"I know what some of you tough guys are thinking," says Thibodeau, draining his Rockstar. "But trust me, unless you've got no escape route and are being seriously threatened, and can prove that in court by crying on the stand, you had better retreat. You either run or you cry. Your choice."
A recruit sitting in the back of the room begins to fidget and sink into his chair. He wears a T-shirt in the ubiquitous purple and yellow of Minnesota Vikings football. The shirt reads "What Would Leif Erikson Do?"
Soon enough the recruit answers his own question: Leif Erikson, it turns out, would stand up, wipe his hands on his jeans, mutter "Fuck this" under his breath, slip out the back and not return.
I, however, stay until the bitter end and await my assignment. The following is a log of a night in my life as an RNC security officer. The night shift is 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The first wave of delegates, staffers, lobbyists and hangers-on are returning from their parties. I'm still guarding the front door. My first drunk: a guy whose dress shirt is recklessly untucked, his "McCain for America" pin dangling precariously from his lapel. Looking for his credentials, he fumbles around for almost five full minutes.
A car stops in front of the entrance. A man and a woman emerge and exchange a long meaningful hug. They whisper for a bit. Then the woman goes into the hotel and the man steps back into the car and drives away.
"Cheaters," says my new partner, Scott Mendes. "They both got wedding rings."
Yes, the party of 'moral values'. As a talking point.
"There's a lot of hot chicks here," he tells me in a failed attempt at a whisper. He reeks of chardonnay. "You cannot spring a woody here, dude. Your pants got no give, know what I mean? It'd be totally obvious. Gov. Palin is staying here -- you gotta be careful. You get what I'm saying? You can't get wood on the job."
The right-wing youth resurgence is taking shape here before my eyes and it has a strong erotic undercurrent. For the first time in American politics there is a strong alpha woman with whom mothers identify, and after whom sons lust. The GOP is playing the Oedipal card. And it could mean bloody war, fought house to house.
I'm developing a purely anecdotal theory about Republican drunkenness: that it's related to ideology. The less ideological arrive back at the headquarters earlier in the evening, between midnight and 1 a.m. These are, in chronological order, the Romney and the Giuliani supporters. Both are East Coast, urban college grad, corporate types. They like to drink and reminisce about the Harvard-Yale game, but they also like to wake up early, shave and not smell like booze at committee meetings. The Giuliani people are secular and more openly lecherous. So they tend to drink a bit harder and stay out closer to 1 a.m. The Ron Paul people party past 1 a.m., but not much. And they shave but they don't showboat.
The ones who stay out the latest and come back the drunkest, I notice, are the Huckabee folks, the party's rural conservatives. They believe in Jesus, in the hard-bitten way of the true alcoholic. If they ever sober up, it'll be by the grace of the Lord; and if they intend to stay on the sauce and continue living, then they'll really need His loving kindness. If you intend to be drinking heavily until closing time -- 4 a.m. in the Twin Cities during the RNC -- you had better walk home with Jesus.
I can't place true McCainites on the alcohol-ideology matrix. I think they were all asleep by 9:30 p.m.
ll the hotels in the area are dark. Thousands of Republicans stir in their beds, dreaming thousands of dreams about Sarah Palin. But Charles Hunter, an environmentalist delegate from New Hampshire and a veteran of Republican conventions going back to the 1980 coronation of Ronald Reagan at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, can't sleep at all.
"This is my last convention," he tells me, lighting a cigarette.
"I'm a real McCain guy. I served. But I liked the old McCain -- when he was a true hero, before he signed on with the yahoos. I actually believe in 'country first.'"
"Not a fan of Palin?"
"If I were McCain I'd probably bring her onto my ticket, too. That's exactly the problem. I guess I tricked myself into thinking that McCain, even after he watered himself down for the election, could somehow restore sanity. The Democrats tried to paint him as a twin of Bush. Not true. But Palin ... she does remind me of Bush. McCain has made a devil's pact and sealed this party's fate."
Even though he's older, he smokes his cigarette like a young man, with earnest haste, before he flicks it off into the dark.
"That's it," he said, "we're through. Even if we win, we've lost."
We will all have lost.