Reflections on the Trumpiest GOP Convention in History
Now that the much-anticipated “Trump Convention” is over and it appears that if Cleveland has indeed survived, here are some reflections on the biggest topics from the gathering which will likely change the Republican Party, and perhaps our politics, forever.
The News Media: It has been presumed by me and many others who have predicted Trump’s inevitable demise in the general election that the news media would, sans Fox News and the Drudge Report, as soon as he was safely the GOP nominee, universally work overtime to destroy him. I anticipated that he would get at least the “Sarah Palin” treatment, if not worse, and that what we have witnessed so far in that direction would just be a warm up for what we would start to see at the conventions.
For the most part, I was wrong about this and it may have a huge impact on how this race turns out.
While there were certainly moments of very rough “anti-Trump” coverage, based on how the events of the convention certainly allowed for a complete search and destroy mission if they were willing to go there, most of what I saw was remarkably favorable to Trump.
For instance, even Trump himself told ABC that he was pleasantly surprised with what a pass his wife Melania was being given over the plagiarism scandal. They also clearly took Trump’s side when it came to characterizing Cruz’s rather benign “non-endorsement” as some sort of horrendous breach of ethics (it was rather bizarre watching a group of news media members who would never dream of voting for Trump, castigating a conservative for simply saying that people should “vote their conscience” rather than directly urging them to vote for Trump).
The biggest break most of the news media gave to Trump was not on a specific issue, but rather in their overall tone. They seemed to completely accept the concept that Trump is a legitimate presidential candidate who should be treated with the respect a person of such status deserves (something they never gave to Sarah Palin, even though she was only running for vice president). They also set the expectation bar so low that at times I thought I was watching old Olympic coverage of Eddie “The Eagle” or the Jamaican bobsled team.
My only explanations for this phenomenon are: Trump has always been a big celebrity and in the media’s collective mind warrants full respect as a member of their “club,” they are still addicted to the ratings he brings them and they don’t want to risk taking him “out” too soon, and they really have no affinity at all for Hillary Clinton.
Melania Trump: As I have written previously, I believe that the plagiarism scandal was very real and, in a rational world, very significant. Not because it matters that much if Melania Trump can give a speech without ripping off the words of others whom her husband supposedly abhors, but rather because of what it said about the amateurish and deceitful nature of the entire Trump campaign.
If we are to believe Trump’s current story (I don’t), then the campaign allowed itself to be badly sidetracked for two days of its convention, forced every member of its support staff to knowing lie about there not being any plagiarism, and revealed Mr. “You’re Fired!” tough guy as such a softie that he won’t even accept the resignation of someone who supposedly catastrophically messed up on the biggest state possible and who humiliated his wife in the process.
Seriously? This is what we want in a president who claims he will hire only all of the “very best” people and demand accountability from them? Trump was obviously shocked/pleased by the supportive media coverage Melania got here because even he knows this was a major screw up which probably should have torpedoed his entire campaign narrative.
Ted Cruz: The most overrated and misconstrued story of the convention was the Cruz “vote your conscience” moment. I loathe Cruz because he is a selfish phony, but he got a completely raw deal here.
First, telling Trump supporters to vote their conscience is hardly a dis of Trump (unless of course, for some odd reason, their consciences are troubled), especially when the speech was given to Trump beforehand.
Secondly, the idea that this was somehow the shattering of a sacred pledge (something the thrice-married Trump knows a lot about) when Trump had said on multiple occasions that “the pledge” was no longer valid, even specifically saying that he didn’t want Cruz’s support, is simply absurd. Seeing Chris Christie, who has been a huge help to Democratic presidential candidates in each of the last two cycles, condemning Cruz for a lack of loyalty was particularly rich (as was reading Sarah Palin do the same, despite her past support for non-Republicans).
Finally, not only did the Trump team, perhaps brilliantly, clearly set a trap here for Cruz, it seems obvious that Trump got exactly what he wanted from Cruz. Cruz gave him: “reality TV” faux drama, a reminder to low-info independent voters just now tuning in that Trump is not remotely part of the “GOP establishment,” and an excellent (though inaccurate) excuse for if/when he loses to Hillary.
Sarah Palin: The most underrated story (from a media perspective) of the week was the disappearance of Sarah Palin. Palin sold out to Trump earlier and harder than any other GOP celebrity. She herself became famous in 2008 with the best convention speech of my lifetime. And yet somehow she was not even able to make it to the convention, supposedly, according to Trump, because Cleveland was too far from Alaska?
Does anyone seriously believe that explanation? That’s like buying that Chris Christie decided against dessert at a wedding because the ice cream tray was too far from his table.
