John McCain Tries to Embrace Tea Party, Throws Gays (or Bastards!) Under Bus

by Natasha Vargas-Cooper

“I feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s fifth husband,” McCain told the crowd last night. “I know what to do but I don’t know how to make it impressive.” This was met with the half-groan, half-clap that you most often hear from a studio audience when a late-night host goes blue. But McCain really was on fire last night! The last time I’d seen him in the flesh was at a last-minute rally, right here in Nevada, the night before he lost the election to Barack Obama. That night he was wooden, humorless and so clearly exhausted that his face had lost its usual malarial tint and was instead a ghostly white.

Last night, it was unclear if Senator McCain’s appearance was the closer of tonight’s rally or if he was perhaps a pitying after-thought of the Angle campaign. McCain took the stage of the Mardi Gras ballroom at the Orleans Hotel following Jon Voight (yes, father of Angelina), Michael Reagan (yes, son of Ronald) and surprise guest Sharron Angle. And at least the wisecrack defused some of the tension that McCain had carried in with him.

Every speaker previous had done their pro-forma Harry Reid/Democrat trashing, but there also exists a real hostility towards the current incarnation of Republican party. Pelosi/Obama/Reid — the “enemies of freedom,” as Michael Reagan put it — were responsible for the country’s problems, both foreign and domestic, that was for sure. But to them, the G.O.P. wasn’t much help either. The vision broadcasted by Angle and company was to restore the country not to its configuration under the Bush administration but back to “Reagan’s America.”

The implication, then, is that McCain is part of the problem.

So when McCain trotted out the talking points on repealing “Obamacare” and fortifying the border, the audience responded more tepidly, withholding the adoring applause they heaped on Angle. McCain only seemed to be accepted by the crowd — made up largely of husband and wife duos over 50 — when he leaned against the podium and cracked jokes about himself like a c-list casino lounge act.

Perhaps sensing that he was getting more by way of shtick instead of stump, McCain doubled down on a gay joke: “A friend of my son’s wanted to join the Marines but he couldn’t because his parents are married.” (This may be a joke about bastards, others who have heard him tell this point out? Huh!)

Once again, a half groan/half clap from the audience filled the ballroom. It was only in the closing moments of the speech that McCain got the crowd’s blood up.

“In the declaration of Independence,” he said, “the words that we hold dear were written: we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The Tea Party is all about that!”

The audience roared with approval.

* * *

Sharron Angle gave the President, the senate majority leader and the voting public writ large two words of instruction no fewer than five times during her fifteen minute speech: MAN. UP. While “man up” certainly does not belong to the canon of authentic, spontaneous quips uttered inside the clamor of political arena (see: “You are no Jack Kennedy” and “I paid for this microphone”), it was one of the few material advantages Angle posses over Reid.

Angle is, by far, the candidate with the most virility and verve. “Man up” was such a wonderfully emasculating comment that highlighted the flaccid temperament of the saggy and sleepy-eyed Harry Reid.

It’s a pity she’s already worn out such a potent command. Instead of channeling Hepburn, sounding like an emasculating vamp taking the piss out of an unequally matched sparring partner, she sounded much more like a nagging, fuddy-duddy mother: empty-mindedly spurting a command in lieu of having anything else to say.

* * *

Tonight and tomorrow, the Orleans is a host to a “Halloween Seance” with “renowned medium James Van Praagh.” The crowd will most likely be similar to the Angle event. This audience was grey. Or white, with flecks of liver spots like confetti on their foreheads. Before the magic all began, the two hundred chairs in the Mardi Gras ballroom of the Orleans were filled with modestly dressed folks, the couples quietly chatting to each other before the first pixelated slideshow ran and the lights went low. (The local papers estimated the crowd finally growing to be a thousand people.) Drawings of Thomas Jefferson, Liberty Bell sketches, stock photography of eagles and portraits of centurion men in military garb flashed on two drop-down screens, as someone voice-overed a short biography of America (“I was born in Philadelphia in 1776”).

The events coordinator, Jeri Taylor-Swade of the Angle campaign, then took the stage to congratulate the audience on their efforts to get out the early vote on behalf of Angle. She’s a slim woman in her early forties, in black slacks, a fitted blazer, with her blonde hair pulled back into a neat pony tail.

“I went to get my nails done today,” she told us. “The guy who does my nails is named Tony and I asked Tony if he had voted early.”

Tony did not vote early. Tony forgot to register. She pauses for the crowd’s requisite moan. Then, with her voice cracking in what sounded like genuine dismay, she said: “He was going to vote for Sharron!”

Presented in this way, this perfectly good anecdote leaves people not knowing whether to applaud Tony The Nail Guy’s intentions or to hiss at his poor planning skills. And so they sat there pretty much in silence for a while.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper is in Nevada through the election — you can reach her via Twitter.