Nicholas Harrington

The Republican National Convention 2016: A Complete Recap

Nicholas Harrington covered the Republican National Convention (from his living room) so you didn’t have to endure it. You’re most welcome.

 

Day 1—Monday, July 18, 2016—Cleveland, Ohio

The media has been setting a flammable scene. Reports that the “New Black Panthers” will be arriving sporting assault riflesInterviews with “Bikers for Trump,” saying they will be ready to “support law enforcement.” If I didn’t know better, I’d get the distinct impression that the news media is baiting these groups, spoiling for a fight. The CNN interviewer asked the biker leader how he felt about the New Black Panthers “open carrying” weapons around the convention. He replied his “men” would use any and all means necessary to maintain order.

If the media isn’t predicting a combustible and chaotic convention, then they’re expecting a total flop. There have been needling attacks that Trump may not get all the balloons inflated in time, that many traditional GOP speakers are not in attendance, that the failed “rollout” of Trump’s VP pick signals the kind of soufflé-like convention we can expect. It’s clear that since Trump is not following the media-preferred script for any of his politicking, pundits are fuming (and playing catch-up). But not “playing by the rules” is not the same as “not having any rules.” NBC was quick to lambast the fact that Trump announced his VP, Mike Pence, via Twitter rather than a well-choreographed press conference. They fail to recognize that Trump is trying to peel audience and voters away from the mainstream media by offering breaking news via his Twitter feed. The more he offers “exclusives” via Twitter, the more his “followers” grow, the more he speaks directly to them, the more Trump controls the narrative. What the media sees as naïve is, in fact, a sophisticated strategy; employing new media in a way that may generate dividends come November 8.

Cenk Uygur (TYT) posts a low-budget selfie video—presumably from his hotel room (quite some distance outside Cleveland, he is at pains to say)—reporting that, “People in the Midwest are completely different than people in the major cities [NYC, L.A., etc.].” Uygur comes to the remarkable conclusion that folk in the fly-over states may have different concerns and interests to those in the metropolitan East and West Coast areas, and that these peculiarities may tend to favor candidate Trump. Uygur now reports, “Anyone could win this election.” That’s different! It wasn’t so long ago he was convinced that Trump “will never win the election.” Oh well, at least he’s receptive to new information—such as the Ohio diner conversations he overheard and reported in his short video.

One of the first events of the GOP convention was a foiled attempt by the #NeverTrump crowd to have the convention rules re-litigated so that delegates might be able to vote “according to conscience,” rather than according to the popular vote in the states that sent them to the convention. It’s a complicated way of saying that the anti-Trumpkins wanted to change the rules in an attempt to prevent Trump from being crowned nominee. The strategy leaked through Politico about two hours before execution, giving the presiding official, Representative Steve Womack, time to maneuver and deny them this last, desperate play.

 

The Convention Begins in Earnest

The star of Duck Dynasty, Scott Baio (another sitcom personality), a former Texas Governor, a retired Navy Seal … all in the first 15 minutes. One thing is for sure, the convention has the pace of reality TV and is tailor-made for an audience with attention deficit disorder. Definitely more spectacle than substance.

With misty eyes, the Navy Seal exalts, “America is the light.”

Patricia Smith, the mother of a soldier killed in Benghazi, takes the stage (presumably to bash Hillary Clinton who she has repeatedly blamed for “leaving her son to die”)—tears across the convention floor. “Radical. Islamic. Terrorism,”—twenty minutes in and we’ve broken the seal. “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son”—yep, there it is. Attendees are praying. “Donald Trump is everything Hillary Clinton is not” … well, that’s a statement without any normative content—for Trump fans that’s a good thing—so too for Hillary fans …?

CNN: “There’s no way around it. I thought these were great speeches … for this room and American audiences as well.”

Van Jones: “Very powerful. But, narrow-casting … it didn’t speak to me yet. Very uncomfortable with the mother … she seems unhealed. I’m worried about exploiting grief in this way.”

The next speaker is Antonio Sabato Jr., an ex-Calvin Klein model. No, I’m not kidding. One of the most “genetically fortunate” humans lectures immigrants on work ethic and following the rules. You couldn’t make this up. He leaves the stage with a fist-pump (not the last, I’ll bet).

Pastor on stage: “Trump is sent by God.”

CNN commentator Van Jones: “This is turning into a hate-fest.” Anderson Cooper pushes back on the comment sufficiently for Jones to qualify it … a little. “Okay … it’s a borderline hate-fest.”

Representative Michael McCaul: The second politician of the evening strangely parrots the crowd who chants, “U, S, A … U, S, A …,” but he sort of mouths it and then says it slowly like he’s trying to work out what it means although he’s sure it means something important. “Radical. Islamic. Terrorism,” the punctuation is reflective of the GOP-stylized delivery. “Donald will never apologize for American greatness”—another one of those ambiguous statements. These will all sound very funny when cut together over footage of 2018’s World War III.

The camera pans and finds the one black man in the crowd. He looks confused like he’s thinking, This isn’t the marine recruitment office. The guy outside lied to me ….

Sheriff David Clarke: This guy really hates Obama. His opening line, “Blue lives matter in America.” He’s black, so I suppose that makes his message permissible? Sheriff Clarke provides black-on-black crime statistics that white law enforcement officers are shouted down for offering.

CNN Don Lemon: “I think Scott Baio got more applause than Sheriff Clarke. The ‘blue lives matter’ line fell flat.”

