This is not her natural habitat. Daphne Barak usually finds herself gravitating more toward the bold-faced name circuit. Yet here she is at the Kalahari, the World’s Largest Indoor Water Park, in Sandusky, Ohio.
The African-themed resort is where the California delegation to the Republican National Convention is ensconced, 60 miles and a $195 Uber ride from Cleveland; surge pricing is a scam.
Children splash in pools and squeal down water slides and on zip lines overhead. A huge brass-plated gorilla squats by a stairwell near to where delegates gather, fitting for the gold-plated candidate they’re here to nominate.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
There are faux rhinos, hippos, lions, trees, giraffes and elephants, many elephants. The help wears safari helmets and bush-colored uniforms. All they want, bless their hearts, is a decent paycheck and to go home at the end of their shifts with a little dignity.
The Kalahari is an unlikely place for Barak, a daughter of Israel, who divides her time among Beverly Hills, Palm Springs, London, New York, Tel Aviv and other glamour spots. Or maybe it’s the only place Daphne Barak would be.
As a tabloid television celebrity interviewer, Barak’s gets include John Gotti’s wife, Yasser Arafat, Bono, Benazir Bhutto, Charlton Heston, Muammar Quaddafi, Eric Clapton, Newt Gingrich, Ivana Trump, Robert Mugabe and so on. She embeds herself in the middle of tragedies that grab our attention despite ourselves and occasionally becomes the subject of gossip herself.
She acquired Michael Jackson’s addled voice mail tapes in which he said people were out to get him, and she offered information about the death of Princess Diana.
She was quoted when Bobbi Kristina Brown, Whitney Houston’s daughter, was found unconscious in a bathtub, and asked arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi whether he paid for sex with Paul McCartney’s ex. And now she has a role in the story of the presidential race between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“They know a lot about each other. It is very personal,” said Barak, who says she knows them both and who was a minor donor to Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Barak explains she registered Republican after her friend Karl Rove introduced her a year ago to California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte, one of the party’s smartest strategists, who joined us in one of the Kalahari’s finest restaurants wearing his t-shirt which reads:
Obama Must Go.
“Not soon enough,” Brulte says.
Barak is one of the 172 California delegates, as is her partner Erbil “Bill” Gunasti, who bills himself as a former Turkish press officer and who most recently ran for mayor of Palm Springs. They are all-in for Trump.
“I don’t want to say anything bad about Hillary,” Barak said. “But it is not her time. I do have questions about Benghazi and I do have questions about the emails. But nothing personal.”
Trump, a very different candidate, attracts an unusual assortment of delegates. Two-thirds of California’s delegation has never been to a convention, and many are new to the GOP. Some are working stiffs. One interviews celebrities.
“Hillary is so establishment,” Barak said. “The tone is establishment. The content is establishment. She says she wants to give us another eight years of Obama” – who, by the way, she admires, though she believes he has let down the country in too many ways.
She got to know Ivana Trump first during her split with The Donald and later became friends with Donald and his children. They’re great kids, she said, very charitable.
“They want me to host one of the next fundraisers,” she said, and she has plenty of potential donors lined up. We’ll see. Hollywood can be a tough crowd.
She says the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being hollowed out. Even in her travels down Rodeo Drive, people are having a hard time, and “everything is for sale or empty.”
“Something is wrong with America,” she said.
She isn’t particularly upset by Trump’s outrageous statements about women, Muslims or Mexicans. She believes his business record positions him to lead the free world. As for the bankruptcies, it was not taxpayers’ money, she says.
“Do I agree with everything he said? Are you kidding me?” she says.
Barak and I spoke after the failed coup in Turkey but before three officers were shot in Baton Rouge. The more the world seems to spin off its axis, the more Trump will position himself as the law-and-order candidate who will confront radical Islam and properly negotiate trade deals.
The more dangerous the world seems, the more voters will want to believe in a strongman, even one who is gold-plated and regularly mentioned in tabloids. I don’t buy it, not any of it. But celebrity exerts its own gravitational pull, one strong enough to draw people to, of all places, Sandusky.