Saturday, December 1, 2012

MDGOP Convention: Observations from Turf Valley

After much vacillation, I headed to Hospitality Suite Night at the Maryland Republican Party’s fall 2012 convention at the Turf Valley Resort last night. I work in Columbia for my day job, but on Fridays I work from home and was therefore reluctant to trek to rural Howard County on a day that I normally didn’t have to.

But I did anyway because, frankly, I find it difficult to disappoint certain persuasive women I know. So I went, and here are a few of my observations.

It was hard to get a global sense of where the party stands, other than pervasive surprise and disappointment at the 2012 election results, as well as uncertainty over the party’s future direction. I basically observed people in the context of various candidate or cause-specific pockets.

The biggest presence of the night was Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young, whose party was the most elaborate and well attended. “Young for Governor” signs were ubiquitous across the venue, and it seemed that people hosting their own hospitality suites eventually abandoned them to come to the Young affair. I credit much of the energy which surrounded the Young affair to feisty and energetic Frederick County activist Katie Nash.

As I expressed to Nash, I don’t think conservatives like Young or Tea Party activist Charles Lollar (who had no hospitality suite but his sticker-wearing emissaries were everywhere) have a ghost of a chance in deep blue Maryland. But from the standpoint of energy and organization, Young clearly “won” the evening.

I also headed to Harford County Executive David Craig’s suite, and had a chance to chat with the already-announced gubernatorial hopeful about the 2012 presidential race. Attendance at his spacious suite, which was at the end of a very long hallway, seemed sparse when I got there, though I heard an influx of late visitors swelled his ranks a bit.

The most interesting event of the night was the event hosted by the “Maryland Liberty Caucus,” essentially an organization of adherents of former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

I have always had a complex relationship with the libertarian movement. Socially liberal and fiscally conservative, I regard myself as something of a Kurt Russell libertarian in that I believe in maximizing personal freedoms in a way which will not weaken society. But it is hard for me to take the hardcore, isolationist, buy-a-concrete-bunker-in-Montana-and-hide-from-the-world side of the movement too seriously.

The Liberty Caucus event was packed. It spanned two neighboring rooms, but many of its flannel-clad attendees had spilled out into the hallway, where they amiably munched cheese and other snacks hastily placed onto small tables. Inside one of the rooms, a serious-looking fellow wearing a turtleneck sweater and standing at a lectern with full-on lighting was earnestly delivering a speech about…well…liberty to a group of about 20 people who listened with rapt attention.

Next door was the de facto merchandise room, where a young man stood behind a table of books available for purchase. I didn’t linger here long, but I noticed that Senator Rand Paul’s book, Government Bullies, was among the titles for sale. Fortunately, The Turner Diaries and The Anarchist Cookbook were not.

The Purple Elephant Stampede suite organized by Hillary Foster Pennington and her Strategic Victory Consulting cohorts served as my home base for much of the evening. This was perhaps the most festive and spontaneous of the suites I visited, and it drew a steady stream of visitors all night long. The Red Maryland crew did their convention broadcast from the bedroom next door. The highlight came was when feuding bloggers Joe Steffen and Greg Kline debated their differences in a spirited but civil exchange.

I ducked out to do a quick call-in to WBAL’s The J. Doug Gill Show, then decided to call it a night. Today the party is going to be weeding through a series of resolutions, and engaging in the fractiousness and infighting which has become its hallmark in recent years. But it is good to know that warring partisans can get along during one funny, if occasionally odd, evening.