It bears mentioning that Don Lemon yesterday suffered through an excruciating interview with the sheriff where he completely lost control of his guest and threatened to end the interview if Clarke wouldn’t “behave.” Fortunately for the CNN audience, Anderson Cooper (once more the voice of reason) jumps in to say, “I’m not sure where Don was sitting, but the ‘blue lives matter’ line got the biggest applause of the night. Clarke’s address was very well received.”

CNN cuts away from the stage to indulge in punditry so it isn’t clear who exclaims, “The threat from Radical. Islamic. Terrorism. Is real.” It’s clear the audience appreciates the sentiment, though.

“Let me tell you a story about an Arkansas farm boy …” the opening to what is bound to be a barnstorming address by Senator Tom Cotton. Is anyone surprised he’s talking about himself? Love the third person rhetoric: it’s as American as apple pie. “We don’t fight because we hate our enemies, but because we love our country.” I’m sorry, that distinction is lost on me. It must be a Republican thing. “It would be nice to have a Commander in Chief who can be trusted to handle classified information.” Zing! Ouch! That’s gotta hurt. Best burn of the night so far.

On the convention floor, CNN’s Dana Bash asks Governor Chis Christie if being at the convention tonight is “bittersweet.” She’s referring to the fact that he’s not Trump’s VP running mate … low blow, but funny. Christie pivots to some folky nonsense about being a Jersey boy. I guess that means he can take the rub.

Senator Jeff Sessions refers to Clinton as a “globalist,” a common epithet that is meant to stand in opposition to the values of “true Americans” who by GOP reasoning must be “nationalist”—at least for this presidential election. Sessions goes on to make the astonishing claim that all of the job growth of the past few years under Obama has gone to immigrants … that can’t be right? Can it?!

Mayor Rudy Giuliani takes the stage and assumes the role as the police force’s staunchest defender: “When they come to save your life, they don’t ask if you’re black or white, they just come to save you!” That’s how he said it. “There’s no black America, no white America, there is just America!” This “shout the last two words” is a fascinating rhetorical device. I’m calling it a “raucous couplet.” “Islamic! Extremist! Terrorism!” Rudy raps the evening’s touchstone and then follows up with this bizarre and somewhat sinister message for the terrorists, “You know who you are … and we’re coming to get you!” Whenever someone says something like this I become acutely self-conscious: is he talking about me?

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer calls Giuliani’s speech the most rousing of the night. Must have been all the raucous couplets.

Donald Trump enters the stage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” He leans into the mic, “Oh, we’re gonna win. We’re gonna win so big.” The room loses its collective mind. “Oh, we’re gonna win, ladies and gentlemen. We’re gonna win so big.” That point bears repeating obviously. Donald comes on stage simply to welcome his beloved wife Melania. Wow! She looks pretty amazing: hottest first lady of all time! Notice I said “hottest,” not “most elegant.” No one will ever take that away from Jackie.

Melania Trump swallows hard and peers intently at the teleprompter. This is not her comfort zone that’s for sure. Bless her heart. “I was very proud to become citizens of the United States …” (Oh my gosh, the accent is adorable … “citizens.” How can you not love someone who speaks like that?) “He’s tough when he has to be, but he’s also kind, and fair, and caring.” As much as I hate this observation, the “optics” of Mrs. Trump on stage, dressed in white, with flawless makeup and incredible hair, lauding her “fine” husband, are pretty great.

The CNN panel called Trump’s entrance “swaggeriffic.” He stood silhouetted behind a damask curtain with smoke curling around his feet, until the screen rose to reveal the Republican champion. Wolf Blitzer confirmed, “The stagecraft was very impressive.”

Lt. General Michael Flynn had a hard act to follow but recuperated the glory of the United States: “We are the first country to put a man on the moon, we ended the cold war, we stopped communism’s quest for world domination. As Ronald Reagan said …” Classic. You’ll never go wrong with a good Reagan quote. “War is not about bathrooms …” That’s a stupid note to end the night on. But I guess you can’t expect much from a General that served under the “don’t ask don’t tell” protocol. “Radical Islamists, and failed tyrants.” Quick rub of the touchstone before throwing some more red meat to the ravenous crowd: “American exceptionalism is very real! … Our country was built on Judeo-Christian values … America is the greatest country in the history of the world.” I must say that this is an incredibly bombastic speech to hear at 10:45 p.m. on a Monday night. Undeterred, Flynn presses the point: “Donald Trump will restore America to the undeniable and unquestioned world leader.” Unquestioned?! Oh no … I’m scared now. “There will be no apologies for our American exceptionalism!” Seriously, that’s terrifying. Even Dick Cheney never said that. I hope the kids were all in bed. Wow, that was something else …

Although Trump didn’t speak tonight, his cameo appearance seemed somehow magical. He came on stage to introduce his wife and then blended back into the shadows. Once Melania finished speaking, Donald returned to escort her off stage. Hardly the action of the “megalomaniacal narcissist” we hear so much about—classy actually.

This was a well-choreographed evening. If the balance of the convention nights are like this, the Democrats have a tough task ahead of them. Tonight was entertaining, potent, bite-sized, direct, and all-American. Good luck, Hillary …

 

Day 2—Tuesday, July 19, 2016—Cleveland, Ohio

One of the most surprising aspects of the post-convention reporting was the TV audience numbers. Episode “who cares” in season “whatever” of The Bachelorette garnered more viewers than the first two hours of the convention, and only after 10:00 p.m. was it the most popular show on television. Indeed the whole night generated an audience of only 22.5 million—and this from a population of 320 million.