In fact, this story was so obviously laughable that I held off commenting on it because I thought maybe it was all a reality TV head fake for when she dramatically showed up to give a surprise speech. Since we now know this wasn’t the case, the only remotely rational way to interpret what really happened here is that Trump used Palin when she was still somewhat valuable to his building some “Tea Party” street cred and now that she has served her purpose he has discarded her completely. The fact that she is still doing his bidding by attacking Cruz (whom she helped get elected to the Senate) all the way from Alaska, means that she really deserves a place above even the pitiful Christie on the list of formerly respectable Republicans who sold out to Trump, only to get nothing in return.
Mike Pence: I thought Pence’s speech was, by far, the best of the convention (unless, of course, we find out later that he plagiarized Joe Biden). It was so good that it even made me at least think about reconsidering never supporting a Trump-led ticket. If somehow Pence and Trump could flip positions on the ballot (something Trump might actually consider if Pence agreed to let him fly around on Air Force One), I think I would actually do so.
Sadly, and all too typically, the Trump team completely overshadowed Pence’s debut by overly obsessing over Cruz and granting a bizarre and damaging interview to the New York Times. Pence will do a good job of preventing the election from being a blowout (which will please the news media), but his speech will be remembered more for Trump’s ill-fated “air kiss” afterwards, than anything else.
Donald Trump: The biggest challenge with any big Trump speech is whether or not to leash him to the Teleprompter. Trump’s “magic,” such as it exists, is in his unscripted and unpredictable nature. He’s supposed to be different from any other politician and not using a prompter is part of what made that perception stick. Trump himself has mocked the use of the Teleprompter and even said they should be banned. However, his team obviously decided that letting Trump be Trump was too risky for such a large stage.
Possibly because of his use of the Teleprompter, I thought Trump’s performance was not his best. While it was definitely high energy, it felt like he shouted most of the speech, which was not a great idea for someone whose number one job was convincing people that he could be “presidential.”
From a substantive perspective, Trump’s speech was literally all over the place. From a classical standpoint, it was certainly no work of art, but it clearly was never intended to be. It was more of a (far too long) laundry list of soundbite highlights for his target audience rather than a speech.
His fans will love the speech, and there didn’t seem to be any disasters in it, but I’m not sure he really persuaded as many people to come to his cause as he could have. His constant focus throughout the speech on being the “law and order” president seemed like a mistake, given the fears of many that he may be a sort of dictator in the making.
I think he would have been better served explaining exactly how he would improve things economically. Instead, not only were economic issues buried in the speech, there were no new details or proposals. Trump’s entire economic policy still seems to be: “I’ll renegotiate all our trade deals and magic will happen! Believe me!”
There was also almost no humor or real humility in the speech, which was surprising for a guy who can be very funny and, at times, personally endearing. Overall, while I agreed with much of the speech, I was surprised it wasn’t more effective. Even still, the conservative media will LOVE this speech and the rest of the media will likely give it passing grades.
The Overall Convention: Despite all the data points which could easily make a rational person conclude that this GOP convention was a political disaster, or at least a disappointment. I disagree. I believe the Cruz flap will actually help Trump in the polls, at least in the short run. I also think the TV ratings will be so big that it would be almost impossible for Trump to not to get some sort of “bounce.”
That being said, it should be noted that almost none of Trump’s grandiose promises for what the convention would be like, actually came true. There was no outdoor stadium acceptance speech like Barack Obama gave in 2008. There was no “winners” night featuring major sports stars. The star power of the speakers list was dim at best. Frankly, from a “Hollywood” perspective, the entire convention was a rather mundane, unimaginative, predictable, and boring production.
The State of the Race: I wrote here a couple of weeks ago that I thought there was a good chance that Trump would essentially be tied nationally at this point. Recent polls have indicated that is essentially true. I believe that, largely because of the huge TV ratings that the Trump curiosity factor created, he will get a good bounce from this convention.
I predict that by Monday the national polls which come out between now and then will have Trump slightly ahead with about a 45-42 lead over Hillary Clinton in the head-to-head match-ups. Assuming that there is no major news to disrupt next week’s Democratic Convention, I also expect that “lead” to be short-lived and, by the start of August, Hillary will edge back out in front.
From that point, I would normally say that Hillary was a lock to win, but given the news media’s remarkably soft coverage of Trump, I am no longer totally sure of that proposition. Trump’s biggest hurdle to defeating a very weak Hillary has always been having a majority of the voting population accept the idea that he is a plausible president. Thanks to the news media, at least so far, treating Trump far more generously and with greater respect than they easily could have, it is possible that Hillary has lost her “goalkeeper” in this game.
I still believe that the news media will turn hard against Trump eventually, but if they decide that it’s simply in their best interest to continue to play with the dangerous fire of his potential presidency, this race could end up being very close.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.