US 2016: It’s time for the GOP Freak Trump Show, a.k.a. the Republican Convention

US 2016: It’s time for the GOP Freak Trump Show, a.k.a. the Republican Convention

It has taken months and months in what seems to be a never-ending battle, but the Republican Party’s presidential candidate is about to be given the final nod of approval. But, can he create a united party out of the discord he provoked during that primary season? J. BROOKS SPECTOR looks ahead to the GOP convention in Cleveland this week.

After what seems like it has been an eternity, the Republican Party is about to stage its big dance in Cleveland, Ohio. Starting on 18 July and running for four days, the convention will not feature a huge fight over who gets to own the heart and soul of the GOP. That was already decided in the course of the primary battles of the past six-and-a-half months.

Donald J Trump will be nominated as the Republican candidate for the US presidency whether Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz and half a dozen other political figures (and several hundred delegates) and much of the world likes it or not. And Indiana governor Mike Pence will be nominated as his running mate.

No, the big story – or better, perhaps, the stories – that are going to come out of Cleveland (the place that used to be called “the mistake on the lake” in recognition of its blighted urban vistas and its sometimes-apocalyptic, rust belt character), besides any news from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame there or any updates on the city’s superlative Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, will be about how the convention handles the nature of a Trump candidacy. There are many questions that are awaiting answers from this coming week’s events.

How will those within the party who still cannot stomach a Trump candidacy express their anger at the convention, besides staying home and sulking in their tents? Alternatively, how many of the country’s leading Republicans – including its two living former presidents – will choose not to attend their own party’s premier gathering?

Will the party actually be able to raise all the funds it needs for the convention from its usual supporters if they can’t stomach Trump’s rhetorical excess? How will the convention managers and the Cleveland police force handle demonstrations against the party’s nominee? How will Donald Trump and Mike Pence figure out a way to sound like they are on the same page on many issues – or even on the same ticket – especially when they differ so strongly on things like free trade?

How will Trump and Pence find the pathway to knit together traditional Republican constituencies of social conservatives, libertarians, and small government Main Streeters – and bring them together with supporters of Trump’s populist insurrection when the views on key issues are so different?

Moreover, will the candidate find yet newer enemies to excoriate, or will he focus his ire on his usual list of foreigners, women, reporters, miscellaneous protesters and – of course – “Crooked Hillary”, and whoever she picks as her running mate? And finally, how will the convention’s Trump supporters sound? Will they resemble an armed, howling mob, eager for the blood of any convenient Democratic politician, Mexican, or Chinese businessman – or will they somehow rise above the tenor that has been exhibited so far at so many of this candidate’s rallies up till now?

The actual convention runs for four days – beginning on 18 July at 1 pm, through until its adjournment on the evening of 21 July. (The Democrats will have their own version, a few days later, in Philadelphia.) The main bits of business in Cleveland are actually straightforward. They must adopt the party platform already hammered out in committee; they must nominate a presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate, and – most important – they must contrive to give a bounce, a rise, a sense of momentum for their candidates as they begin their campaigning through to Election Day on 8 November. At the convention itself, besides those tasks, the speakers will be trying to show a broad sense of unity, of a commitment to a clear set of principles, and thereby use the time and television space to pound home the key themes Trump wishes to use as his main issues in the upcoming months until the election.

While the attendees are an important part of this, still more important, given that the nominations are confirmed already, is how this will all play out for national audiences who will either watch actual bits of it as it happens on television or – at the minimum – watch how news broadcasts (and social media flows) portray it.

Anybody who was alive at the time can never forget the veritable street battles between the Chicago police and demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Party convention – and the political carnage inside the hall when, for example, Chicago Mayor Daley gave some vivid physical evidence of his visceral disgust for the way the convention was going – even as all of that played on television screens – over and over again. No party managers ever want that to happen again on their watch, but this one at least has some of the makings for it, regardless of the wishes of the Republican National Committee and its convention managers.

Speaking at this convention (at least based on information now available) will be a mix of speakers heavy on the Trump family, the addition of some sports stars, and a generous dollop of GOP political figures who have visibly supported him. But, so far at least, there will be very few of the people he bested in his triumph at gaining this nomination. For example, there will be no moments with Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Carly Fiorina striding to the podium to sing The Donald’s praises, although Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are now listed as speakers and Ben Carson is a maybe. Not even Chris Christie, the would-be bride who was left on the steps when Trump’s political marriage to Mike Pence was solemnised, will speak.

On day one of the convention one speaker will be a man whose son was killed by an undocumented immigrant. Then there will be Senator Tom Cotton, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator Joni Ernst, and – inevitably – Melania Trump, the candidate’s third wife.

