September 21st, 2020


The Republican Show In Cleveland: All About Space --- And Trump's Final Frontier

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published July 19, 2016

I've been attending or viewing national political conventions for the better part of three decades now - my first journeys taking me to Atlanta in 1988, to watch Democrats convince themselves that a liberal Massachusetts governor could compete in the South, followed by New Orleans and George H.W. Bush uttering six words ("read my lips, no new taxes") he'd later regret.

Over the years, I've come to two conclusions.

First, we may never see a "brokered" convention in our lifetimes.

As much as this year's Republican competition teased us with that prospect for the first four months of 2016, how fast it vanished after Indiana's results.

Second, something has to be done to make this more compelling viewing.

Over the next two weeks, the non-Fox non-cable television networks will give the shows in Cleveland minimal coverage. Yes, there are alternatives - C-SPAN and the alphabet-soup news nets go for multi-hour blocs, even gavel-to-gavel coverage. Still, ABC, NBC and CBS CBS -0.95% have decided that an hour a night is all that's required.

As for the first of the two shows - the Republican National Convention, which kicks off in Cleveland on Monday - here are four observations (a week from now, we'll have the same the categories for the Democrats).

How The Times Have Changed. This isn't your father's GOP convention. In fact, it's a convention remarkable for its lack of a political bloodline.

Three Bush males have vied for the presidency in seven of the last 10 elections dating back to 1980. The father and his two sons won't be in Cleveland, though Jeb Bush did forward this ugly gift.

Also noticeably absent: the last two party nominees - Mitt Romney and John McCain - and a host of congressional incumbents wary of being tethered to the nominee.

Though the event will look good on TV, keep in mind the split personality of the Cleveland convention.

Trump controls 1,543 delegates - roughly five of every eight delegates on the floor. Majority consensus.

But not so, outside the arena.

Trump received a little over 13.3 million votes during the primary season - nearly 5.7 million more than his nearest contender. However, nearly 15.3 million voters opted for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich.

By comparison, Romney collected 9.8 million primary votes back in 2012 - 5.9 million more than his closest competitor. And well more than the 8.7 million votes amassed by the trio of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

The bottom line: for Republicans learning to live with Trump. "majority rule" has an elastic definition.

Can They Put On A Happy Face? A glimpse through the GOP speaker lineup shows little threat of someone upsetting the apple cart.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz - he of the second most delegates in Cleveland - have profound differences with Trump, but bigger fish to fry: Ryan's trying to keep House Republicans enthused; coming across as a sore loser isn't the best way for Cruz to get a jump on 2020.

Otherwise, this is a convention designed for nothing in the way of party dissent - as is the norm.

Trump's adult kids will take the stage. They don't have daddy issues. Two survivors of the Benghazi talk will speak to the crowd - that's all about Hillary.

One thing that won't make folks happy: the vaunted Trump list of celebrities, athletes and political non-conformists. Bobby Knight, Tom Brady and Don King all passed on the convention.

Still it hasn't stopped daughter Ivanka Trump from predicting "a convention unlike any we've ever seen."

It might take an impromptu move by the nominee, a surprise guest, or a particularly clever balloon-drop on Thursday makes good on her prophecy.

Who's The Closer? In honor of Glengarry Glen Ross, think of this as a four-day sales pitch and always (be) closing (David Mamet, by the way, a convert to conservatism).

The question: who's the star salesman in this crowd - the one individual, other than the candidate, who can best make the case for Trump?

Bill Clinton served this role brilliantly at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

In Cleveland, the most obvious choice might be: Gingrich.

The former Speaker has turned into something of a Trump whisperer in this election. But also keep an eye on Cruz who's both a skilled orator and at one time on friendly terms with the nominee. Will his speech be most about Trump, conservatism, or the Texas senator's future?

Breakout Star? Sarah Palin made the biggest splash at 2008's GOP convention. In 2012, Utah Rep. Mia Love was a revelation.

And Cleveland?

It's the year of the non-politician, so let's rule out the officeholders. Instead, look for someone like Eileen Collins, a former NASA astronaut, retired Air Force colonel and, almost exactly 17 years ago, the first woman to command a space shuttle mission.

Point of irony: Collins' mission was announced by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, who called the moment "one big step for woman and one giant step for mankind".

Space, it turns out, is a thread running though this convention. Also speaking is Silicon Valley gazillionaire Peter Thiel, an early investor in Elon Musk's SpaceX. And don't forget that Gingrich once promised a lunar base.

Republicans in Cleveland: out of this world.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.