The Big Republican Schmoozefest has moved on, but for a few hours last week, Palm Beach County was electrified with political discourse — electrified like, say, your daughter's Easy-Bake Oven, with the 60-watt bulb on high.
By 2 p.m. last Thursday, FAU's drowsy Boca Raton campus was shut down and the television satellite trucks were moving in for the Republican Presidential Debate. The place suddenly crawled with security, and you needed a plastic badge on a lanyard just to get near the debate site in the college's Live Oak Pavilion or the adjacent press center, where the school set up rows of tables and miles of cable. The media was wired and ready to report every twitch or snigger almost before they'd faded from Mitt Romney's pursed lips or Rudy Giuliani's flashing grill.
This was heady stuff for a school where the big news in 2007 was the football team's invitation to the New Orleans Bowl, a second-tier event. If you stood outside a makeshift MSNBC broadcasting platform next to the debate site and waved an FAU Owl placard, you could actually get into a live shot behind the ever-grinning Chris Matthews. Those in the know could pick out media stars in the press room like New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
All the guys showed up for the debate. There was John McCain in a nimbus of self-esteem on the day the New York Times endorsed him for the GOP primary, throwing verbal bouquets at his fellow candidates and flashing a Chaplinesque look of alarm when anyone directed a note of rancor his way. Romney, the nimble Scaramouch of the party, danced away from a question about how he's financing his campaign (hint: with a lot of contributions from the Romney family). Giuliani flashed that crowd-pleasing smile, which snaps on and off like a flashlight beam, while spaniel-eyed Mike Huckabee hung back, a down-home, stand-up counterpuncher. Ron Paul also kept his distance, coming across as so grouchy and disapproving of the political mooks around him that he made jowly, grumpy former candidate Fred Thompson look like Bobcat Goldthwaite.
Tailpipe knew he was in for a long and grueling evening when moderator Brian Williams kicked it off with a question for Romney about President Bush's economic stimulus plan. (The 'Pipe plans to use his $300 "stimulus" check to pay an FPL bill and buy a six-pack and a tank of gas; if that doesn't get the economy off the dime, the 'Pipe doesn't know what will.) The debate never took off after that. An hour and a half later, reporters spilled into the "spin room," where candidates' representatives, standing next to name placards held by volunteers, explained why their guys had won the debate. It was here that Tailpipe learned, for example, that McCain had had a "perfect debate" (McCain campaign adviser Charlie Black) and that "Romney's going to turn voters off" (James Pinkerton, Huckabee adviser).
The only candidate who availed himself in the spin room was Paul, who was buttonholed by New Times' own Michael Mooney.
Mooney: Dr. Paul, do you think your knowledge as a gynecologist will help you stimulate the economy? (Awkward pause.) Do you know how to stimulate the economy in... the right way?
Paul: No, but I've studied as much economics as I have gynecology. When you mix economics and medicine together all of a sudden you have a better understanding of how to manage care. You understand with inflation you know why the costs are up. I know all the right moves to make.
Then he ran like a rabbit.
That giant sucking sound?
It was the D-Train pulling out of the station.
It was the now-familiar whoosh of baseball talent being slurped away from the Marlins.
Everybody knows that the biggest deal of the off-season was when the Fish front office traded the team's two greatest players (and its only marquee names) — power hitter Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis — to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for six young prospects.
Last Thursday, the Park Sports Club at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino threw a going-away party for Willis. Tailpipe expected teary fans, a slew of models, and sports agents having to drag Willis out the door. But it was, er, anticlimactic.
"I still live here!" Willis said, leaning back in a leather recliner, dripping in diamonds — diamond necklace, diamond earrings, diamond watch. His residence will remain in the 305; his office is just in a different time zone (and a sub-freezing latitude).
He hadn't really pondered what he'd miss about Miami or look forward to in Detroit. So far, he hadn't even hung out with Eminem or gone to an auto factory. "I've only been at the field and the hotel," he said.
Willis, ever the gentleman, wouldn't comment about whether the Marlins had gotten their money's worth in the trade (the team acquired four solid young players and two who don't even have Wikipedia entries yet). "They're good talent," Willis said. "They're in the same boat I was a couple years ago."