Most every Election Day during the glory years of Tommy Thompson and Ronald Reagan, I'd hear from my friend Jack, the State Street businessman. "Hey, where are the Republicans partying tonight?"
Invariably, I'd tell him at the Concourse Hotel. I'd see him that night in the Grand Ballroom rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful. Screw the Democrats, he'd tell me. Jack liked to party with the Republicans because they had the most booze, the best food, the prettiest women, and not to slight the obvious, they represented his economic priorities.
Who wouldn't want to party with the members of the Grand Old Party? They were on top of the world. They were winners. Jack likes winners.
If you wanted stale popcorn, flat beer and bitter populism, you went to the dark, dingy wakes thrown by the loser Democrats. But if you wanted bright lights and hoopla, you headed to the Concourse where 400 or 500 Republicans would be partying like it was 1999.
How different it was Tuesday night. The Republicans were barely filling the second-floor party room of the Nitty Gritty near the UW-Madison campus. The 60 or so people present were overwhelmingly campus GOPers, which at the moment may be the most vital segment of what seems to be a dispirited Dane County Republican Party.
A beaming plutocrat or rich capitalist with a high ball in hand wasn't to be found, only state party executive director Mark Jefferson, county GOP media coordinator Bill Richardson and GOP operative Brian Schimming gamely doing their best to put a gloss on an evening dominated by Democratic turnout and Barack Obama's statewide success.
John McCain won the GOP primary? You barely saw any of his enthusiasts in the room. This wasn't the joyous outpouring you saw when Thompson acolytes gathered to celebrate their man's repeated successes.
My buddy Jack wasn't to be seen either. I hadn't even gotten my usual phone call in the afternoon. The funny thing is that Jack still grouses about taxes and government meddling. But he's never bought into the social conservatism and the neo-Puritanism of modern day Republicanism.
Jack likes to make money. He enjoys taking in the pleasures of life. He's cosmopolitan and, not coincidentally, suspicious of the Democrats' class envy.
But in more ways than one, the Grand Old Party evidently no longer appeals to my buddy. Judging by the poor Republican turnout at the polls (not to mention at the sedate Nitty Gritty gathering), Jack isn't alone in skipping the party.