Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who lost to Mitt Romney in the primaries, stopped to chat. He told me that Norquist is a party animal at every level. “He’s got some rap moves that I think people don’t fully appreciate. He’s a big fan of 50 Cent and Lady Gaga.”
We made our way through a concrete warren and layers of security. Norquist did a stand-up interview with CBS correspondent John Dickerson, while behind him onstage, country star Lane Turner played “Blood, Sweat, and Freedom.”
Heading back through the packed delegate hall, the Norquists ran into Aric Nesbitt, who once interned at Americans for Tax Reform and is now running for state representative in Michigan. Hugs all around—Norquist loves running into his former staffers, who are now rising conservative revolutionaries, carrying his message throughout the GOP. “He was a little munchkin,” Samah recalled. “And now he’s all grown up!”
Norquist was growing ever more nervous. It was late, he had to hit HomoCon, and he still hadn’t had time to go over his act. We cabbed it to downtown Ybor City, ending up at a bar near the HoneyPot. While Samah and I watched Ann Romney’s speech on TV, Norquist walked around the block, practicing his routine. “You’re going to look like a crazy person, Grovy,” Samah warned. “I’ll put the phone earbud in,” Norquist replied. “People will think I’m someone important.”
Ann Romney finished her speech. It was time for HomoCon—no more time to practice.
A STAND-UP GUY
Outside the HoneyPot, the line stretched down the block; but, per usual, the velvet rope was unclipped for Norquist and his friends. Everyone got VIP badges.
Norquist stopped to give interviews at the entrance. Social conservatives in his party have long hammered him for his stance on gay rights, but as the primal fiscally conservative power player, Norquist has the heft to hold whatever positions he wants on social policy.
“I get yelled at a lot. They give me crap about talking to the Log Cabin Republicans,” he said. “But these guys are just conservatives who happen to be gay.”
Inside the club: disco balls, pink and blue Japanese lanterns, vases of white orchids. A man in a glittery silver suit and cowboy hat was dancing, and “Call Me Maybe” was blasting. Norquist swept up to the VIP lounge for more interviews, but it was already time to go. It was midnight, and his set at the Improv was coming up.
The streets outside the HoneyPot were crawling with gay men, along with security forces in fatigues. “In this neighborhood, the gays dress as soldiers!” Norquist joked. “It’s like “Y.M.C.A.” or something.”
We pressed through the crowd to reach the Improv. At 12:45 a.m., Grover took to the stage. His delivery was deadpan, in the style of his comic hero, Steven Wright. “My wife and I have what’s known as a mixed marriage. I am a Methodist, she is a Muslim. So we’re keeping it in the Ms. We’re thinking, for the kids, we could go with the Mennonites or the Mormons. The Mennonites have this really nice low-carbon footprint. But the Mormons—I have two daughters—I think if I work this out right, I only have to pay for one wedding.”
Political humor was obviously the order of the night: “I do want to warn some of my conservative friends who like to bring up questions about where Barack Obama was born, and birth certificates and stuff. I wouldn’t go too far down that road. We’re about to nominate a guy who lived in Utah and was governor of Massachusetts. He’s never technically lived in this country.”
“I tease,” Norquist added. “I grew up in Massachusetts before emigrating to the States.”
The audience loved it; Samah, watching, was visibly relieved. Norquist stepped off the stage, joined us at the table, and we watched a few more acts before he and Samah tapped me. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I think we’re going to turn into pumpkins.”
It was 1 a.m., and we were back on the street, scanning for a cab. None was to be found.
A young couple—he in a sport coat and a Mitt Romney coif; she in a teal cocktail dress and matching pumps—approached Norquist. “We have a car and driver,” they said. “We’ll take you home, wherever you want to go.”
That’s the kind of thing that happens to Grover Norquist—in this part of the world, anyway.
This article appears in the Sep. 15, 2012, edition of National Journal.