The Republican convention fiasco

I have been catching up on the news while traveling and it seems to me like the Republican convention was, by most measures, a rage-filled fiasco. While the Trump campaign clearly wanted to portray the nation as going to hell with the only possible salvation occurring in Donald Trump being elected president, their message got lost in the mistakes, often self-inflicted, that riddled the proceedings.

Coverage of the first day’s events was dominated by the noisy but failed effort by those opposed to Trump to unbind the delegates. The second day’s coverage was dominated by the plagiarism charges against Melania Trump’s speech. After denying that any plagiarism occurred, they were forced to acknowledge it and, what is worse, it turns out that Melania Trump is a big admirer of Michelle Obama, which did not go down well with the Republicans who have been portraying her as an angry, white-people-hating, Saul Alinsky acolyte. Then the third day’s proceedings were all about Ted Cruz stabbing Trump in the back.

And then we had the final day when Trump came on far too late in my opinion. The prime time speaking slot should be at 9:00pm Eastern and yet he came on almost at 10:30 and since he spoke for about 75 minutes, also far too long, the speech ended near midnight. The billionaire Peter Thiel was speaking at the time that Trump should have beemn.

I did not listen to Trump’s speech but Andrew Sullivan live-blogged the day 4 proceedings and that gives you a good sense of what happened.

Like many others, I read Trump’s draft acceptance speech a couple of hours ago. It’s a remarkable piece of oratory, cannily crafted, framed by massive lies and distortions, crammed with incoherence, and yet, I’m afraid to say, scarily potent. It invents a reality – that the U.S. is in a state of chaos, lawlessness and soaring crime; that the world is careening toward catastrophe – and then makes a classic argument for a strongman to set things straight.

This is a very new departure for politics in a liberal democracy. We’ve never heard an appeal from a major party platform to junk traditional democratic norms, and cede power to a new tyrant, whose magical powers will somehow cause almost every problem in the country to disappear. In this election, the very basis of liberal democracy is on the ballot. The fears I expressed last May about the popularity of tyranny in a late-democracy have, I’m afraid, only been fanned by events since.

The speech is entirely about fear, to be somehow vanquished by a single man’s will to power. Its core message is what America was founded to resist. Its success would be an abolition of the core promise of this country for two centuries – that self-government is incompatible with the rule by the whims and prejudices and impulses of a man on a white horse.

It can happen here. It is happening here. No election has been more important in my lifetime.

But Sullivan said that while the written speech was disturbingly powerful, the actual presentation was a disaster.

I have to say I’m relieved. This was a terrible presentation of what read like a powerful speech. It seems screechy, unmodulated, and yet also plodding. Mussolini never had a Teleprompter.

Matt Taibbi reviewed the entire convention and was surprised by how crazy it was.

Hell, yes, it was crazy. You rubbed your eyes at the sight of it, as in, “Did that really just happen?”

It wasn’t what we expected. We thought Donald Trump’s version of the Republican National Convention would be a brilliantly bawdy exercise in Nazistic excess.

We expected thousand-foot light columns, a 400-piece horn section where the delegates usually sit (they would be in cages out back with guns to their heads). Onstage, a chorus line of pageant girls in gold bikinis would be twerking furiously to a techno version of “New York, New York” while an army of Broadway dancers spent all four days building a Big Beautiful Wall that read winning, the ceremonial last brick timed to the start of Donald’s acceptance speech…

But nah. What happened instead was just sad and weird, very weird. The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research.

Priebus and Ryan hanged themselves at the start, endorsing Trump despite clearly not wanting to do so. If Trump loses, they go down the drain of history as pathetic quislings. In the unlikely event that Trump wins, a triumphant Donald would replace them at the first opportunity with horses or WWE ring doctors or anyone who didn’t make such a big show of being reluctant supporters when the chips were down.

Some say Ted Cruz was the only winner, given that he came the closest to openly defying the nominee. Cruz refused to endorse Trump, giving a remarkably poisonous and self-serving speech in which he preened like a bully wrestler and told people to “vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket,” instantly drawing boos from the crowd. Chris Christie, another quisling whose career will soon be over, felt compelled to shake his head in disbelief, while Cruz went on to repulse the crowd with his 10 gazillionth recitation of his Inspirational Family History, including what trail reporters derisively call “the underpants fable.”

“Love of freedom has allowed millions to achieve their dreams,” he said. “Like my mom, the first in her family to go to college, and my dad, who’s here tonight, who fled prison and torture in Cuba, coming to Texas with just $100 sewn into his underwear…”

“Fuck your mom!” grumbled someone in the cheap seats.

“You suck!” shouted another.

By the time Cruz’s speech was done, it felt as though an improbable collection of America’s most obnoxious, vapid, mean-spirited creeps had somehow been talked into assembling at the Q for the sheer novelty of it (“like X-Men, but for assholes” is how one reporter put it).

