On Saturday night, as CPAC ended and its thousands of attendees scattered, I followed some friends and reporters to find what was already known as the "Stockman party." Rumor had it that Stockman was hanging out in a suite at the Gaylord, the monumental hotel/resort that had hosted the conference.
Now that an attendee has leaked photos from the party, I might as well report that the rumor was true. One of the hotel's suites—living room, den, veranda, garden, hot tub—was playing host to dozens of people. There were students, strategists, and reporters, decompressing after three days of networking and panels. And there was Rep. Steve Stockman, a few days on from his defeat in the Texas GOP Senate prmary, holding court near a stack of Little Caesars pizzas. He was dressed down in a pullover, talking to young conservatives who seemed stoked to be in his presence. They filled their cups from a rapidly diminishing stash of brown and clear liquors.
I happened to arrive just as Stockman was offering $20 to anyone who'd jump into the hot tub. I proposed a toast, to "screwing with the left." The cups were raised; Stockman amended the toast.
"Fuck the left!" said the gentleman from Texas' 36th District.
I walked up to Stockman, wearing a "Run Ben Run" button that had been placed on me by an activist who wanted to draft Ben Carson for president. Stockman asked about the button, I told him its origins, then I introduced myself as a reporter.
"Oh no!" he said.
"You have nothing to fear," I said. "You're not running anymore."
"Why am I covered so much?" he asked.
"I think it's because of the Twitter account and all the things you say," I said.
"I get it," said Stockman. "By the way, were you here when I spoke earlier?"
I assumed he was talking about some speech he'd given to the room. The state of the liquor bottles and pizza boxes indicated that the party had been going for a while, so I'd probably missed Stockman's remarks.
"No," I said.
"Good!" said Stockman.
We were just starting to talk small when a young Republican ambled over and the congressman wrapped his arm around her. "We've known each other for years," explained Stockman with a laugh. She was inviting him to a join a smaller, and presumably less reporter-friendly, conversation in an adjoining room. Stockman was clearly breaking away, so I asked him about what he'd told the Dallas Morning News about maybe running statewide in the future.
"I'm being facetious," he said. He extended his hand for a high-five. I reciprocated. "See ya, brother."
None of the other reporters in the room was bugging Stockman, so I rejoined the party. An organizer found me and told me that "what happens in the room stays in the room." For that reason, I won't say who else was there or who might have taken the photo. But Stockman's a public figure, and he talked to me after I told him who I was and who I worked for.
Honestly, the brief encounter made me more confused than ever about the invisible-man strategy Stockman had just used in his disastrous Senate run. Why'd he hide from the press and the electorate? This was an affable guy who said what he thought and adhered to the principle of YOLO. It's like people said after Al Gore and Bob Dole lost the presidencies, then went on late-night comedy shows and revealed themselves to be human beings. Where was all that on the trail?
I hung around for a while, in a friendly, off-the-record environment (well, while writing some shorthand notes about what Stockman had told me), planning to leave when my friends did. On the way out, I saw the scene captured in the leaked photos—Stockman making good on his promise to pay the people who'd jumped in the hot tub.
UPDATE: Gene Berardelli, of Brooklyn GOP Radio, broke the omerta about the party after this post went up. It was thrown to promote the show, and pitched to possible attendees with a note on the official Facebook page of Reaganpalooza, the traditional post-CPAC party. "Stockman had been a friend of the show for years," said Berardelli. He was out "by 10 p.m." (The party started after 6.)
How'd they get the suite? Actually, the Gaylord bungled their original $269-per-night reservation, and given them the opulent room to make up for it. Organizers spent around $600 on liquor and provisions, and entertained around 300 people, 299 of them not currently serving in Congress.