On Wednesday, the normally peaceful and sedate atmosphere of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley was transformed into a hectic, crowded and high-energy setting as the eyes of America, and many in the world, tuned into the second round of the GOP Presidential Debates.
The setting was awesome, with the podiums for all of the candidates arranged in front of the impressive superstructure of Reagan’s now-decommissioned Air Force One jetliner. When I walked into the Air Force One Pavilion, about two hours before the first of two debates, I have to admit being “blown away” by the majesty of the setting. (Of course I very quickly found someone to take my photo.)
When I first arrived at the venue, I quickly secured my “all access” media credential, arranged by a friend, and then stood in line outside, waiting for my actual ticket to sit with about 300 other people to watch the debates live (enjoying a lengthy chat with Andy Puzder, CEO of Carl’s Jr. Restaurants).
I’m told of all of the debates that will take place, because of the limited space in the pavilion, this one had the smallest audience (in Columbus last month there was seating for thousands). Nearest as I could tell, the tickets were distributed in bunches: the Reagan Library took care of their donors and board members; the candidates each had some for supporters (and with so many candidates, that was probably the biggest chunk); and then the RNC had a large group (how I got my seat).
From my really great position, playing a bit of Romper Room, I was able to look down and see the “VIP” section, which included former California Governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger; Michael Reagan; former State GOP Chairman (and former Reagan Energy Secretary) John Herrington; Congressman Jeff Denham; former Congressmen Buck McKeon; Elton Gallegly and David Dreier; and California GOP Chairman Jim Brulte. There was also a host of big GOP establishment money types (not a whole lot of clapping for Trump from that last group).
Several notable GOP elected officials were sprinkled throughout the audience, including local Assemblyman Scott Wilk, who was there with his wife, Vanessa; Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang; Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel; Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy; and Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten. It was particularly cool to see Nevada’s new Attorney General, Adam Laxalt, a longtime friend and up-and-coming national conservative leader. Of course RNC Chairman Reince Preibus had a seat in the front row.
It’s worth noting that there was very little feeling of a “grass roots” presence in the audience–it was largely the well-connected crowd, perhaps with the exception of some of the RNC’s block, which did trickle down to some local GOP leaders.
As an audience, we were very “managed” by the CNN team, quick to rally us for long applause at the beginning of each segment, and quick to hush us so that we didn’t distract from the debate.
I ran over to the media pavilion–a large tent structure set up outside of the pavilion, where over a hundred reporters were arranged in rows, all able to see a big screen, located next to the “spin room.” The latter was like the floor of a stock exchange, with lots of activity, people yelling, throngs moving from place to place. It was almost surreal, especially with so many notable talking heads and so many well-known GOP figures in one spot.
I’m told that a number of the candidates had post-debate get-togethers. I can only tell you that I was invited to join with supporters of Senator Ted Cruz at a nearby Italian restaurant. I was proud to do so.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.