair, you can visit the respective candidates’ booths as they ply you with popcorn, candy, t-shirts, buttons and Lord knows what else, to convince you to throw a vote your way. I had been talking with the campaign manager for Jason Preston who was stumping for House District 3. Preston’s supporters are young, hip, and dress better than I did at that age with sunglasses, long beards, and take-no-sh*t attitudes. And as an old white guy, I have to admit, I was glad to see it. I was half-tempted to ask if any of them had a hip flask since I could have used a belt right about then. Preston had the support of none other than Roger Stone, who appeared at the venue. As luck would have it, I got about six minutes with him. Stone is a seasoned political operative and, no matter what you think about Trump, is a great interview. And he had his own take on the Missing Mitt.
But my day was not complete by a long shot. I had several of those $4 Cokes and needed to hit the latrine. I walked in and there was a tall, blonde woman checking her makeup in the mirror. I thought I had wandered into the wrong can and turned to check the sign. It said men and I thought “Oh…yeah.” And yes, it was a man in drag. But this man in drag identifies as a man and is virulently opposed to transing kids and for letting men into women’s bathrooms, no matter what they are wearing. By the time I got done, he was gone and so I left the men’s room in search of a blonde man in drag. And yes, I have already apologized to my wife for writing that sentence. I managed to catch up with him and he agreed to an interview. I’ll let him speak for himself.
I know that for some reading this, the idea of Ryan being a gay man and a drag artist is off-putting, to say the least. But Ryan is saying the things conservatives are thinking, and in doing so, risks alienating himself from the Right and the Left. But no matter what you may think of his lifestyle, he has a point and has the strength of character to say it out loud, even at the cost of his job. I hope Ryan stays safe.
The face of conservatism is changing. No, this is not your father’s GOP. The new people speaking out are not the stuffy men like me with a little bit of a gut poking out under their favorite tie. They are people who realize that the narrative we have been sold is destructive and hateful. For example, Glenn Beck and I would never see to eye-to-eye on faith. And maybe someday, he can buy me a steak and I can tell him how wrong I think he is, and vice-versa. But until then, there are people out there who want to destroy all of us. And right now, that is our biggest concern.