Wednesday

December 13th, 2017

Insight

In Cleveland, the GOP's 'come to Trump' moment

Byron York

By Byron York

Published July 27, 2016

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CLEVELAND -- There's always been a disconnect between what pundits and political insiders hear when Donald Trump speaks and what rank-and-file Republicans hear. But when Trump gave his acceptance address on the last night of the GOP convention here in Cleveland Thursday night, the opinion gap was absolutely vast.

To the critics offering first opinions on Twitter, Trump's 75-minute speech was dark, angry, bigoted, fear-mongering, deceitful and more. And to the thousands of Republicans in the room at the Quicken Loans Arena, it was ... great.

Immediately after Trump finished, as the halls filled with delegates and activists on their way to after-convention parties, I asked people for quick reactions to the speech. These are the first 20 reactions I got:

"Awesome."

"He rocked it."

"I loved it -- it was fabulous."

"Wonderful -- everything about law and order and the military -- it was huge."

"Oh my gosh, I was blown away."

"Great -- very presidential, actually."

"A grand slam."

"Fabulous -- will go down in history as a great speech."

"LGBTQ -- I was so happy. He nailed that one."

"A phenomenal job. I get how he speaks to people."

"It was a total out-of-body experience. I've never been so filled with hope and gratitude and excitement for our kids. He was John Wayne -- the cavalry is on the way."

"Ronald Reagan on steroids."

"A home run, full of red meat for Republicans and conservatives."

"Incredible -- touched all the bases."

"Superb -- he hit every point. Just great."

"He's going to make American great again, and I believe him."

"He's so articulate about his vision and his plan, and he gives us confidence he can do it."

"Entertaining and uplifting, with substance too."

"Absolutely pitch perfect, full of details. There's so much we have to fix."

"I loved it. Four years ago it was one-man-one-woman, and this year we actually heard 'LGBTQ.' I teared up. It made me so happy."

Of course, those were the people in the hall, committed Republicans all. They weren't the millions of general-election voters watching on TV. But their reactions, along with a lot of other signs, suggested at the least that whatever Republican disunity existed going into the convention had disappeared going out.

"Everybody has a come-to-Trump moment," a Southern politico who originally did not support Trump explained not long after Trump formally won the Republican nomination Tuesday night. The GOP's get-on-board moment came later this year than in recent presidential elections, but it finally arrived at Quicken Loans on Thursday.

In a backhanded way, the previous night's Ted Cruz debacle helped make it happen. What the widely negative reaction to Cruz showed was that the delegates and Republican activists gathered here no longer have any appetite for the conflicts of the GOP primary season.

Those conflicts officially ended when the 1,237th delegate cast a vote for Trump, making him the party's nominee. Cruz tried to extend the fight. It didn't work.

In conversation after conversation over four days, delegates and other attendees said something like this: "Donald Trump wasn't my first choice. But he's the nominee. The primaries are over. It's time to get behind him."

Some added this: "I wasn't all that happy about supporting John McCain, but they told me to support the party's nominee. I wasn't all that happy about supporting Mitt Romney, but they told me to support the party's nominee. Now it's time to support the party's nominee."

Trump's speech generally followed the themes his campaign mapped out for each night of the convention -- make America safe again, make America work again, make America first again and make America one again. But Trump's strongest moments -- and by far the passages that won the most enthusiastic response from the audience -- focused on safety and security.

Pointing to Dallas, Baton Rouge, Orlando, San Bernardino and more, Trump said, "The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country."

The response was strong from an overwhelmingly pro-police crowd. And later, when a Code Pink demonstrator staged what has become a traditional disruption of the GOP gathering and was taken out by authorities, Trump ad-libbed, "How great are our police?" The ovation was thunderous.

If the applause meter were the only guide, Trump should probably talk about police all the time.

It was just one part of Trump's appeal to voters who believe something has gone terribly wrong in the United States. "This is a speech trying to speak to the seven out of 10 Americans who say we are on the wrong track and the half who say we are less safe today," tweeted the Republican pollster and Washington Examiner columnist Kristen Soltis Anderson.

There's no doubt that for the Republicans who came to Cleveland, the convention, occasionally troubled, ended on a high note. (As such things go, the balloon drop at the end was epic.)

This is impressionistic, but there seemed to be an unmistakable enthusiasm deficit in the convention's first three days. Of course there were moments, like Rudy Giuliani's amped-up address on Monday night. But in general, the excitement level seemed lower and significant numbers of seats remained empty, even during the prime-time parts of the program.

That changed with Trump's appearance on Thursday. At the very least, the RNC finally had a lot of happy customers. The (vastly) bigger question, of course, is what those millions watching on TV thought.

Did they see darkness and anger, as the commentariat did? Or did they see an extraordinary political performer with the potential to actually fix the nation's problems?

Now the campaign begins in earnest.

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