The Romney/Ryan rally in Waukesha on Sunday was a cross between Pleasantville and a dysfunctional family reunion before cocktail hour. Everyone was pleasant and J. Crew picture-perfect, even as there was a slight underlying tension between the supporters of the GOP Senate candidates, and J.B. Van Hollen was treated like the uncle nobody likes. But those who had hoped for a rally filled with over-the-top fringe Republicans would have been severely disappointed. The only thing shocking about the rally was the Republicans’ masterful manipulation of factual information. It was like opposite day.
I was a bit surprised by the excitement over the rally, and by how well-attended the event was. By 4:00pm, roads leading to the Expo Center were flooded with cars sporting “I stand with Walker” bumper stickers. Walking along Northview road I saw “Tommy Thompson for Senate” and “Mark Neumann for Senate” yard signs sticking out of the median. A giant American flag flapped in the wind at the Expo Center to my left as protesters played a continuous loop of a Mitt Romney speech to my right. (The lady walking behind me was not pleased to see the protesters, and muttered to herself for a solid three minutes.)
After completing my ticket scan, bag search, and security check, I entered the rally grounds to find “When we were young” by The Killers blasting out of the sound system. Attendees didn’t seem to notice or care that it’s a song about a failed marriage due to infidelity…
The stage was completely obscured by 4:15pm. I took my place against the railing next to the parking lot, in front of a couple wearing “Fitzgerald” stickers; everyone was smiling and cordial. Unlike the previous Americans for Prosperity events I had attended, which felt frenzied and angry, this event had a relaxed, family feel to it. Like a July 4 parade, tiny flags included.
Standard catchphrases like “Obama’s a socialist” and “we’re the real Americans” were bandied about, and I didn’t really hear anything unexpected, but I was surprised by how skillfully the GOP legislators managed to completely change the facts and get the crowd to lap up everything they said.
For example, Rep. Sensenbrenner said it’s President Obama who wants to cut Medicare and Paul Ryan and the Republicans who want to “preserve it.” He said that Obama and his “cronies” are “spreading fear” and that we should not believe the lies on t.v.
Sean Duffy said Paul Ryan represents the “Wisconsin Way,” that a Romney/Ryan win would “finally put the grown-ups in charge” and would ensure that legislators wouldn’t reward their political donors with pet projects.
It was also interesting to see how beloved Scott Walker was to this crowd, what a martyr Rebecca Kleefisch seemed to play, and how heavily Reince Priebus appeared to slur his words.
By the time Mitt Romney took the stage, everyone seemed tired, and even though he was the headliner and the draw of the event, many eyes glazed over when he spoke. He almost seemed irrelevant at his own rally, at least from where I was standing.
The most unexpected and interesting part of the evening, from the perspective of a Waukesha liberal, was how Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen was treated when he spoke. At first I thought protesters had infiltrated the event, because there were boos and taunts, but when the majority of the crowd started angrily chanting, “Voter ID!” I realized they held J.B. Van Hollen responsible for not getting the Voter ID bill passed into law before November. Van Hollen blamed it on “the liberals” but people did not seem placated, and Van Hollen seemed caught off-guard.
But by the end of the event, it was obvious that anyone with an “R” behind their name would be forgiven their sins and accepted, that just like with a dysfunctional family, everyone would repress any feelings of distaste and do what they had to do to get and keep their party in power.
Don’t get cocky, Democrats.