I’m just going to put this out there. You might disagree. The Melania speech-debacle may not have been an “accident.” Indeed, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews comes to the conclusion that it must have been intentional. Matthews suggests some form of “sabotage,” rather than looking at it from the perspective of potential benefit. Trump has consistently operated on the principle that “controversy equals audience.” He also employs the “controversy equals distraction” logic. I’ve written about that angle before.

Let’s see how today’s audience numbers fare; maybe there’s something to this “false flag” conspiracy theory I’m drumming.

 

The Convention Continues

The convention opens with some tawdry procedural happenings. States are asked to announce their votes, ballots, delegates, some complain: “Is the gentleman requesting a poll of the delegation from Alaska?” Paul Ryan rattles off some legalese, “According to section 36-B of the Republican convention rule.” All those who tuned in to see Donald Trump’s sister recite the Ten Commandments, claiming them as original poetry, must be disappointed. This had better pick up soon.

The stage is left empty for 30 minutes while Republicans squabble over the fine print and how things are being added up. Math isn’t just math anymore. Math has been Trumped. Lots of head shaking, hands wringing, Trump signs waving madly.

Paul Ryan is overheard talking into a hot mic, “Yeah, I know. But everything is different this convention. I mean, you don’t see any of the big players here, only Bob Dole, and that goes all the way back to 1966.” It gives little comfort to those that believe Trump has orchestrated a hostile takeover of the Republican Party to know that the reason rules are being broken in this bizarre election cycle is simply because the cycle is bizarre. Sounds like question begging.

GOP Chairman Reince Priebus decides to calm the air. “This only affects four states, and according to a 16-F filing, bound by rule 74 …” This is turning into a real clusterfudge.

Finally, Paul Ryan triumphantly announces that Trump has the required number of pledge delegates. Donald Trump is officially crowned Republican Nominee—quite the anticlimax. Two and a half hours into the evening and the crowd get their first opportunity to clap and crow, “Trump, Trump, Trump.”

Sharon Day: “Hillary Clinton lied about how and why the soldiers died in Benghazi.” Hang on! I thought we covered all this last night? Hillary bad, Trump good. Let’s get some meat on the bone, for God’s sake! It’s a terrible speech. Sharon sounds like she needs a Strepsils. Badly.

Asa Hutchinson: “If you like the last eight years, then Hillary will give you double for your trouble.” Seriously, can you guys be a little more directional with your statements? If I take only that clip and scrub your name, I can splice you into an ad for the Democrats. “Hillary’s judgment has produced poor results … four dead Americans in Benghazi.” Hang on a second … I’m starting to see a pattern here. Each evening is “themed.” Last night was “Radical. Islamic. Terrorism Night”—tonight is “Hillary Is the Anti-Christ Night.

Leslie Rutledge: “Arkansans know who I am … raised on a cattle farm.” Brilliant, just brilliant. “Absolutely no good could have come from her merging her public service with her private interest, much less with her private server.” Ding, ding. You got two for the price of one there. Slam Hillary and an email-scandal pun. Cattle farmers are droll. Rutledge warns of the dangers of allowing Clinton to nominate liberal Supreme Court Justices. She’s right to mention the judges. It’s a big deal. The next POTUS will get between three and five nominations, altering the makeup of the bench for over a generation. The U.S. will either get complete equality for women, LGBT, and minorities under federal law—or—a return to prayer in school and an end to affirmative action. That’s not a statement for effect, it’s a fact.

This speaker reminds me of a corpse, with a personality to match. “No way, Hillary. No way on earth.” But now imagine saying that as though you were teaching it to a five-year-old child. He’s getting talked over by the crowd. Give this guy a Pepsi or something. Next!

CNN’s Jake Tapper: “This is a Hillary disembowelment. They are disemboweling her … or at least trying to.” I have no idea why he chose that imagery … creepy, but apt.

Andy West: “Someone said I was Batman. I said that’s Adam West, dummy. Some of these reporters need to get a life …” Yikes. Why didn’t your kids tell you to cut that joke(?) from your intro? Actually, no, now I get it. No one knows who you are—lol—I just Googled. Maybe you are Batman. A very unfunny dark knight. Next!

Ron Johnson: “She looked those family members right in the eye, and then she lied.” Seriously, Benghazi again? “Hillary Night sucks. I was expecting fireworks, drama. All we’re getting is a rehash in black and white of something we got in Technicolor last night. You’re never going to beat the heart-wrenching appeal of a grieving mother. That was effective. It drove the point: Hillary is a murdering, heartless, callous, and “heavy” sleeper, apparently (she missed the 3:00 a.m. phone call).

Okay, now I’m bored. I’m gonna go play Pokémon …. If the Melania plagiarism was a set-up to get more people to watch, it’s a wasted opportunity. I’ll get back to you when something good happens ….

Trump pops up on the big screen. Has a spooky, Big Brother, 1984 feel ….

