For a moment, at the peak of President Bush’s popularity, Republican event planners—the true GOP optimists—entertained a big-tent dream. Stars of all ages and provenances would convene in New York and add their wattage to George W.’s glow. Sure, the Democrats would flex their celebrity muscle in Boston, luring the likes of Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, and P. Diddy to their confab. But with Ah-nuld in the Governor’s Mansion and the convention a block away from Broadway, the Republican event planners were feeling pretty hot. After victories in both Afghanistan and the 2002 elections, who could blame the Bushies for eyeing not only New York but Hollywood? Relishing their early victories, they sought to transform their political dominance into cultural supremacy as well.
But an ill-fated war soon put an end to their cockiness. In the repolarized, post–Abu Ghraib era, the few GOP celebrities who weren’t in office found themselves back in the closet. And the convention proved, in the memorable words of the Bush twins, just how “unhip” the Republicans were. Even to Republicans. Jessica Simpson, the sexy monogamist, declined a GOP invite, as did Michael J. Fox. Britney Spears sent her regrets.
In the end, the GOP found itself dancing alone with Stephen Baldwin, who’s born again but remains coy about his party registration. Otherwise, the lineup this week consisted of straight white males who spent the ’70s vomiting behind trucks at festival concerts—hell-raisers, Jack Daniels drinkers, and Charlton Heston fans. Lynyrd Skynyrd, a virtual GOP house band, was booked at one party. ZZ Top, the Charlie Daniels Band, .38 Special, and the Gatlin Brothers played others. Kid Rock agreed to perform only after the Recording Industry Association of America paid him $300,000, a source said. As one GOP booker put it, “He’s a good get, though he’s not standard Republican.” Consider, after all, his tasteful ballad “Blow Me.”