Donald Trump’s Buckeye State gathering received a failing grade until Donald Trump delivered an “A+” speech.
Less a Republican National Convention than a Trump Parochial Rally, the star of the four-part docudrama came to his own rescue. He did this by melding a familiar GOP message of law and order with a new trio of issues — restricting immigration, crafting better trade deals, and approaching interventions abroad less cavalierly — that blows up the Republican Party that won a majority at the presidential level just once in the last quarter century.
“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents,” Trump announced, “is that our plan will put America First. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo.”
This is not George W. Bush’s father’s Republican Party.
The lengthy speech short on policy but long on vision divorced the party from its last president as it hammered the current president. It offered a third way of neither Bush nor Obama.
The billionaire’s GOP strangely looks like a blue-collar party. If that represents a subtle shift already underway for decades, a more overt, cleaner break comes with his condemnation of the nation-building championed by the last Republican president. “After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before,” Trump notes. He later implored, “We must abandon the failed policy of nation-building and regime change that Hillary Clinton pushed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria.”
He namedropped gays more than God. He emphasized a rigged system more than the American Dream. He never mentioned abortion and barely mentioned Obamacare.
He offered something different from the ghosts of Republican nominees past until he didn’t.
Trump deftly linked illegal immigration, ISIS, and rising crime under the rubric of security, traditionally a winning issue for his party. “The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens,” Trump bluntly recognized. “Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead.” Here, Trump sounded like any of the nominees who preceded him on the podium.
The effective oratory reoriented a disoriented convention.
Last August, when Bret Baier asked Republican presidential aspirants to raise a hand to indicate an unwillingness to pledge unconditional support for the party’s eventual choice, only Donald Trump elevated his arm. On Wednesday, Ted Cruz belatedly revealed his crossed fingers to America as he extended a middle finger to the Republican nominee.
In a plot twist worthy of Omarosa, Cruz instructed Republicans to “vote your conscience” and refused to endorse. A Trump true believer could tell you that assassinating presidents, past and future, runs in the family.
From Cruz’s perspective, that’s what you get for calling him Lyin’ Ted. From Trump’s perspective, that’s why he called him Lyin’ Ted.
Up until Thursday night, Trump’s convention played as a triumph only if you abide by the axiom that all publicity is good publicity. In good news, a Trump protester mixing evil with incompetence lit himself on fire outside of the arena when he tried to torch an American flag. But too often what the event gave America to talk about reflected negatively on the GOP. And it was unconventional by convention conventions.
Melania Trump Joe Bidenned that Shakespeare of First Ladies Michelle Obama on night one, refraining at least from sharing her story of growing up black on Chicago’s South Side. The Quicken Loans Arena Humongotron, a screen almost big enough for The Donald, broke down at the made-for-television event for the made-by-television candidate. Speaking of television, Roger Ailes stole the candidate’s thunder (perhaps in an attempt to allow Trump’s thunder to drown out the steps of his walk of shame) by resigning from Trump frenemy Fox News, the network offering the most-widely watched coverage of the quadrennial meeting, hours before the nominee delivered his acceptance speech.
But the convention’s first three days only stumbled by Republican standards.
In 1924, a resolution condemning the Ku Klux Klan failed to win the approval of delegates to the Democratic National Convention, which lasted over two weeks in search of consensus on a candidate. In Chicago in 1968, Tom Hayden, a Democrat officeholder in later decades, helped ensure the defeat of Hubert Humphrey by instructing activists to “make sure that if blood is going to flow, it will flow all over the city.” In 1972, George McGovern delivered his acceptance speech at 2:48 a.m. Eastern — primetime in Hawaii, the South Dakota senator joked — after delegates pushed the likes of Cesar Chavez, Jerry Rubin, and Ralph Nader as running mates (suggestions actually seeming rational in retrospect compared to the actual selection of the convention). In 1988, Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis.
Did anything inside or outside the Quicken Loans Arena approach 1968’s open-air battle royal in Grant Park or 1924’s Klanbake? No, not even close.
Donald Trump, more than most, knows that Americans, for better or worse, prefer reality television to scripted fare. So many recent conventions, choreographed into schlock, sedate rather than stimulate viewers. Boring induces sleep. Drama captivates. Cleveland captivated.
It did so most arrestingly on the final night in one of the final delivered lines. “My opponent asks her supporters to recite a three-word loyalty pledge,” Trump explained. “It reads: ‘I’m With Her.’ I choose to recite a different pledge. My pledge reads: ‘I’m with you — the American people.’”
Your move, Hillary.