Chris Christie swaggers on stage. He looks like the cat that got the cream. “Lets do something fun tonight!” Finally! That’s what I’m talking about. What you got for me, Christie-boy? “Let’s hold Hillary Clinton accountable.” Hmm … okay … how you gonna do that? The crowd starts chanting “Lock. Her. Up … Lock. Her. Up … Lock. Her. Up …” The Jersey Governor smiles smugly. “Alright, alright, we’re getting there.” Christie leans with one elbow on the podium. “I’m going to present the case now. And you, as a jury of her peers, say ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’ Okay?” Oh wow. This is going to be the best call and response ever! Chris reels off the classic hits of Clintonian shame. One by one they build up to crescendo, and then: “The emails?” The crowd erupts: “Guilty!” … “Benghazi?” The beckoning cry: “Guilty!!” … “Creating ISIS?” The Vesuvian proclamation: “Guilty!!!” … Oh, man. That was intense. About five minutes like that. The crowd is delirious with post-coital prosecutorial bliss. I need a cigarette.

Anderson Cooper: “Wow! That was a performance. He’s the pit bull alright!”

Van Jones: “Oh, come on. Get real. I am yet to hear one serious policy. One legitimate plan for the future. It’s nothing but hateful attacks.”

Anderson Cooper needs to explain to Jones where he is: “But it’s perfect for this audience. There’s nothing that fires up the Republican base like attacks on Hillary.” Van shakes his head. He wishes he was somewhere else.

Tiffany Trump smiles coquettishly and talks about the report cards she still has under her pillow with her father’s loving marginalia: “Go get ’em girl!” That was pretty sad, but people say Trump needs humanizing, so why not get your 22-year-old daughter on stage to talk about the “good old days?” She, home alone with her mother—your ex-mistress. You, gallivanting around the world with the “real” family … oh, to be young again!

Donald Trump Jr. takes the stage. Perfect hair, perfect tan, perfect teeth—perfect speech. This was an ab-so-lute cracker! He nailed it. Looks like a dynasty in the making. “We’ve produced the thickest network of patronage and influence of any country at any time in world history. It’s composed of a self-satisfied people at the top, our new aristocrats. We can’t live that way any longer …”

Well, I’m sold.

When billionaires promise to root out privilege, I know that’s going to happen. But what can we do to help him with this worthy mission? Give him the keys to the White House apparently? Oh, okay. That makes sense. These guys have everything except for political power, so when we give them that, they’ll give it all up, right? Right?! The manufactured and preposterous sleight-of-hand class warfare aside, Trump Jr. showed that there is at least one serious, competent, diligent, conservative on the Trump train. If Trump listens to his son half as well as his son speaks, America will be just fine.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “That was the kind of speech you might have heard from a Senator or a Governor.” Cooper looks across at Van Jones, “Thoughts?”

Van throws his hands in the air, “It was pointless and missed the mark completely. The first five minutes were okay, but then, pure nonsense.”

Jesus Christ, Van! You’re such a stick in the mud. You don’t like anything. Your biggest problem is that you keep wanting the Republicans to act like Democrats. Dude, here’s a news flash: they’re Republicans. Get over it.

Dr. Ben Carson stands behind the podium and, in his typically slurred “brain surgeons get the best drugs” manner, delivers an odd address that is part Alex Jones, part Revelations. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the guy, who thinks Egyptian pyramids are really grain silos for aliens, is prepared to suggest Hillary Clinton might be in league with Lucifer.

Van Jones looks like he bit into a lemon. He shrugs his shoulders and looks like he might laugh, if he wasn’t about to cry. Poor Van, CNN should just let you do the Democratic convention and skip the RNC.

So … night two was nowhere near as good as opening night. The first three hours were horrible, the next two bearable. The last hour was solid, but I can’t see that the evening’s speeches are going to change many minds. Christie and Trump Jr. stole the show. Here are those two speeches:

 

Day 3—Wednesday, July 20, 2016—Cleveland, Ohio

First things first. Ratings for day two of the convention were down from opening night. I’ll put my tin foil hat away and concede there was no Machiavellian brilliance to Melania Trump’s plagiarism. It was a categorical disaster.

Van Jones opens the discussion with some delightful philosophizing on honor, virtue, and dilemmas. “It’s about two different kinds of honor. The one for your word, and the one for your family …. This whole election has been a character test.” Jones is referring to the tough spot in which Ted Cruz has found himself. Should Ted give Trump a full-throated endorsement at the convention (keep to his party pledge) or should he give muted support within the context of a Hillary denouncement (loyalty to his family). The back story is that during the rambunctious primaries, Trump retweeted an unflattering photo of Ted’s wife and suggested that his father, Rafael, might be complicit in the JFK assassination.

Nope, that actually happened.

Phil Ruffin: “Donald bought it for $40 million. I didn’t like it. But then he sold it for $120 million ….” There are some awkward claps and approvals. It’s hard for the mechanic from Idaho to identify with those kinds of deals, I guess. Weird, that. Nonplussed, Ruffin rattles off five more “deals” Trump has done. Proving, presumably, that he has the nous for turning a profit—a business acumen that has direct applicability to the White House—we hope.

Dr. Ralph Alvarado presents the face of diversity while appeasing Hispanic conservatives who bemoaned their lack of inclusion in the first two nights. “Immigrants come to this country, not expecting better lives for themselves, but rather for their children.” Ralph recounts the struggle his parents made so he was afforded the opportunity to become the first Hispanic state senator for Kentucky. A solid conservative message that resonates well with the room. Republicans are not anti-immigration, they just have a different vision. They want immigration to be legal and hard. Hard means they don’t want immigrants to receive benefits. Instead, they should struggle and make it on their own. It’s a kind of Spartan, social Darwinism that ensures only the most dedicated and diligent survive (and stay) in America. “Hillary Clinton es un político corrupto. Vote por Donald Trump.” I don’t speak Spanish, but I think I got it. The convention gives Alvarado a standing ovation. The idea that Republicans are racist is misplaced. If you’ll trash their political opponent, they are truly color blind.

