From Cleveland, here’s everything you need to know about this week’s iteration of the quadrennial running of the elephants. Keep your eyes here for in-depth reports and follow @mpharkins
The nonsense that is the modern national political convention is coherent only in the context of its development alongside electoral reforms and the rise of television. Back in the day, as late as 1968 and as early as the formation of proto-political parties, the conventions were where all the nomination action happened. There were no meaningful primary elections as we know them, and the nomination process was all about leveraging support from party bosses and power brokers. Then George McGovern came along and led a committee that reformed the Democratic Party’s primary process. He made it so that the delegates were, in significant ways, bound to vote in line with the democratically expressed will of their constituents. The Republican Party followed along, while maintaining some degree of influence of the delegates against the voters they represent.
It just so happens that while the conventions were becoming less meaningful as the site of contestation for presidential candidates, the free exposure situated the conventions as a useful event to unify voters behind the pre-selected candidate. Add the rise of television into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for a bona fide dog and pony show.
So now the conventions are divorced from their original purpose and have become a quadrennial photo-op that media organizations and those obsessed with politics have decided is worth covering and consuming. All of the real action happens the prior week when the party insiders select the platform and decide what rules the party will operate under during the next election cycle. Usually, nobody pays much attention to these meetings, but because of the inner turmoil of the Republican Party, many journalists hyped up the possibility that some of the intra-party disagreements would manifest themselves in platform or rules committee squabbles.
In short, these expectations were not met. The edicts of both committees were seen as embraces of the Trumpists, as the Party adopted several platform planks, such as rephrasing “illegal immigrants” as “illegal aliens” and calling for the erection of a wall between the United States and Mexico. Reince Priebus (remember this name, he’s the head of the RNC and you’ll hear from him a lot over the next week) put several sweeping primary rules reforms which, if passed, would have at least delegitimized and at most threatened the solidification of the Trump nomination. These proposals were flatly rejected by the delegates on the rules committee. It was so resounding that there wasn’t enough dissent to move beyond a vocal vote and into an individual roll call. If any members of the party are dissatisfied with their nominee, they don’t have much of a realistic chance left to fix the ticket.
If I were a betting man, and the staff at the Presque Isle Downs and Casino can verify that I am, I’d put money on this convention going on with relatively little fanfare or disappointment. The theme of this electoral cycle for the GOP has been a general disapproval of Trump, but a failure to take any necessary drastic action to shut him down once and for all. You can trace it all the way back to Trump’s high profile, inaccurate, and racialized statements questioning of President Barack Obama’s heritage in 2008. The party hierarchy didn’t take much meaningful action to disavow Trump’s nativistic overtures to the conspiratorially inclined within their party. In fact, Mitt Romney courted Trump’s endorsement in 2012 and even invited Trump to speak at the first day of the convention four years ago. Then, it was much easier to cancel Monday’s programming in Tampa because of conveniently inclement weather. Now, it’s much easier for the elder statesmen to hole themselves up in their summer homes.
This means that the C-list speakers you’ll see on television would be more at home in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice than at a Republican National Convention. The highest profile celebrity slated to speak was a former straight-to-VHS actor turned underwear model turned eighth place finisher on Dancing with the Stars that you probably haven’t heard of. Both living Republican Presidents will be in a galaxy far, far away from Cleveland with the speakers rostrum left to political has-beens, never-will-bes, and all-purpose spotlight hogs.
These factors have led some of the media outlets most critical of Trump to set awfully low expectations for the convention. In all likelihood, it will probably turn out to be no better or worse than any other convention, which will inevitably lead Milquetoast centrist analysts on cable television to say that, you know, all things considered, Mr. Trump didn’t do such a bad job. Before you know it, that narrative will calcify into reality and net Trump a modest polling bump going into the Democrats’ convention in Philadelphia.
That’s just my guess though. You’ll have to watch this space and follow me on Twitter (@mpharkins) to find out for sure.
Quick thanks to Bryan Gangemi, Rich Petrarca, and Michael Beyman who have donated to my GoFundMe to help defray the cost of beer. Lots of gratitude is due to Dan Lintelman and Jon Levitan for providing me with a place to stay in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Thanks to Mark Anbinder for cross-promoting my stuff on 14850 Magazine. Without Mike Sosnick, and Phoebe Hering, most of my writing would be posted without necessary edits. Former Congressman and nine-time convention attendee Phil English gave me some fascinating insider perspective and made a terrific beer recomendation. Special thanks to John Simon for looking out for my safety! And none of this would be possible if it weren’t for Kim from the Congressional Press Gallery, who was extremely helpful and accommodating to my original request for credentials.
PS: this convention is my last shebang for WVBR News. I’m looking for jobs in political journalism, so if you know of anyone hiring, hit me up!