From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If it was raging anger and provocative signs you came to see, you would be disappointed.
The Tea Party Nation Convention here in Nashville, Tenn. (at this sprawling million-square-foot hotel that is more like a really nice, gigantic airport terminal) has been a fairly subdued event.
There has been the red meat, though. One speaker, Steve Milloy, who writes for JunkScience.com, claimed, "Political extremism masquerading as environmentalism is a greater threat than Islamic extremism."
Mark Skoda of the Memphis Tea Party, who has been handling media requests for the past week or so for the event, made a firebrand speech. "We are silent no more," he said to thunderous applause. He criticized those who call Tea Partiers racists. (This reporter saw and interviewed just one African American, a Southern preacher -- friendly with controversial former Southern Baptist preacher Rick Scarborough. Scarborough, now head of a group called Vision America, led the convention in prayer yesterday and headed a breakout session today on why Christians need to be more politically active. He's also author of "Liberalism is Killing Kids" and "Enough is Enough: A practical guide to political action; Plus: Why Christians Must Engage.")
"The discourse on the left goes down into the cellar because their arguments can't be sustained," Skoda said.
Skoda didn't save his critique for the left though, he also hammered Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. "We don't want a third party," Skoda said, adding that he thinks Steele would love to take credit for the movement. "He thinks he's so brilliant. … It's not true; it's false."
After invoking the Bill of Rights and that "we don't need another" wild cheers of "constitution" broke out as well as "USA, USA."
He lauded Republican Sen. Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts, saying, "One senate vote stopped this socialist agenda. What we need now is another 40 Scott Browns" -- though it's unclear what Brown's voting record will actually be, representing liberal Massachusetts and up for re-election in two years.
Skoda urged the members to not focus on national politics, but making change at the local level: "Do your job in your state."
The person who took the stage following him, proclaimed, "When's the last time you heard a speech like that -- and without a TelePrompTer."
That was greeted with great guffaws from the crowd.
Lots of color
Sure, some wore outfits that craved attention -- like one dressed in full Revolutionary War get up. He claimed to be Ben Franklin. He was difficult to get out of character until one woman, playing along, said she shared his birthday.
"What," he replied.
"Ben Franklin," she said. "You're Ben Franklin, right."
"Oh," the man said getting back into character. "Yes, I am."
Another man dressed in a shirt and hat with pictures of Sarah Palin on them. Another walked around with giant tea bags draped from his shoulders that read, "The revolution is brewing." One vendor sold tea bag jewelry -- necklaces and lapel pins. He even trademarked it, he said. He claimed that he is the only person in the country that is allowed to sell jewelry depicting a tea bag.
There was another who dressed in a leather veteran's vest with medals festooned on it. He also wore a Vietnam Veteran hat.
"I just dressed this way to get attention," the man said, halfway through a scotch at an "Irish pub" 200 feet from the ballroom where Palin will be speaking, down a casino-style carpeted hotel hallway. "I'm really a retired millionaire."
He admitted to just wanting to get on TV or at least get his message out. And there were cameras from all over interviewing him all day. It was certainly believable that he wasn't wanting for money. He threw a $20 bill down for his scotch, but when the bartender told him it was $22, he put down another $20 and said, "Makes no difference to me."
Taking out the $20, it was impossible not to notice the roll of $100s. He talked in detail of the Mercedes he drove here; the Rolls Royce he bought in Florida that he won't drive on rainy days like today, and that he's a major donor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Just sold my last business for $3.3 million," he said, laughing, seemingly taking great delight in his get up and the gag he was pulling.
But most of the people who weren't pining for microphone, kept a low profile, expressed frustration with government -- on both sides of the aisle -- and were excited for Palin to speak.
Some traveled long distances. There was at least one man from Florida, who said he'd forgotten about the time difference and got here an hour early -- before anyone was set up yet. There was another couple who said they traveled all the way from Hawaii.
No one here wanted to focus on the controversy surrounding the convention -- the $550 price tag, the for-profit designation. It wasn't about that for them. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, who made a cameo, here defended the convention's "for profit" status as being part of the American way.
"I'm not against making a profit," he said with a big smile.
No love for McCain
Tancredo, as well as the organizers at their news conference, trashed former presidential nominee John McCain -- as did many Tea Partiers here. Tancredo, a hardliner on immigration, vowed to do whatever he could -- if he could do anything -- for J.D. Hayworth, McCain's conservative primary opponent this year. Skoda said a McCain win would have been "a disaster" for the country.