WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On the first day of the most widely anticipated conservative event of the year -- one that will feature congressional leaders, top movement figures and presidential candidates -- the conversation, in one room at least, is squarely on sex.
This is by design. The Conservative Political Action Conference may be a mecca for aspiring and current Republican leaders. But for a brief period on Thursday, it is also the site of a seminar on "conservative dating" moderated by Wayne Elise, aka "The Juggler," aka "The Libertarian Hitch."
Elise is no small figure in the world of professional dating. He's done television (primarily in England) and written literature (most prominently, a chapter in the New York Times best-seller, "The Game"), operates the website called charismaarts.com and does group seminars and one-on-one sessions. He is consequential enough to even have a rival: Mystery, the pick-up artist who had a two-season-long reality show on VH1 (you know you watched it).
"Mystery believes in canned materials and sort of being fake to get girls attracted to you," Elise explains of his foe. "I believe the opposite, in being more real. The problem is when people meet each other, they tend to be more fake, not more real, because they are nervous."
"I believe in dressing well, with style, without peacock-ing," he adds, taking a small swipe at Mystery's penchant for sartorial flamboyance.
On Thursday, the threads Elise wears seem inspired by Tom Cruise's character in "Magnolia": black pants, a black shirt (several buttons undone), black shoes and a large white belt. His hair is cut short and stubble remains strategically on his face. It's conservative fare by Los Angeles standards -- where he's from -- but at CPAC he might as well be naked.
"A lot more suits here, for sure," he says when asked to compare the conservative crowd with other groups he's taught. "I think they are more shy here."
For an hour, Elise's goal is to chip away at that shyness. And to do so, he throws out more pearls of dating wisdom than Steve Carell's co-stars in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
- "One thing you should do in dating is try and outlaw questions. If you go on a date, don't ask questions. You should stop. Don't do it."
- "If you are boring, you are done. Never be boring. I'd rather you do something else, even if it is wacky."
- "When you're on a date, talk to other people around you. Bring them in, because one of the most attractive qualities you can have is your skills of interacting with other people and showing those skills ... It's kind of like a neutron star: you have got to bring it together before you can break it up."
- "Your language is important, how you say a thing. A lot of people use the word 'is' as a substitute for feeling.... [Don't]. Tell us how you feel, that's what we are looking for."
- "Why are we afraid to say what we want? Why are we afraid to say, 'I want to have a date with you, and I think it would be great. And I think it would be great to take a walk in the park, maybe go to a restaurant, sit down, have a glass of wine between the two of us, share a connection, make each other laugh, see what happens. Maybe there's a spark, maybe not. But if there is a spark, I'm going to bring my chapstick'?"
Chapstick is a recurring theme in Elise's seminar, used usually as a symbol for making out. When this reporter asks how sex fits in to the conservative dating regime, he suggests that men find a happy medium between aggressive and passive (the latter of which plants you firmly in the 'friend' territory). When in doubt, he adds, be upfront.
"'In case there is a spark, I will bring my chapstick, so we might have something... some smooching, just in case. I'm not presuming anything,' say things like that because it shows her what you have in mind," he says.
At 43 years old, Elise is offering more than advice. He's offering life lessons. Sitting several rows in front of him in the McKinley Room inside the Marriott Wardman hotel in Woodley Park is his wife of one year. He "seduced" her, he proclaims, "using a pity game." Exactly what that is, is left unclear. His wife seems a touch embarrassed.
There are approximately 70 other people besides his wife in his windowless, drab room. And despite the program's note that only single conservatives could attend, it's quite possible that half of the people there are reporters, each getting a mild kick out of the fact that this, indeed, qualifies as work. Their presence adds a surreal quality to the presentation, with actual CPAC-goers quite aware that they stand a moment away from being the subject of mockery.
Still, some take the plunge, asking tips for online dating ("The most important thing," says Elise, "is to share the right picture and right photo"); bipartisan intimacy ("The whole 'conservative dating a liberal' is fine... but it is so small compared to the normal relationship obstacles people encounter"); and what makes a good first date.
"Walk around Soho in New York or Georgetown, maybe. Take [Polaroid] pictures of each other," Elise says. "That's a fun date."
Or a creepy one. And for a crowd of young-ish conservatives, there are certainly better methods of meeting your significant other than old-fashioned Polaroid photography.
"I was gonna say a gun club works really well for that kind of thing," one male attendee chimes in, attempting to wrestle away the title of dating guru.
"It's fun," explains the girl sitting to his right.
"Most woman have not done it before," the guy explains. "You get to look like you know what you're doing ... it requires a lot of concentration and the pressure is taken off of both of you."
Elise diplomatically says that sounds like a "great second date."
You never know, he adds, "the person might be crazy."