CLEVELAND — At first glance, this looks like any other 21st century political convention. Fresh-faced city volunteers greet you with smiles as wide as Lake Erie. Delegates with red-white-and-blue boots stagger along with free drinks. Everyone affects patience while they’re frisked (again), screened (again), and wanded (again) ….
But then you check the schedule of speakers, and you quickly realize that this Republican confab is very bizarre, that you’ve trekked hundreds of miles in order to be schooled on the most vital issues of the day by (among others) a grade-C actor who peaked in the early ’80s, a female golfer who ranks 484th in the world, a soap opera actress who retired 13 years ago, a guy who runs a martial arts league, a reality TV contestant who once modeled Calvin Klein underwear, and no fewer than five members of the nominee’s family.
Well, somebody has to fill all the speaker slots. Especially since roughly one-third of the GOP’s senators have opted to stay away, including Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. In fact, more than half of the Pennsylvania House delegation is boycotting, as are five of the six New Jersey congressmen. As are Mitt Romney, John McCain, and anyone whose last name is Bush. Congressional leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have shown up, out of duty, but two weeks ago on Sunday TV, McConnell repeatedly refused to answer a direct question about whether his party’s nominee was qualified to be president.
Heck, even Ivanka’s rabbi bailed out, after being reminded by his brethren that the nominee is a uniquely despicable character.
The goal of every convention is to advertise party unity, but the Donald Trump convention is offering a faux version. Ted Cruz, one of the scheduled speakers, will labor to extol the same guy whom he recently assailed as a “pathological liar,” and “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.” Cruz will do it because, as a widely hated figure within his own party, he wants to garner good will by being a good soldier, with his eye on ’20 or ’24.
(Also, he’s half-Cuban, and there are virtually no Latinos anywhere in sight — not among the delegates, or anywhere on the speakers’ roster. Which is just brilliant, considering the fact that Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in America, and can swing as many as five states, most notably Florida. The latest polls show Trump losing Latinos by 54 points — 68-14 percent — which is way worse than even Romney.)
Meanwhile, Chris Christie, who last winter ridiculed Trump as a “carnival barker” who acts like “13-year-old,” who then morphed into Trump’s manservant, and who then got kicked in the teeth last week when he was passed over for veep, will speak at this convention anyway, falling on his sword, because maybe he can still land the attorney general’s job, because he has no future in Jersey, because he simply wants to stay in the conversation. (And the humiliations continue. On Tuesday night, according to the Team Trump announcement, clueless Ben Carson is a “Headliner.” Christie is listed at the tail end of “Also Speaking.”)
A lot of delegates will tell you privately that they feel duty-bound as loyal Republicans to support the nominee, and stories keep circulating about delegates who announced their refusal to vote for Trump — only to be summarily replaced by alternate delegates who will do what they’re told. Radio host Hugh Hewitt, normally a loyal Republican, said here on Sunday that Trump is “a black swan event for the Republican party, it’s unprecedented, it’s causing chaos, it is very turbulent.” He has arguably softened since a few weeks ago, when he compared Trump to “stage IV cancer.”
So it’s a weird scene here, with the cop choppers churning in the skies, and dudes with long guns strapped to their backsides parading their manliness. This is either the latest pit stop on the road to a Republican debacle — or perhaps an improbable victory in the making. Reince Priebus, the Republican chairman who has endeavored to tutor Trump on the rules of civilized behavior, said it best not long ago: “It could be a great moment or a bad moment. But it’s going to be a moment.”