Pastor Darrell Scott bellows the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence into the crowded room. It’s like mainlining patriotic heroin: audience delirium ensues.

CNN: “I’ve got to give the convention credit. The speakers have been diverse, they’ve been on message, there’ve been no faux pas (so far) ….” Republicans have some pretty low bars to clear.

“If she were any more on the inside, she’d be in prison. America deserves better than Hillary Clinton.” Governor Scott Walker provides reluctant Trumpists with their primary motive for voting in November. It’s clear that many Democrats and Republicans alike will be voting to keep someone out of, rather than put someone into the Oval Office.

I thought tonight might be “Trade and the Economy Night.” It’s not. It feels like “Republican Values Night.” It’s a smorgasbord of anti-Hillary, anti-big government, anti-establishment, anti-values erosion, anti-illegal immigration, pro-innovation, pro-small business, pro-hard work, and pro-Constitution.

“Donald Trump is the ‘law and order leader’ we need to heal a divided nation.” Lynne Patton recounts the tragedies of Orlando, San Bernadino, Dallas, and Baton Rouge. “We need to stop seeing these as attacks on the LGBT community or attacks on the police or attacks on blacks. These are attacks on all of us, on the very foundations upon which this country is built.” This sentiment stands in stark contrast to the “identity politics” methodology of the Democrats: their insistence to communitize all issues and events. Like it or hate it, if you’re not part of the group being addressed at any given time by Democratic leaders, you’re liable to feel left out. One should be acutely aware by now that the phenomenon of “white, middle-class neglect” is the principle factor in the rise of Donald Trump and his populist movement.

Exactly the message Rudi Giuliani provided opening night: “There’s no black America, no white America, there is just America!” The Democrats would do well to appreciate these are beliefs, principles, and concerns. Regardless of their veracity—if people believe it, you need to pay attention. “Let us not deny that, historically, black lives have mattered less in America. As a black woman, I can proudly say that Donald Trump believes my life matters, Latino lives matter, blue lives matter … all lives matter!” The crowd comes to its feet. This is a unifying moment.

Senator Marco Rubio gives a video address to the convention. He provides a clear indictment of Hillary’s role in the “failure” that is Obamacare and her foreign policy failures. It’s short, but cutting.

Last night was a foggy mess and quite tottery. Tonight is a professional, solid evening, framed by GOP values and punctuated with quality speeches.

Senator Ted Cruz takes the stage. This is the longest applause any speaker has received in the past three days. “I am convinced America is going to come back ….” This is essential messaging in the 2016 election cycle: America is on the wrong track, on a precipice, and only Trump can “Make America Great Again.” Will Cruz endorse Trump? It doesn’t seem like it.

Ted recounts the last words of a young daughter to her father, a police officer slain in the Dallas shootings: “Will I ever hug you again?” Jesus … that’s rough. “To die by love, is to live by it.” Tears are dabbed from cheeks. Warm applause careers around the room and up into the rafters. He’s good. Goddamn, he’s good. “What if this, right now, is our last time? The last time to do something for our country ….”

This speech will go down in GOP folklore. Cruz receives a rousing, “U, S, A …U, S, A …” for his efforts. “Our nation was built on the five most beautiful words in the English language: I. Want. To. Be. Free.” Ted is really tickling the raw nerve of Americana. This is the speech Cruz would have given had he been the Republican nominee. He better endorse Trump soon, this is getting awkward—don’t want voters getting buyer’s remorse. “Whether you are gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects all of us to live according to our conscience.”

Don’t be fooled. What he means by this is that straight people can have their refusal to bake gay cakes protected and gays are protected in their right not to eat the unbaked gay cakes. Massive applause for the abstract notion of uneaten, unbaked gay pastries.

“Endorse Trump … Endorse Trump … Endorse Trump ….” The crowd gets impatient. This is incredible. The last man Trump beat in the primaries is being urged by a crowd of 10,000 to unequivocally stand behind his assailant. Cruz smiles awkwardly. I don’t think he’s going to do it. “I appreciate the ‘enthusiasm’ of the New York delegation,” he winks, although it wasn’t just New York.

“Booooooooo! Booooooo!” The crowd is restless. A combination of cheers, boos, yells, shouts of “we want Trump ….” No one is listening to the tail end of the speech. “Booooooooo … booooooo!” This is ghastly. “Booooooooo!” Brutal. “Endorse Trump … Endorse Trump … Endorse Trump ….”

It’s a game of chicken. Cruz didn’t blink.

Cruz tries to close with a “God bless you, and God bless the Unites States of America,” but it just sounds like “God bless … booooooo, booooooo … bless the … booooooo … of … booooooooo!”

At exactly this moment, the camera finds Trump walking through a side entrance. What a piece of theatre. He’s waving and clapping. This only emboldens the crowd to further denounce the speaker at the rostrum. Ted, just get the hell off stage before they start throwing things.

CNN’s Jake Tapper informs the audience that this has never happened before (that a convention speaker refuses to endorse the party’s nominee). In the final analysis, Cruz chose family loyalty, thus resolving the Grecian dilemma Van Jones had earlier proposed. I respect that immensely. He was speaking on behalf of the Republican Party, not the man who so eviscerated him in the primaries. Respect, Cruz.

Dana Bash: “Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d see.”

