ST. PAUL—Jack Fowler, the publisher of the National Review, was leaning back in a chair in a banquet hall at the St. Paul University Club.
The party he’d just held there was breaking up, and he was talking to a reporter about President George W. Bush as Jay Nordlinger and Claremont Institute fellow and Power Line blogger Scott Johnson looked on.
“There’s lots of clichés,” he said. “Everybody loves a winner, right? Who wants to be involved with a loser, or a guy who isn’t liked? I like the president. I’m alive, I go to New York City every day, and I take freakin’ Metro-North to Grand Central Station every day and my ass has not been blown up by Al Qaeda.”
That, in short, is why the publisher of the National Review is here. This convention had come to be about two things: Hurricane Gustav—would Republican nominee John McCain be able to scrub out the Bush administration’s label of heartlessness and irresponsibility by bringing his convention to a halt to mobilize help for Gulf Coast residents?—and Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor who, a week before, would have been unthinkable as Senator McCain’s running mate but who was, by this evening’s party, a given.
The impact of the hurricane on Mr. Fowler’s party could not have been greater. The guest of honor was to be Louisiana’s wunderkind governor Bobby Jindal, but that obviously didn’t happen. And the signature drink of the party, where rice and beans, minced shrimp served on celery stalks, and squares of corn bread topped with bacon were served, was the Hurricane. That didn’t happen, either.
Mr. Fowler turned to the ubiquitous Ramesh Ponnuru, a National Review editor and conservative columnist, who had just walked up to the table, and continued. “Is that a fact, Ramesh? It’s a fact. I think the president has something to do with that. I think the war on terrorism has worked. We haven’t had any terrorist attacks. That’s not a glib statement!
“[The terrorists] are wiped,” he went on. “They all went to Iraq and got their asses blown up! Anyway.”
Mr. Fowler, who is 48, had to sit in his hotel room all day planning the National Review’s post-election Caribbean cruise, an elaborate week-long fundraiser for the magazine involving 250 members of the conservative intelligentsia on a boat rubbing shoulders with such celebs as Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and Christopher Buckley. The fact that Mr. Fowler was cooped up inside all day wrestling with the cumbersome logistics of this adventure instead of wandering around the convention center with his editorial staff didn’t really bother him. “I’m the publisher,” he said. “I had a ton of work!”
The room started to empty out a little after 8 p.m., most of the guests undoubtedly heading for the four-floor Weekly Standard party at Solera, where beautiful women would offer them cigars. Mr. Fowler said he wasn’t sure what to do about Iran.
“I don’t know, you hear these things about how the Iranian people love America, so what do you do?” Mr. Fowler said. “Do you attack? Do you take out a reactor? Do you flip the populace on their alleged love for America? I dunno! I have enough trouble publishing the National Review.”
“I’d better not hear any Mardi Gras bullshit!” Mr. Fowler had said to a reporter near the beginning of the party. The hurricane had passed and been downgraded to a dinky little Category 1 drizzle. The convention would get going in earnest the next morning and things could get back to normal.
Jay Nordlinger, one of the many National Review editors in attendance Monday night, said he couldn’t wait.
“This hasn’t felt to me like a convention yet,” he said sadly. “There have been no balloons, no speeches.” The proceedings, he said, did not need to be upended as severely as they had been.
“It shouldn’t have been necessary,” he said. “I mean, probably from a PR point of view it was, but I’m sorry about it.”
“I’ve been meeting with key political figures,” he said. “All off the record, unfortunately, so not a lot to report, but some interesting conversations. You know, a convention is one-stop shopping for a political reporter. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s so easy, you know?”
Standing in the lobby, Mr. Nordlinger looked into the banquet hall and said, softly, that it was nice to be with his own people.
“I’m often the token conservative,” he said. “Every once in a while, it’s nice to be among friends. You don’t want to be wimpy about it, but every once in a while it’s nice to be among the like-minded, just to have a break. To let your guard down a little.”
Had Mr. Nordlinger seen the protestors who showed up at the convention center earlier in the day? He had, and they did not please him.