Dana Perino was the White House press secretary during the dismal last year and a half of the Bush administration, and every day, every single day, she dragged herself in front of a crowd of cynics and gamely tried to convince them that everything was great. If there is an expert in futility, it is her. So when she wonders aloud why we even bother to have political conventions anymore, it makes you wish someone would listen.
“America has moved beyond this,” she told me this afternoon. “The DNC and the RNC, it feels like 1990s. It looks the same; it feels the same. The hall is the same.” Perino never worked on a campaign, and the only other convention she’s been to was the Republican show in 2004. As a volunteer on leave from an administration job, she was put to use ushering the likes of Liz Cheney and Rick Perry through the basement of a protester-besieged Madison Square Garden. This convention, she’s here as co-host of Fox News’s chat show The Five, the Glenn Beck replacement that has become a surprise hit for the network. She loves doing the show, she said repeatedly, perched at a café table in the museum where Fox has set up camp. But returning to the biggest party in Republican politics has been anticlimactic.
“If you’re gonna keep up with politics,” she said, sipping at a small bottle of water, “you’re doing it all day long every day anyway. So by the time you get to Thursday night, it’s gonna take a lot to wow you.” This, she says, is why the four-day convention should be abolished. Two nights would suffice. And if she were running things, she told me, she’d announce on the last day here that the GOP will never again use public money to throw a party. (That’s what both the Republicans and the Democrats have done for time immemorial.)
The speeches themselves, Perino said, have been “fine.” But—and here you can’t help but hear the burnt-out spokeswoman of 2007—it’s actually a bit unfair that we should even want to be thrilled. “This is not a movie. We make it look like a movie: we even make this big set. And I just think we have these expectations for entertainment that are out of whack with what things really are.” Besides which, she says, there’s a deeper structural problem. “It probably used to be fun at the convention—back when you didn’t know who the nominee was going to be.”