RNC Convention: The Last Day

Ken AshfordElection 2016Leave a Comment

Well, it has been a hell of a ride.  Trump promised an unconventional convention — he certainly did deliver.  Although I don’t think he can claim that the convention helped.

The Melania Trump plagiarism-gate scandal took up the first two days of the convention, when it could have been put to rest in less than 12 hours.  A Trump Organization ghostwriter wot done it, guvner, although many are skeptical of that story (in part because it took the Trump campaign so long to come up with the explanation… oh, and let’s just ignore the clear FEC violation of a Trump Organization worker writing for the campaign.)

If could have got past the plagiarism issue, what you saw was a wall of rage from the convention floor.  A few speeches were reasonable, but the anti-Clinton ones – almost completely fact-free, whipped the crowd into a bloodlusty fervor.  Chants of “Lock her up!” filled the auditorium, the first time a convention has actually called for internment of the opposition.


Oh, this was red meat.  And the place was full of raptors.

The problem was, I don’t think this convention (so far) has convinced anyone to vote for Trump other than the already-converted.  What was missing from the convention?

Serious policy proposals.  I know, I know.  Conventions are not for wonky discussions.  But you HAVE to say more than “We’re going to get ISIS” or “Hillary can’t get ISIS”, for example.

Love of Country.  This convention, compared to most GOP conventions, has been short on patriotism, even the jingoistic kind.  Nativism — yes.  Plenty of that.  Plenty of talk about isolation of the US and how every country (and, implicitly, non-white people) suck.  A few unrehearsed shouts of “USA, USA” but not nearly as much as before.  It was more about “us” rather than U.S.

“The Vision Thing”  Where does Trump want to take the country?  I have no idea.  The convention didn’t answer that question other than, again, the nativism thing.

Trump – the Man.  We were told, repeatedly, that we would learn another side to Trump.  We haven’t so far.  His wife told few personal anecdotes about him.  His kids didn’t either.  Oh, they sang his praises — like how he finished the ice rink in Central Park — but we KNEW that already.  Some people told us things that we were supposed to take on faith — he’s really smart, he listens, etc.  But no real world examples.  I don’t think his family knows him that well.

But what was missing most from the convention?  Unity.

With the first two days overshadowed by plagiarism issues (and more importantly, the inability of the campaign to move past that story), Ted Cruz came to the stage last night and said all the Cruz-y things.  He said nothing negative about Trump.  He told the audience to “vote your conscience up and down the ticket”, and that’s when it became clear that he wasn’t going to give a full-throated endorsement of Trump.  The place went bonkers, starting with the NY delegation chanting “Endorse Trump”… which he never did.

It was the story of the night — a night that was SUPPOSED to be about Vice President nominee Mike Pense.

Was Cruz right or wrong?  I think it was noble.  I think the pledge meant nothing to him, and rightly so.  Trump posted nasty things about Cruz’s wife, made insinuations that Cruz’s father helped kill JFK, and never apologized or un-posted those things.

Now, I can’t stand Cruz, and some say that by not endorsing Trump, Cruz positioned himself to pick up the pieces when Trump loses to Clinton (or alternatively, to run against Trump in 2020).  Maybe so, but I think sticking to conscience was also a reason.  And supporting his family. All good reason.  I can’t stand Jonah Goldberg at NRO, but I understand and agree where he comes from here:

Ted Cruz has never been my favorite politician. And I am not so naïve that I don’t recognize the gamble Cruz is making. But if the choice is between forgiving Ted Cruz’s obvious political calculation to become the standard bearer of an authentic conservatism or Donald Trump’s lizard-brain narcissism where no principle or cause outranks his own glandular desire to be worshipped, like a conqueror atop the carcass of conservatism, I choose Ted.

If the choice is between, say, congratulating the Boy Scoutish obedience of Mike Pence as he sells off bits and pieces of his soul like jewels from a family heirloom just to survive another day, or Ted Cruz who took the tougher road and refused to join the mewling mobs of toadies, apologists, human weather vanes, difference-splitters and vacillators, I choose Ted.

If the choice is between suspending the rules of decorum, decency, and civility for Donald Trump as he casually bad mouths his own country to the New York Times just as he secures the presidential nomination of the Republican Party or accepting that we are in dark and uncharted waters and conscience must light the way, I choose Ted.

I think Ted Cruz took the high road last night, which only shows the low road that the Trump people, and his followers, are going.

But this not the time to worry about Cruz’s future political prospects.  There’s a political campaign going on.  What did the Cruz brouhaha say about THIS election?  Well, the Trump campaign KNEW was Cruz was going to say, having seen his speech in advance.  They did not ask or require him to endorse Trump.  They are trying this morning to say that was a “magnanimous” gesture on Trump’s part, but in fact, it just shows how sloppy and unprofessional the Trump campaign is.  Why?  Because it stepped, once again, on their message of the day — get to know Mike Pence.  Nobody is talking about Mike Pence this morning.

(There is another view, articulated here, that Trump orchestrated this whole thing.  I don’t buy it — too many moving parts and these people aren’t that clever.  As Josh Marshall continues, “Cruz came into Trump’s house, Trumps party, and humiliated him.” Trump’s brand is domination, and he got dominated. It’s as simple as that.)

So once again, this year’s RNC has been problematic not only because Trump is squandering an opportunity to put on his best face for the voters, but also because he’s made a lot of unforced errors, suggesting that his campaign might struggle in all sorts of ways from now through November.