The buzz in the hall on the final night was that Trump might screw things up – how could he not? On the primary trail we had never seen anything like him: impulsive, lewd, grandiose, disgusting, horrible, narcissistic and dangerous, but also usually unscripted and 10 seconds ahead of the news cycle.

With tens of millions of eyes watching, Trump the Beltway conqueror turtled and wrapped his arms around the establishment’s ankles. He spent the entirety of his final address huddled inside five decades of Republican Party clichés, apparently determined to hide in there until Election Day.

And not just any clichés, either. Trump ripped off the Republican Party’s last-ditch emergency maneuver, a scare-the-white-folks spiel used by a generation of low-charisma underdogs trailing in the polls.

Many observers called it the most terrifying speech they’d ever seen, but that had a lot to do with its hysterical tenor (the Times amusingly called it “almost angry”), the Mussolinian head-bobs, the draped-in-flags Caesarean imagery, and his strongman promises. It was a relentlessly negative speech, pure horror movie, with constant references to murder and destruction. If you bought any of it, you probably turned off the tube ready to blow your head off.

Trump’s post speech press conference was also an exercise in message distraction, mostly dealing with Cruz’s behavior and again bring up the idea that Cruz’s father may have been involved with the Kennedy assassination. Trump’s problem is that he cannot let go of something once he latches on to it.

This is why Elizabeth Warren may be Hillary Clinton’s sharpest weapon against Trump. Warren seems to have found the trick to getting under Trump’s skin and he will not be able to ignore her but will spend a lot of effort attacking Warren, which will not bother her in the least but will deflect attention away from Hillary Clinton and again distract from whatever message that Trump wants to get across.


  1. Matt G says

    More terrifying than any of this is the tens of millions who think this rhetoric is great

  2. Menyambal says

    “Strongman”. Yeah, that’s a good term. “Dictator” might be apt, especially with the idea that the dictator is installed to deal with an emergency. The emergency being totally imaginary.

    The Trump supporter that I know keeps saying that Trump is going to fix everything. But nobody knows what Trump intends to do. Trump hasn’t said. Trump also hasn’t accomplished much in his life, except himself. He hasn’t fixed anything, or built anything.

    We’ve just seen eight years of Congress refusing to let the president accomplish anything, so why would folks think that Trump is going to bull his way through the establishment? A lot of Republicans hate Trump and all he has done -- they aren’t going to exert their power on his behalf. Trump’s been appealing to the powerless, to those who feel helpless -- those who have no power to help him accomplish anything in Washington.

  3. Robert,+not+Bob says

    Trump isn’t going to do anything except make speeches and pose for pictures. He’ll let Mike Pence work with Congress-and if they keep Congress Republican, there’ll be lots done. Nothing good, of course…

  4. lorn says

    All that is true. Obnoxiously, and scarily true.

    The convention also puts the lie to one of the most frequent dodges i hear from Trump supporters. The story they offer as to how Trump will be okay as president is that while Trump himself is an obnoxious bully, a liar, and grifter he is going to surround himself with high power professionals who will handle all the tough choices and The Donald will spend four years on tour rhetorically ‘making America great’.

    A campaign has two ways of bringing on professionals; You inspire them to join and work for you (often at reduced or no cost) , or you pay for their services. So how is it that they ended up with a presentation that was so completely dysfunctional as a coherent message and amateurish as sales presentation? The fact is that no A-list professionals volunteered (rats don’t tend to voluntarily climb onto sinking ships) and The Donald was unwilling to spend the money to persuade them. What we saw was a production coordinated by Trump, his family, old friends, and, those few times we saw actual professionals involved, unenthusiastic second-rate efforts.

    For those who have followed Trumps management style with a critical eye will see this as emblematic of Trump. Big promises, some early polish, but all the details handled by the lowest bidder with Trump family and friends, or subsidiaries, often taking the slot. This is efficient because it keeps the money in the family, or within his social group. It is all very cozy, and nearly incestuous, but it means that quality takes a back seat to keeping the money and power close.

    This is the opposite of the ‘team of rivals’ management style that served Lincoln so well in hard times. This is a matter of having all the details handled by well meaning amateurs, for-profit grifters looking for the short term score, and half-hearted second-string professionals.

    Anyone thinking that Trump may work out because he will be surrounded by crisp professionals needs to smell the coffee and wake up to the fact that you are going to end up with something far less impressive.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    In this election, the very basis of liberal democracy is on the ballot. […]
    [Trump’s] speech is entirely about fear

    The sheer lack of self-awareness in that juxtaposition is hilarious.

    “Our opponent is disingenuously basing his appeal to the electorate on fear, that coward -- we must stop him or he will literally become a fascist dictator and destroy the country and the world!!!1!!1!!”

  6. busterggi says

    ” The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF telethon”

    Oh, no -- please tell me Weird Al isn’t a Trumpeteer!

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