David Axelrod: “I think that Cruz is taking a calculated risk that Donald Trump won’t win the election. He’s positioning himself for a run in 2020.” David, stop projecting.

Eric Trump, Donald’s middle son, takes the stage. I can’t imagine this will beat the elder son’s speech, but let’s see. “He could no longer stand to see the word ‘Christmas’ stripped from public use, the pledge of allegiance removed from schools in an effort to be politically correct.” Oh, man. Really? That’s a bit much. I’m all for getting rid of the PC culture, but no one’s banning Christmas are they? Are they?!

Damn, maybe they are … better vote for Santa Trump.

“Our debt goes up by $2 billion a day.” Eric is a solid orator. If Donald becomes president, America will never be free of Trumps in public office. You thought the Kennedy clan got their claws in? Well, brace yourself for Donald Jr., Ivanka, Eric, and probably little Barron in the not too distant future. “It’s time for a president with common sense … one who knows the art of the deal … who has always been the one to sign the front of a check, not the back.” Got it—signing the back means you’re cashing a check—the front means you’re paying someone. That’s clever, real clever. “You are my hero. You are my best friend. You are the next president of the United States.”

Standing ovation.

CNN’s Michael Smerconish: “These speakers named Trump, they continue to outshine one another … it’s really remarkable.”

Up next: Newt Gingrich. Which Newt are we going to see tonight? Crazy Newt? Or articulate Newt? “Trump is a unifier … with no requirement for endorsement, he encouraged his competitors to come and speak at the convention.” It’s good, Newt. “You all misunderstood a paragraph in Ted Cruz’s speech.” Man, he’s good. Gingrich cleans up the car crash that Ted’s speech became. Newt enumerates every single terror attack of the past 37 days. It’s uncomfortable. He has an odd way of pronouncing Allahu Akbar. “16 million people in Pakistan support ISIS … we could lose block after block after block to a nuclear attack … Americans will likely die in large numbers on American soil.” Man, what a downer. Newt has radically altered (pun intended) the mood of the room. It was all upbeat, positive messaging. Now, it’s back to the darkness of opening night. There’s been a programming error. Please get off the stage.

Wolf Blitzer: “Newt Gingrich tried to clean up a little bit for Ted Cruz … I don’t think he was very successful.” Come on, Wolf.

Jake Tapper adds, “He attempted a little Newt-splaining.” Jake and Wolf proceed to undo whatever work Newt had done by clarifying that there was no “misunderstanding.” Cruz hates Trump—that’s all there is. No Christmas card from Gingrich for those two.

CNN cuts to Dana Bash on the floor, “The anger is boiling over in the room over Cruz’s non-endorsement.” That’s not true. Everyone behind her is cheering, clapping, happy. It’s clear the only thing the liberal media is going to report from tonight is that Ted Cruz got booed.

Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence. Expect a solid, conservative, level-headed speech. This guy was a great pick by Trump. He was derided as the safe option by many MSNBC pundits who have for the past year pilloried Trump for being dangerous and risky—you’d think they’d appreciate the balance. There’s no pleasing some people. “I was raised on a farm in Indiana … with a big family and a small corn field in the back yard ….” He smiles will the self-assuredness of an all-American legend. Pence gets plenty of laughs. “Trump has a huge personality and lots of energy … I guess he was just looking for a little balance on the ticket.” Gold. “My dad was a combat veteran in Korea … he ran gas stations ….” This speech is boilerplate Republican ideals. “Would you join me in welcoming the light of my life, my mom, Nancy.” I find this boring. If you don’t, here’s the most bland, soulless, but values-driven and poll-tested GOP speech imaginable.

He actually just said the most important job he could ever have is spelled, “D. A. D.”

I just puked a little in my mouth.

CNN: “I think it was a pitch-perfect speech.”

Pitch-perfect to the U.S. political class clearly means: predictable, flogged, overdone, tired, platitude-ridden, bromide-full, and devoid of any practical language, leaving one with the sense that all you’ll receive from the administration is rhetoric and broken promises.

Tonight, with the exception of the Cruz incident (which will doubtlessly dominate the overnight news cycle), was a blueprint for Republican conventions. It elevated ideals, filled hopes and dreams, invigorated aspirations, and renewed the belief that the future can be better than today.

A real humdinger, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Tomorrow is the last night—let’s see if Trump ends on a high note or the kind of deflation that serves the soufflé analogy democratic pundits have so keenly applied.

 

Day 4—Thursday, July 21, 2016—Cleveland, Ohio

All anticipation this evening aims at the centerpiece speech by Donald Trump. While many pundits have claimed this needs to be the speech of Trump’s campaign, my feeling is that the oratory-bar has been set so low he needs to do little to impress. Regardless, I expect Ivanka will steal the night.

CNN: “Can Donald Trump stick to the script?”

Why would he? It’s his freewheeling style that proved so appealing. If he reads off the teleprompter, he pleases the small minority of political operatives. If he engages and emotes with the crowd, he wins votes. A stayed, restrained, and “presidential” speech would be a mistake tonight. If he can mute the bigotry, but connect personally, he’ll have achieved his objective.

CNN’s Mike Tapper: “Is he going to rise to this moment?” Depends on your definition of rise. Chances are Donald’s is different from Tapper’s.

