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Blues Cruise

National Review contributor Jonah Goldberg (pictured in left image) and editor Rich Lowry (pictured in right image).  

He recommended investing in real estate in another country, maybe in Central America somewhere. A woman to Kay’s right wrinkled her nose: How about a Western country? “Okay, if Europe is what you want, go to Poland,” he said optimistically. “Go to Krakow, buy a house for $50,000, and it’s going to be like Paris in a few years.”

As we drained the Pinot Noir, Hassett gave his audience the insider’s view of the Romney campaign, describing how its election-monitoring software crashed on November 6 and Obama was probably behind it, “because those guys are so evil.”

The table grumbled in assent.

“The thing we have to understand is, these are people who don’t have any morals,” said Hassett. “They’ll do anything. I’m one of their No. 1 targets. I mean, they really want me bad.”

“Well, you’re safe on this ship!” said Bobbie boldly.

Then Hassett pivoted to the liberal media. “I actually think that Goebbels was more critical of Hitler than the New York Times is of Obama,” said Hassett, tucking into a piece of strudel. “I was in the middle of the fight against the propaganda, and I have stories like you wouldn’t believe. These people are so evil. They’re basically Fascists. It’s unbelievable.”

The audience seemed to listen raptly to this soliloquy—who aboard would argue?—but underneath there were currents of dissension. At breakfast the next day, I ran into Kay from Old Greenwich. Tall and stern, legal thriller clutched to her breast, she narrowed her eyes and complained that Kevin Hassett was too controlling of the conversation the night before and lacked social graces.

We arrived the next morning at Half Moon Cay, a small private island 100 miles south of Nassau that promised Jet-Skiing, parasailing, snorkeling, and a glass-bottomed boat. But it was to remain a mysterious green lump on the horizon: The seas were too rough for passengers to get into the tenders needed to go ashore. “Nature was not on our side,” announced Captain Vincent Smit over the intercom.

Instead, the cruisers milled around the cafeteria, lounged by the pool with their Grishams and Balduccis, or surfed the Internet in the Crow’s Nest lounge, a privilege that cost $1.25 a minute.

Then, at 3 p.m., the group gathered into the Showroom at Sea, a three-tiered amphitheater decorated in a bright-red Art Deco style, for the first of several sessions deconstructing the loss. Onstage were Reed, now in lime-green pants embroidered with pink swordfish and navy polo shirt with white piping on the collar; and Scott Rasmussen, the pollster who consistently overrated Romney’s chances of winning the election. Rasmussen blasted the assembled Republicans with one crushing statistic after another. The exit poll data, he said, “create a negative brand image of the Republican Party as a party that only cares about white people.”

The audience murmured unhappily.

“And that image is hurting among the youth,” he continued. “It is hurting across the culture. It is something that has to be addressed across the party. It has to be addressed. You can’t just wish it away.”

Reed expanded on the theme. “You can’t run and win a national election in an electorate that is becoming decreasingly white and increasingly minority and lose 80 percent of the minority vote,” he said. “That math just doesn’t add up.”

Rasmussen offered some friendly advice about approaching minorities. “You show them that you really care, you talk to them as grown-ups on a range of issues, you get them involved,” he suggested, “and you accept the fact that it’s a long-term investment. And you accept that you can learn as much from them as you can teach them.”

This was harsh medicine to reluctant patients, and afterward some of them made their discomfort known. “That depressed me!” one woman said. To my right, a man snapped, “That’s bullshit!”

The man was Bing West, former assistant secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, a former Marine and a National Review contributor.

West, mocking Rasmussen, said: “If you stupid Republicans weren’t so goddamn bigoted you would have won the election!”

His wife, Betsy, who bears a resemblance to Nancy Reagan, patted him on the back and apologized on his behalf, saying, “I don’t know why he said that. He’s usually not like that.”

After a coffee break, we reconvened for a panel titled “Econ 1: The State of the Economy.” A large National Review placard hanging onstage swayed back and forth as the boat rocked. A moderator asked the four guests if they saw any signs of optimism in America’s economic future. There were no takers. Hassett said the national debt was like a monkey on America’s back, except there weren’t enough steroids to create a monkey that big. The debt, like an evil monolith, seemed to shadow the brows of everyone there, precisely quantifying their apocalyptic fears. America, by rejecting them, had rejected math itself, they felt, and therefore reason, and therefore reality. Their emotions, in casual conversation, in dinner patter, and in the panel discussions, ranged from sputtering anger to resigned fatalism, often in the space of minutes. As a 91-year-old from California (and nine-time National Review cruiser) told me as he lounged with a spy novel, “I think we’re going to go into the toilet, and I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop it. We haven’t seen anything yet as far as the recession is concerned … Heck of a thing to look forward to!”

After dinner was a program called the “Light Side of the Right Side.” A frenetic, tightly wound man named James Lileks, a National Review columnist from Minnesota, warmed up the crowd with one-liners: “If we can put a man on the moon, we can put 50 million Democrats up there as well!”