“I saw protestors once at Davos,” he said, “and, you know, what occurred to me about them was they were having so much fun. These young people, they looked like they were having the time of their lives. And they were probably, you know, screwing each other with gleeful abandon. I almost envied them. You never saw people have so much fun than this group I observed in Switzerland. You could tell it was a high point of their lives, and they’d go on to become bankers. But this crowd, I really don’t know. Like, the black-mask people? I think they’re really bad actors, to put it mildly. That’s an idiomatic expression meaning ‘up to no good.’”
The protestors had also caused trouble for the young Jen Leventhal, a junior in college with bright blond highlights who came to the National Review party with a bunch of classmates—all Democrats except her!—who had been sent to the convention as part of a course they’re all taking this semester at the University of Pennsylvania. One of Ms. Leventhal’s friends, an intern at MSNBC, had almost gotten arrested earlier in the day because she happened to be standing near some protestors who had done something or other to anger the police.
“She was standing there, like, trying to get her bearings, and then they just encircled everyone and said, ‘Put your hands on your head,’” Ms. Leventhal said. “She showed them her credentials. I mean, she obviously wasn’t one of them. She was dressed nicely. They were anarchists.”
Nearby, Mr. Ponnuru was standing next to a table and speaking with great enthusiasm about tax reform. His left hand he kept in his pants pocket, and his right he used to stir his drink.
“I propose the idea of a tax reform centered on a massive expansion of the child tax credit from its current level of $1,000 to $5,000 per child, applicable against payroll taxes,” he said, his voice rising and falling as if he were singing a song. “And the idea is that the overall reform is pro-growth, simplifying, pro-investment and so forth. It also shifts the tax burden upwards so it’s progressive. And it’s also revenue-neutral, in design, although you could quibble with that. So the idea is that, look, if what conservatives want is pro-growth and pro-family, and if what liberals object to is regressivity and deficits, we can achieve the conservative objectives without running into the liberal objections. I’ve been promoting this idea for about three years. I think it’s more controversial among the conservative intelligentsia than I think it is among voters. And it’s partly because the conservative intelligentsia is used to an old playbook, right? We’re gonna cut cap-gains taxes, we’re gonna cut dividends taxes, we’re gonna cut the top marginal taxes rate—all of which I’m in favor of but none of which I think speaks to the actual concerns of Middle American voters the way the Reagan program did in 1981.”
There was more like that, and an evaluation of the social structure of conservatism. Who are the conservative elite?
“The think tanks, the editorial writers for the conservative media outlets, the talk show hosts to some degree,” Mr. Ponnuru said. “I mean, just, the conservative elites … and you know I’ve talked to politicians who have read my articles on this stuff [who say] ‘Our interest groups are not interested in this’ and it’s actually an intellectual blockage … that keeps them from supporting this stuff.”
A 57-year-old man with almost no hair came over to the table and waited patiently for Mr. Ponnuru to finish before introducing himself as Cam Cavasso of Hawaii. He wore a light-blue polo shirt, and a heart-shaped American flag button emblazoned with a pro-life slogan and a pair of flashing lights. He had come to the convention not as a delegate, not as a reporter, but as a supporter of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
“So, are you a social conservative?” a reporter asked Mr. Cavasso.
“Yes, I am,” he said.
“Hard to miss!” Mr. Ponnuru said with a laugh, and gestured at the pin.
“When I saw McCain choose Palin, I made a decision to come and be part of it,” Mr. Cavasso said a moment later, speaking slowly and smiling slightly and not moving his head even a little bit. “She’s one tough lady, from the tough land of Alaska. She’s a hunter, she’s a mother, and she’s a wife. She’s an outdoors person. She’s got conservative values that value life. What’s going on with her 17-year-old is just another opportunity to come out on top, because it’s a difficult situation where a lot of people would just say, ‘Let’s do an abortion.’”
Pretty quickly, Mr. Ponnuru made a reconnaissance of the room, and made his way into another conversation.