Then, on the second day, besides two more Trumps – Tiffany and Donald Jr – Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Former Attorney-General Michael Mukasey, Retired Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will speak at the convention. No friendly faces among that bunch for Trump’s opponent, obviously, and many willing hands for a chance to heap abuse upon Hillary Clinton and President Obama both.

On 20 July, Florida Attorney-General Pam Bondi, Eileen Collins, retired astronaut and first female commander of a space shuttle mission, Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Senator Ted Cruz, Eric Trump (yet another Trump offspring!), professional golfer Natalie Gulbis, and Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence get the nod. But still there are no Republican ex-presidents. In part this is because Trump has been framing his overarching message as a recantation, not just of Barack Obama, but of the sins of the Bushes, Obama and the Clintons and the entire rest of the politics-as-usual-elite crowd, rather than simply his opposition to his current opponent. (Of course that leaves open the question of how incumbent senators can make Trump’s case for him if they are in office as part of the political in-crowd, but we’ll have to wait to see how they do that bit of magic.)

If they finally end up on a still-evolving schedule, several others such as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Dr Ben Carson, Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions may yet find a spot on the growing list. Carson and Huckabee had earlier tried to gain traction as candidates for the nomination but failed and eventually came over to Trump’s dark side; Ryan was the vice presidential candidate with Mitt Romney in 2012; and Senator Sessions was an early supporter of Trump’s.

Then, on the final day – actually mostly at night in order to capture the television ratings from the maximum number of people, the listed names so far include Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Florida Governor Rick Scott, and Ivanka Trump (yet another Trump child). After all this, finally, the candidate steps forward to show how he can be both an attack dog, flinging red meat morsels to his cheering crowd (and yes, we understand that one was a wildly mixed metaphor), and a man capable – even properly suitable and built for purpose – for the handover to him of those secret codes to launch the country’s nuclear missile arsenal.

This will come even as he spends most of his moments on stage skewering his opponent and telling the world about how big his plans are, how smart he is, how stupid everyone else is, and how rich he became because of his skills and brainpower and how he will, single-handedly, “make America great again”. Also likely in his speech, especially since he tends to go off script whenever the spirit so moves him, will be harsh rebuttals of the most recent criticisms of his business practices, his emotional stability, and even his temperament that probably will have come from Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic Party faithful during the week.

In analysing his appeal, the current issue of the Economist noted, “He has an ability to say things that are not true but which seem, to his supporters, to be right anyway. Shared with like-minded people on social networks, this has been a boon for what Richard Hofstadter called ‘the paranoid style in American politics’, an apparently sincere belief in implausible conspiracies. Mr Trump’s insinuation, after the shooting in Orlando, that the president might secretly sympathise with Islamic State was a model of the paranoid style.

The most novel thing about Mr Trump, though, when compared with the fringe figures who preceded him, is that he is the nominee of one of America’s two main parties. This puts him in a different category and will give him a greater opportunity to shape the country. This is obviously the case if he wins in November. But it will probably happen even if he loses, currently the more likely result.”

However the election finally turns out, the Economist, among many others, has acknowledged that Trump has significantly altered America’s political universe for years to come.

Meanwhile, at the convention, all of this rhetorical overloading, confetti falling, balloons rising, banners waving, raucous chanting, and protesters reviling will be taking place at a particularly difficult, unsettling time for many in the nation. Between national concerns over police shootings of black citizens at traffic stops, and police shootings by deranged individuals in Dallas and most recently in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Trump can both decry the violence in American life even as he stokes the anger that helps nourish it in so many ways via his demeanour and word choice. Meanwhile, murderous outrages in Nice, France and elsewhere around the globe, as well as that near-coup in Turkey (that puts a halt on US military actions against ISIS/ISIL, launched from Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey) all help underscore a sense of fragility and fear so many Americans are prone to this year.

Curiously, this worry comes even as the domestic economy has rebounded largely successfully from the financial collapse and recession of 2008-9. The conventional wisdom in politics has always been that absent an existential threat to the nation, the economic circumstances are key to electoral outcomes. But even though unemployment is below 5%, the nation’s job creation figures are good, inflation is nearly non-existent, and wages are beginning to rise as well, all may be less critical than is usually the case.

Instead, fear, anger, and a more generalised, unsettled nervousness on the part of many voters is out there, seasoned observers say, regardless of anything Hillary Clinton and her seconds can say about the state of the nation – or the world. And so, it will be those emotions The Donald will attempt to play upon with the broader electoral population, now that he has – improbably enough – gained the GOP’s presidential nomination, through his astonishingly effective use of those same emotions in gaining support from among a more limited cohort of Republican-leaning voters during all those months of Republican primaries. DM

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a town hall at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, US, 14 March 2016. The winner-take-all Florida presidential primary is on 15 March 2016. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO


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