Jerry Falwell Jr.: “He is one of the greatest visionaries of our time.” What a shame that for many Americans a Trumpian vision rises as a hellish, nebulous nightmare. “Donald is a blue-collar billionaire.” That statement instantly enters the pantheon of American tautologies. Falwell recounts his evangelist-father’s prophetic deathbed dream. In true Shakespearean style, Chelsea Clinton appeared. Falwell Sr. admonished her with the claim that the three greatest threats to America were “Osama, Obama, and your Momma.”

Sheriff Joe Arpaio: “We are the only nation that’s immigration system puts the needs of other nations ahead of our own … a nation without borders is no nation at all.” This is called the Brexit Strategy. Tap into the electorate’s xenophobia. “Let’s elect a leader who will stand up for America.” Tap into the latent nativism.

Jake Tapper introduces Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to his panel, “Congratulations on making it to this night.” That’s a strange motif. Does he mean, “Congratulations on not getting fired yet?” Seemed like it. Manafort does his best to resist Blitzer’s characterization of a Republican Party cleaved in two. “We’re not looking at national polls at the moment, we’re looking state by state.” Manafort highlights a strategic point that it would behoove Democrats to register. The election is won through the Electoral College. Although national polling will consistently show Clinton leading by one to three points, what deserves more attention are polls in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. My gut says Trump will lose the popular vote (like Bush, Jr.) but win the Electoral College—not by much, maybe only two points, but enough.

Jeffery Lord: “I want to hear compassion.” This Republican strategist doesn’t have a very good read of his nominee. People always say Trump is sensitive, patient, and attentive in private. He’s just never demonstrated those attributes in public. The Trump-in-private myth will be preserved—he’s not doing an Oprah Winfrey tonight. Not for this crowd.

Motivational speaker Brock Mealer: “An analytics company working for CNN predicted last year that Donald Trump had a 1% chance of getting the nomination.” Mealer relates Trump’s “underdog” primary win with his own recovery from a devastating car accident. The doctors gave the same odds to Mealer. While Brock came out of a car crash to became a hero—Trump started a multi-vehicle pileup to secure his triumph.

Representative Marsha Blackburn: “As Larry the Cable Guy would say … ‘Let’s get ’er done.’ ” This reference speaks volumes about the audience … not in a good way. Lots of laughing and “woop, wooping.”

Classic rock-band technique. Terrible opening acts set the stage for the marquee headliner. Smart, Don, smart. Either that or Trump literally ran out of worthy people to speak on his behalf.

As Governor Mary Fallin takes the stage, it’s clear Trump is correcting the anti-woman narrative. “We had a great woman role model … the mayor … my mom. She taught me, if I worked hard, I could be anything.” Yep, that’s exactly what’s going on. “There were no shortage of African American heroes.” Correcting the anti-black narrative too.

Wolf Blitzer informs his audience that Peter Thiel, a gay man, will “admonish the GOP for their lack of acceptance of the LGBT community.” Yeah right, Wolf … he’ll talk about how accepting Trump is of the LGBT community, but you’re dreaming if you think an admonition is in the cards.

Tonight is “Unity and Diversity Night.”

Up vaults Reince Priebus, Mr. Unity himself: “We are the party of the open door.” This is obviously a position settled on quite recently. “We don’t apologize for America, we celebrate America.” They keep saying things like this. Sometimes an apology can go a long way. God knows the Iraqis, Afghanis, Libyans, Chileans, Venezuelans, Vietnamese, and Japanese deserve one.  “We stand for peace and prosperity … at Gettysburg, in Normandy, in Fallujah.” Oh wow, that trinity sounds like an IQ-test question: “Which of these three does not belong?” Few Iraqis would report the paternal embrace and U.S. hug of liberty. “And she lied over and over and over and over and over.” The point doesn’t require the emphasis. Hillary’s “honesty and trustworthiness” are so far underwater Jacques Cousteau couldn’t find them. “Her foundation took millions of dollars from countries that sponsor terrorism and human rights abuses.” This worthy point has received little attention from the liberal media. Why does the Clinton Foundation take money from abhorrent regimes? It seems not the least bit hypocritical for Hillary to claim solidarity with women, LGBT, and minorities while entertaining, speaking for, and being paid by states that promote their discrimination. I follow the foundation on Twitter. While it laudably promotes literacy and clean drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa—the money for these initiatives appears to come from anti-Western dictators. It’s probably a Lion King thing: the circle of life or something … Hakuna Matata?

CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “We’re told he’s going to be reading off a teleprompter tonight.” Oh, for God’s sake. Will he be wearing a tie too? What about his cologne? This Oscars night pontificating on what couture Angelina will be wearing is weak sauce. “What do you make of the fact that Peter Thiel is being ‘allowed’ to speak?” What a cynically-loaded question.

Thiel’s on stage now …. The PayPal founder does look a little nervous. Maybe he is expecting a lynching? No mention of homosexuals so far. Democrats must be disappointed. He gets some cheer. Peter allows a small smile to breach his nervousness. A shout-out to Cleveland. Now the crowd’s warming up. “Her incompetence is in plain sight.” He knows how to work this room. “She pushed for a war in Libya. Now it’s a terrorist training camp.” Peter’s so far from a GOP admonishment it’s not funny. “Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom … this is a distraction from our real problems …. Who? Cares?!”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

You call that a chastisement of the GOP over their poor track record with LGBTQ?! He just threw the case back in your face while giving the middle finger! Oh man, Thiel is going to be the pariah of the gay community (as if as a Trumpist he wasn’t already). Thiel one—Identity Politics zero. I guess “gay” isn’t a monolithic single-issue designation after all. “I am proud to be gay!” Crowd goes wild. “I am proud to be a Republican.” Wilder still. “But most of all, I am proud to be an American!” Standing ovation and the room swells in support. I’m actually a bit teary. That was great! It’s like in those movies where the stern, emotionless, military father comes to his gay son’s dance recital and stands in the back: Republicans sincerely embarrassing a gay man. I love it. “Fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline. And no one is being honest about it except Donald Trump.” Wow. I’m done. That is a defining moment of this entire campaign. Trump might just have expanded his “gay” support from nothing to a tincey-wincey bit.

