Washington, D.C. — It's the Conservative Dating Seminar at CPAC, and love is in the air.
“Rick Santorum, is he the handsomest man running for president?” asks Wayne Elise, the event's host. How about Newt Gingrich? Herman Cain?
“Mitt Romney's sons!” two girls yell, in unison.
Elise is tall and a little awkward, wearing a black button-down and black slacks with a white belt — and a wedding ring. He has a nervous but winsome vibe, although his crowd work could stand some improvement.
“Do we have any single people in here?” he asks. “Do we have any not single people in here?”
He welcomes us to the dating seminar. “I don't need a banner that's how I roll. Just makin’ it. Just me.” He pauses. “Am I spitting as I'm talking? Nobody wants to sit up here.”
The crowd seems hostile. They are missing Rick Perry for this, so he had better have something revelatory for them. “I like the hat,” he says, grinning. “I think guys should wear hats. In general.” He warms to his topic. “I think people should just be more fun. In general.” Conservatives, compared to liberals, have it hard — “we have to go on a date and be fun without smoking pot.”
People are now hesitating in the doorway. “It’s all about commitment,” Elise says, “You gotta commit. So, yeah. Ladies, you ever have somebody ask you out on a date and you don't know it’s a date?” He hushes two talkers. “What is that?”
He begins by selling us on his own romantic narrative. It is not what I would call immediately reassuring. “I seduced my wife using pitying," he notes. “I made her feel sorry for me, so she asked me out.” She had plans for the weekend, and he told her “my plan was just to stare at the ceiling, maybe at the wall, and she says to me . . . I’ll wait for these guys to just . . . can we close the door? Is that possible? If some dudes roll up tell ’em we have some really attractive single ladies in here.”
This is not, strictly speaking, true. There are possibly six women in the room. At least two are reporters. One is Elise’s wife. The rest of the room is loosely packed with single men in suit jackets, listening intently and taking notes. Only half of them are reporters.
“She felt sorry for me,” Elise continues, “but she said, you want to go to this party?” He replied, “Only if we can call it a date. But just in case there’s a spark, I’m gonna bring some chapstick. There might be some smooching.”
That “In case there’s a spark, I’m gonna bring some chapstick,” turns out to be the repeated line of the afternoon and tells you almost everything you need to know about how the seminar went.
And it had such potential. I’d been to a similar event before, speed-dating at a Star Wars convention, where a similar demographic — men whose one overriding passion made it difficult for them to meet women or sense when a conversation was over — were hoping for guidance.
Elise offers some guidance. “Be clear with what you want,” he says. “Be specific.”
He asks one attendee what he wants in a woman. “Looks are great,” the guy says. “I do want that, but primarily it’s someone that’s supportive of everything that I do.”
“Who wants to date somebody that’s unattractive?” Elise asks. His wife raises her hand.
“So you want someone who’s attractive?”
“Very healthy hair,” the attendee continues. “Perfect skin. Nice eyes.”
“You kinda want yourself,” Elise notes. “What else? How tall is she?”
We form a very specific picture of this guy’s ideal mate.
“If you cast too wide a net, you don’t really make an impact,” Elise explains. “I like to think of it as like a laser beam — you’ve seen these laser pointers? You’ve probably used one or seen one. . . If you see a laser dot on a wall, you would remember it. . . When you cast too wide a net, that’s like aiming a flashlight at the wall. If you get a flashlight and aim it at the wall, people are not going to remember that.”
It’s getting clearer all the time. Dating a conservative is like — a laser pointer — if you stare too intently at your date, it will damage your retinas — and you shouldn’t date straight up because it might blind airline pilots? Or something.
I try to focus. Elise is now telling us to “know exactly what you want and articulate that to people, to everyone you know.”
He adds that you shouldn’t ask questions. Asking questions indicates that “I don’t really care about you.” If someone asks what you do, you are supposed to respond, “Do you really care, or are you just making conversation?”
I am beginning to sense that he does not know his audience. He advises them, “One thing that you should do in dating is try to outlaw questions. Don't ask any questions. Just try to make statements. . .You shouldn’t ask a question. You should give. You should be in giving mode. ”
Imagine, if you will, dating a CPAC attendee who speaks only in statements. I can. He is now listed in my phone as Libertarian Philip Do Not Pick Up.
“Don’t get married,” Elise notes. “I love being married but I don’t advise most people to do it. It’s really hard.”
But how does this relate to conservatives?
Well, “a lot of times people who are conservative, they feel they have to be conservative in their dating style which makes them uptight. . .It’s okay to be a little wacky.”
It looks increasingly as though he just Googled the word “conservative” on his way over and is trying to bluff through the question session.
What’s a good conservative date? someone asks. He suggests getting a Polaroid, walking through Georgetown, and taking pictures of each other.
“GUN CLUB!” someone shouts.
“That’s fun,” a girl adds.
“I think that’s a great second date,” Elise demurs.
He is losing the crowd. Asked about sex, he starts rambling strangely. “When I started I wasn’t able to make it sexual at all with the girl until the last minute. I’d go in for the kiss... and she’d, like, vamoose. Then I realized that I should be more sexual earlier on. I swung back way too far the other way and I think made girls uncomfortable... Most guys fall into the category of not being sexual enough.”
Who is this man? He runs some sort of Web site, but has he ever been on a date before?
He starts back on the importance of bringing chapstick.
Any tips for conservatives dating liberals? “I don’t think you should change their mind. I think you should agree with them. You should argue their side, the liberal side. . . You could like be so well at talking about your viewpoint that he could just be convinced that you are just a way better debater than he is. Actually argue his views better than he can. She helped my side but she still disagrees, so maybe she’s kinda right. Just do that.”
Someone points out the elephant in the room. Could it be that dating a liberal would be better than dating someone apathetic about politics?
Politics? “It’s an interesting thing, but there’s other parts of a person as well,” Elise says.