Retreat!

The big topic of the morning seems to be the reports beginning to leak out of Williamsburg, Virginia from the House GOP’s three-day “retreat.” With the exception of a few availabilities offered to a strictly sequestered press corps, this is very much a closed event, but obviously various participants want to make sure whatever happens is either well-known or thoroughly misunderstood.

I don’t know if any of you have been to one of these these high-level-elected-official meetings, but they are all about the same, depending on how substantive the particular sponsors want things to feel and look (apparently the poor weather at this Williamsburg event is keeping the Members indoors and away from the golf links and tennis courts and tourist attractions). I used to staff governors’ conferences at least twice a year, and it was always a game to see how boring we could make it all sound so that no one would get the impression the workaholic chief executives were having fun. So in Williamsburg as in other such events, the pols will sit around in their unused golf clothes, alternatively enjoying the “frank,” unreported conversation and being reminded every word said will eventually be repeated by someone next week over lunch.

For the non-elected presenters at such events, the game is to simultaneously convey a sense of solidarity with the solons–you know, they’re all on the same team, even though some of them are there because hundreds of thousands of people voted for them while others are just relatively high on the greasy pole of Beltway gabbing–and flatter them, courtier-like, with the awe-inspiring nature of the challenges they face and the examples of such “peers” as Lincoln, Jesus Christ and Gandhi.

The mood of the Williamsburg retreat is probably best indicated by the fact the Members have already had sessions where Kellyanne Conway told them to stop talking about rape, and Domino’s Pizza CEO Patrick Doyle talked about “selling a damaged brand to a modern audience.”

Unless the retreat produces some sort of real consensus for a strategy on dealing with the debt limit, or someone gets drunk and falls into the James River, those could wind up being the highlights when the whole deal is over. I am genuinely glad I’m not one of those “real journalists” being watched by security guards at this event, and trying to coax a compelling story line from disinformation and pablum.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.