Republican Convention: Leave your handguns at home, but religion, razzamatazz and red white and blue are welcome

It was another world, with keyrings, writes David Usborne


It was a mob scene late on Thursday in one tucked-away corner of the Tampa Times Forum, a glass-and-cement pile that normally hosts ice hockey but which last week was transformed into some sort of spinning spaceship packed with pale-skinned aliens who mean to conquer America, if not quite the Earth. It was not Clint Eastwood's changing room, or even the private box of mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. It was, of course, the gift shop.

The fare was predictable – key rings, mugs and T-shirts – although the hard-shell iPhone covers called casemates (decorated with a grinning running mate) were sort of cute.

I fled before migraine set in and opted instead for a $1 "I was there" badge, sold by a street hawker as I departed the USS Free Enterprise for the last time pulling confetti from my hair and wondering what had just happened. I might even keep it if Mitt Romney wins.

My only thought now about it having been foreshortened for Isaac reasons is, how would any of us have survived if it had been four days instead of three? These things are numbing. They go very late each night to fit with primetime TV and when the nightly benediction has been given we run off to all the parties to schmooze.

And the security! Actually, Mr Secret Service, I can reveal now that you didn't do so great a job. After absconding one afternoon with the British Ambassador, Sir Peter Westmacott, for an aerospace reception at the Tampa Aquarium, which lay outside the security perimeter, I got lost returning to the Forum and ended up inside without passing through security once. I could have had a dead penguin in my bag, or even a Smith & Wesson, and no one would have stopped me. Yes, guns were not allowed in the Republican Convention, with or without extra ammunition.

You could bring in God, though, and the more patriotism the better, although the two things tended to get conflated. If the founding fathers wanted to separate church from state they made an exception for the party political conventions. "God Almighty is the source of all we have," Senator Marco Rubio boomed on Thursday night, to tumultuous applause. "Faith in our Creator is the most important American value of them all."

Mr Rubio was only one of many speakers to remind us to feel sorry for anyone who had the misfortune to live in any country that was not America. Mr Obama, he said, had led with "ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America". Can you imagine?

The reassuring news is that they were not very scary, these invaders for Mitt, unless homogeneity scares you. The delegates were definitely more Fleetwood Mac than LL Cool J or even Gaga (white, conservative and straight). They were well behaved props to the television production that every convention necessarily is. They sat through the endless speeches hammering away at the same themes, and the over-produced videos about the candidate's love of wife, Israel and Bain Capital (such a cuddly company, it turns out).

Only a very few could tell you they had actually read the party platform adopted here, with its passages on banning abortion in every circumstance, including rape, and linking the dollar to gold. But they said they liked what they knew about it. "Well, yes, some people in here are very passionate about these things," Carlos Castillo, a delegate from Nebraska, nodded happily. If the whips who patrolled the floor told them to chant "USA! USA!" that is what they did. When they were given home-made signs that weren't home made at all to wave for the cameras, they did that too. "Hispanics for Mitt," said the sign held by Kansas delegate Sue Estes, scrawled in red and white paint but actually printed.

So, yes, "I was there". Mitt might indeed win, but was this a convention for the history books? Perhaps yes, but that might be more thanks to Mr Eastwood than the speeches and videos.

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