Dane County GOP chairman Scott Grabins at Tuesday's "Pints and Politics" event.
I’ve done some scary things for a byline. Jumped out of an airplane. Bought guns while acting like a lunatic. Interviewed Scott Walker. But never have I felt more unease over an assignment than on Tuesday night, when I hung out with the Dane County Republicans.
Would I get thrown out? I was, after all, banned from Dane County GOP events after accurately reporting things said and done at the party’s bash on the night of Obama’s 2008 election. But I spoke with party chair Scott Grabins ahead of time, and he seemed welcoming. Didn’t get the memo, I guess.
But there was more: I knew that the assembled Republicans at tonight’s event, unlike in 2008, would be happy. Could I stand their smug self-righteousness? Could I control mine?
Tonight’s event, at Babe’s restaurant, is called “Pints and Politics.” These get-togethers have been occurring monthly for about eight years. Grabins says the county party has around 400 dues-paying members and an email list of thousands.
This is the first county GOP event since the Nov. 8 election. It draws about 40 people to drink beer, eat fried food and hear featured speaker Peter Theron, a three-time unsuccessful candidate for Congress. Everyone is friendly; most are ebullient.
“It’s a pretty happy crowd here tonight,” says Nancy Bartlett, the group’s vice chair.
Rolf Lindgren is happy. Once vice chair of the state Libertarian Party, he joined the GOP in 2014 and now serves on the county party’s executive board. Trump is the first major party presidential candidate he’s ever voted for. Lindgren likes Trump because the candidate criticized the Federal Reserve, did not get major backing from Wall Street, and is such an outsider that Mitt Romney and the former Presidents Bush all declined to support him.
Lindgren introduces me to Robert Hall, who could give those guys in the Dos Equis commercials a run for their money as the most interesting man in the world. He was a Marine in Vietnam, has worked for professional associations all over the country, and his business card lists interests including “Sonnets,” “Jacobite Plots” and “Lost Causes.”
Hall, 70, resigned from the county party’s board this year because he could not stomach Trump. Looking to the future, he says, “I have low expectations, and I hope that I’m wrong for the sake of the country.”
Why is Hall so down on The Donald? Trump, he says, has been “a lifelong liberal” who supported abortion rights, dissed guns and gave money to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. “He was everything that I despise,” says Hall, who remains “unconvinced by his sudden conversion to conservatism.”
Others are less ambivalent. “I’m really excited, I’m hopeful,” exclaims one well-dressed woman, who declined to be named. She hopes Trump can reverse the “communistic, socialistic” direction the country is heading, where young people are taught it’s okay to burn the flag but not to love their country. She blames Obama for, among other things, “giving away the internet to a multinational whatever.” She adds that she has “a lot of Islamic friends, a lot of black friends.” None of them are here.
Grabins opens the program by asking, “Can anyone tell us the last time we had the president, Congress, Legislature and governor” all at once? It was 1952. He talks about the upcoming recount, encouraging party members to sign up for paying jobs or as observers. “I don’t think this recount is going to change anything, but we’ve got to stay engaged.”
Theron, who lost with 31% of the vote Nov. 8 to Democrat Mark Pocan, begins with a joke: “I don’t think I’ve seen the Democrats so angry since we threatened to free their slaves.” His talk is called “Winners, Whiners & Where Do We Go From Here?” The identified whiners are Hillary Clinton, for losing a state her husband won twice; the Democrats, for failing to unseat Sen. Ron Johnson; and Jill Stein, for getting more votes than Clinton’s margin of defeat. When I note later that he gave no examples of actual whining, Theron says he was just going for alliteration.
Theron’s talk ends with a prediction. As the “left-dominated” mass media and academia suffer, he says, they will move even further to the left “and then probably expire in some way.” So we have that to look forward to.
Bartlett, the vice chair, puts things in perspective. It’s true, she says, that “we have a better attitude when we win.” But she remembers what it was like to see Republicans lose to Obama, in 2008 and 2012. “We got it out — our disappointment, the sadness. We didn’t let it linger. We lost. We moved on and made the best of the situation.”
For the majority of Dane County residents, who are not so happy, that’s good advice.
Event: Pints and Politics
When: Usually the first Tuesday of the month
Where: Various locations; check danegop.org
Next: Jan. 3 at Babe’s, 5:30 p.m.
Number of Dane County residents who voted for Donald Trump: 71,279
Percentage of the total: 23.1
Number who voted for other candidates: 237,846