Day 2 at the Republican National Convention was billed as jobs night: “Make America Work Again,” in Trump-speak.
But there only seemed to be one job that convention speakers cared much about: Donald Trump’s.
More precisely, the theme was to make sure that one American is unemployed come January: Hillary Clinton.
Benghazi, Lucifer, Clinton emails, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, even recycled 1960s radical Saul Alinsky. “Lock her up,” the delegates serenaded Hillary Clinton, again and again.
A long night of primetime speeches, but not a single plan from Trump to create American jobs. Except at Trump Winery in Virginia.
That led a former Ted Cruz staffer to tweet this:
Unless Trump is going to make America work again by making Republicans prison guards for Democrats, I don’t know what the big jobs plan is.
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) July 20, 2016
Some establishment speakers such as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan barely mentioned Trump. (Maybe that’s part of the reason why they were booed by many Trump delegates.)
The ongoings in Cleveland led Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, to write that GOP establishment Trump apologists have been reduced to declaring that their nominee is “better than Clinton.”
More to the point, they mean “less bad than Clinton.”
Time management of the convention continues to be dreadful. Some of the most effective speakers — Tiffany Trump (who used anecdotes to humanize her father), National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox (who built a policy case for why electing Trump matters) and McConnell (who skewered Clinton time and again with embarrassing examples from her past) — were pushed out of the live-TV 10 p.m. hour for a soap opera actress and 2016 also-ran Ben Carson. And the winery woman. That looked more like an infomercial than a political convention.
“Whoever organized this event would be fired from a regional sales conference,” tweeted Andrew Sullivan.
By the way, did I forget to tell you that Donald Trump and Mike Pence were officially nominated for president and vice president?
That got lost in the ad hoc scheduling stew.
It’s important to note that candidates are only graded by the media for hewing to political traditions. Trump is unlike any other presidential nominee ever, so it may not be fair to judge him by historical standards. After all, he has turned history on its head over the past year. So I think it’s necessary for all of us to put ourselves inside the heads of undecided voters or reluctant Republicans.
What is the best way for Trump to defeat Hillary? It’s to destroy her. He’s the most unpopular presidential nominee in the history of polling, so he’s not going to convince the doubters that he’s a good guy. That’s why he’s enlisted Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie and Shelly Moore Capito and Mitch McConnell and Scott Baio and many more, to try to shred what’s left of Clinton’s credibility.
That process takes more than one speech. It is an accumulation of days (or weeks) of disciplined attacks.
Does Team Trump have the skill and the discipline to pull it off? Can establishment figures such as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus and McConnell play constructive (or is it destructive) roles? That’s what the rest of Trump’s convention week is about.
A national presidential nominating convention is supposed to help the party’s candidate win the general election.
Since I started watching political conventions in 1968 (and attending at least one each campaign since 1976), there have been only two exceptions: the 1968 Democratic disaster in Chicago, and the 1972 Democratic chaos-fest in Miami.
After one day, I’m prepared to say that the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland could join this short and ignominious list.
Day One of the GOP convention did nothing to help Donald Trump appeal to undecided voters. It did nothing to reassure wavering Republicans or independents who dislike both GOP nominee-to-be Donald Trump and Democratic nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton.
And that was before the plagiarism thing.
From the early morning, the Trump campaign seemed to be trying its best to sabotage its stated Day One message of national security. At a breakfast meeting with reporters, its campaign chief picked an unnecessary fight with Ohio Gov. John Kasich by insulting the popular governor of a state he needs to win to have any plausible shot at an Electoral College majority. Paul Manafort’s unforced error drew a fast and furious rebuke from the Ohio Republican Party chair. Suffice it to say that Ohio Republicans will concentrate their efforts and passions on re-electing endangered incumbent Sen. Rob Portman now, rather than the presidential race.
Later in the morning, in an episode I missed until it was pointed out on Twitter by ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum, Team Trump forced the GOP to tear up its platform to excise a section that might ruffle the feathers of one Vladimir Putin. Kowtowing to the Russian leader is not exactly the image of strong American leadership. Hard-core Trumpistas won’t care, but undecided voters won’t be impressed.
To further alienate Jewish voters, the Republican National Committee had to shut down a convention live chat during a speech by former Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (who happens to be Jewish) when it was bombarded by pro-Trump, pro-Hitler, profanely anti-Jewish ranters, according to a report in the Times of Israel.
And then there was a white supremacist riff from Iowa Congressman Steve King, who belittled all contributions to global civilization from non-white, non-Christian humans. “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” he asked on MSNBC, setting off a hourlong tweet storm in the Twitterverse.
Before the prime-time speeches, Republicans had a Democrat-like rumble over convention rules. It reminded me a little of Chicago 1968, when Mayor Daley had the microphones turned off on anti-war, anti-Humphrey delegations. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus’ team played hardball to prevent an actual recorded vote that would have shown the world the level of dissatisfaction with Trump among convention delegates.
You have to divide the evening session into three parts: pre-Melania, Melania and after Melania.
Pre-Melania was red-meat rhetoric for Trump Lovers and Hillary Haters. Also birthers. One speaker said Obama was certainly a Muslim. Several called for throwing Clinton in jail. Rudy Giuliani is passionate, and he hates Hillary Clinton, but there’s nothing he said that would convince wavering voters why they should vote for Trump. Indeed, I didn’t hear a single Trump policy initiative from any speaker.
Post-Melania was a sleeping pill for America. Rising star Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa was pushed out of prime time by a rambling, never-ending speech by an obscure military guy named Flynn. Don’t think this will launch a speaking career for him. And Ernst, speaking to a mostly empty auditorium, gave her normal stump speech, evoking the parallel political worlds Republicans live in. Just watching the early lines to the exits, you can see that this is not a Republican national convention, it is the Trump national convention. Many Trump delegates don’t care about Republican rising stars. Only Trump.
Finally, Melania, the most important speaker of the night. I liked the speech. It was well-written. It was human. It was plagiarized.
The part about honesty.
To all the Trump backers who tweeted that Melania will bring class back to the White House after eight years of Michelle Obama, all I can say is … I don’t really have anything to say.
I had forgotten that Mrs. Obama said many of the same words in a similar introduction-to-the-nation speech eight years ago. In the afternoon, Mrs. Trump boasted in an interview that she had written almost all of her speech. By the end of the evening, Team Trump released a curious statement citing a “team” of speechwriters.
As the aforementioned Hubert H. Humphrey once remarked, “To err is human. To blame someone else is politics.”
Day Two. What else could go wrong?
I will be analyzing the convention on CCTV’s World Insight program at 10:15 a.m. EDT/9:15 EDT on Tuesday. Tune in for a live discussion.