CNN: “Donald Trump has opened up this party.” That’s some kind of pivot from: “Thiel will ‘admonish’ the GOP.” If you took journalists seriously, you’d get whiplash.

Van Jones: “What we just saw was beautiful. What we just saw was history.” Ha! Van caught the same “misty eyes” I did. He’s right. That was history. You can achieve social justice with the speech of one individual, and the platform provided by another. Identity Politics, R.I.P.

“I feel like the anchovy on Ivanka’s Caesar salad,” Tom Barrack makes what sounds like history’s most disturbing double-entendre. I think he means she’s speaking next and he’s surplus to requirements. But … lots of people like anchovies. Forget it. It’s not worth riddling through. Barrack relays a heartwarming anecdote about Donald’s father.

The Midnight Cowboy introduces and narrates a This Is Your Life: Donald Trump. It’s uplifting, bold, and triumphant—like the trailer to a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. This short might end up in the PBS “Presidents Collection.” Go on, have a watch. You know you want to. This is exactly how the world fell in love with America.

To the bright strains of “Here Comes the Sun,” Ivanka glides on stage. She gives a gracious Queen wave. I’m in love …. This is going to be amazing. “For more than a year, Donald Trump has been the people’s champion.” Pastel pink and flawless. Believe it or not, simply by looking at photos of candidates, five-year-olds have a 70% success rate picking election winners. It’s all about the optics for the “rational” mammalian. “My father is a fighter … and now I’m seeing him fight for his country.” Goddamn. These Trump kids are incredible. She talks about playing with Legos underneath Donald’s desk in Trump Tower. I’m sure this speech is an original. FDR didn’t have Legos did he? “He’s color blind and gender neutral. He hires the best person for the job. Period.”

Yeah, she nailed it. So long as Trump doesn’t pass out on stage or puke on his shirt, he’s won. It’s fascinating that the Trump kids fill the policy vacuum inherent to their father’s speeches. Eric, Don Jr., and Ivanka have each outlined a great deal of substance over the past three nights. Ivanka promises labor laws reforms supporting motherhood and childcare.

“Our next president, Donald J. Trump.”

Trump walks on stage to “moon-landing” music. Kisses his daughter and claps the crowd. Double thumbs up. Here we go …. Not yet …. The crowd won’t stop cheering. He’s in no rush. He looks very calm. “U, S, A … U, S, A ….” Yeah, see … he’s not going to change.

“We are a team!” He’s the archetypal populist.

Trump mentions the historic voter turnout he received in the primaries—and offers the low Democratic numbers as a counterpoint.

“We will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order.” Trump plays the times with aplomb. With streets restless and strife-riven, this message will assuage minds. The crowd roars. Donald lifts his chin, squints his eyes, and purses his lips. “The crime and violence which afflicts our nation will soon—and I mean very soon—come to an end.” Trump has a funny habit of repeating and emphasizing certain words and phrases. First, he reads then reformulates the cadence for the audience. It’s his way of “naturalizing” what is otherwise a teleprompter address. “Any government that cannot safeguard the lives of its citizens does not deserve to lead.” Trump again redefines the election narrative. First, he took it to immigration, then to trade, then to radical Islam, and now to domestic security. Hillary Clinton will be playing narrative catch-up until November 8th. Those who mold the message, control the message. It’s a powerful Sun Tzu-like tactic. This election, make no mistake, is war.

“We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore.” The crowd goes berserk. “U, S, A … U, S, A … U, S, A … U, S, A …U, S, A … U, S, A ….” Trump navigates through a litany of Obama administration indictments: food stamps up, poverty up, big city murder rate up, unemployment up, international humiliation up. Lots of boos. Redline embarrassment, Benghazi disaster, and an unsafe world … Hillary’s to blame. “Lock, Her, Up … Lock, Her, Up … Lock, Her, Up ….” It’s a jubilant and triumphant mob. “Let’s review the record.” Trump is doing a mini-Christie. Trump plonks ISIS into Clinton’s lap. That’s a bit of a stretch … if Hillary is meant to catch ISIS, then let’s be honest, it was Bush W. who threw them to her.

Trump’s speech was muscular, bombastic, inflammatory, dark, and promissory. He has successfully trashed, degraded, and rhetorically obliterated the United States merely to convince Americans he is the only one that can make it whole again. This should be easy enough: the signal failures are phantoms. As soon as Donald stops inflating their existence, they’ll evaporate.

“I am your voice!” Because he’s made Americans feel weak, scared, and humiliated, of course they need someone to speak for them. If you really consider the Trump methodology, it’s utterly depressing. There’s nothing good about America anymore, the streets run with blood, the world’s on fire, and barbarians are at the gates … make Trump your savior before its too late. He doesn’t sound like a leader. He sounds like the Stockholm to my syndrome.

Trump spoke for an hour and twenty minutes. I’m exhausted.

Good night.

 

 

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