The quadrennial national political gatherings lost their excitement many years ago as the smoke-filled backroom morphed into the prime-time infomercial, but the Republican National Convention opening on Monday evening in Cleveland promises to be different: It will be a four-day hostage video courtesy of Donald Trump interspersed with paeans to intolerance -- both his and that of the party that created the conditions for this Frankencandidate to become its standard bearer. And that's just what will be going on inside the hall.
Following an insurrection by anti-Trump forces so feeble that the Rules Committee vote quashing it wasn't even recorded, the possibility of there being any sort of rebellion is non-existent, unless you think a minority report dumping on Trump matters. (It doesn't). In any event, the way should now be clear for the racist demagogue to get crushed in November after the political playing field levels out, which it most certainly will. After all, the primary qualification to be a Republican these days is cowardice, so stopping Trump was an hallucination. Intolerance is merely a close second.
Trump is used to controlling the narrative by manipulating the media, and changing that narrative at will with a single tweet or scene-stealing remark. That's how he became the putative nominee. But Cleveland will be different, and while he may be able to control the dog-and-pony show inside Quicken Loans Arena -- if only barely with so many long knives and his own penchant for going off script -- events on the street will be out of his control, as will what promise to be a series of powerful anti-Trump ads by and for Hillary Clinton to be aired in battleground states each evening this week. And the media has finally, if belatedly, stopped taking Trump at his word.
Anyone yearning for the good old days with prim committee ladies from Peoria wearing funny hats bedecked with campaign buttons jostling with red-faced committee men from Podunk for the attention of a friendly roving network floor correspondent for a shouted "Hi, Mom!" or two will be sorely disappointed, and it is likely that the biggest question is not who will leave Cleveland triumphant but whether there be more arrests than delegates who vote for Trump.
There hasn’t been a floor fight over the Republican nomination since Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully challenged Gerald Ford in 1976, let alone any undecided first-ballot votes for a nominee from either party since 1952. This is because the brokers of smoke-filled backroom lore, the guys (they were always guys, and straight out of Central Casting with a couple days of stubble, a dead stogie hanging from a corner of their mouth and bad body odor), went out with the Sony Walkman. The fact that Pokémon Go is the handheld device of the moment changes that not a whit.§
Brokers did indeed once kept delegates in their hip pockets for horse trading along with a flask of the hard stuff, but that doesn't play in the age of sanitized conventions, and even if there was the prospect of a deadlock in which no candidate had a majority of delegates, party bigs would put the squeeze on enough unbound delegates to push the candidate over the top. That would be Trump even though he spells certain defeat -- the GOP's fifth defeat in the last six presidential elections not decided by the Supreme Court -- and the probability it will lose control of the Senate and a slew of other down-ballot races.
My heart is breaking that Sarah Palin is not among the scheduled speakers at the convention, but what the others lack in Palin's star power they make up for in . . . something, and this certainly is the first national convention featuring as speakers not one but two fashion models, as well as a C-actor (B would be too good for Scott Baio), a retired soap opera actress and no less than five members of the nominee's family, but not quarterback Tim Tebow, who prayerfully declined.
The excuses being proffered by party bigs for skipping the convention range from the sublime (Steve Daines, going fishing) to the ridiculous (Jeff Flake, mowing his lawn). Incidentally, Trump says that Palin was asked to speak, but Alaska "you know, it's a long ways away."
Unlike every other convention, no living presidents or past nominees with the exception of Bob Dole will attend. These include George W. and George H.W. Bush, and John McCain and Mitt Romney. Not even Ohio Governor John Kasich plans to set foot in the hall, although he did help up the ante on the madness by refusing a police union request for an open-carry ban during the convention, which means it will remain illegal to carry a tennis ball or can of tuna fish, but an assault rifle is just fine.
With the terrorist attacks in Nice, Dallas and Orlando looming in the background, Newt Gingrich's vile proposal to deport Muslims who do not sign what, in effect, would be loyalty oaths pledging their fealty to mainstream American religious principles will be much saluted in Cleveland.
That proposal differs only slightly from what Trump has been preaching. Although the proposal would violate a slew of laws, it fits in perfectly with a Republican Party platform that under the guise of "unity" celebrates exclusion -- against gays and anyone not worshiping a Christian god -- while taking a traditionalist view of family and child rearing, opposes women in combat roles and, for good measure, validates coal as a "clean energy" source.
Never mind that the platform is, for the most part, far to the right of what even Trump has advocated. He and the party are in lockstep (or is it goose step?) when it comes to racial intolerance.
The Republican Party has by now worn out the tried-and-true definition of insanity -- as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Still, it is worth noting on the eve of their convention that the GOP has not merely failed to learn the lessons of their stinging defeats in 2008 and 2012, but has lurched further to the right and further from the American mainstream, and even the Republicans who understand that have been cowed into shameful silence.§
That may well have been the result had the man with the small hands and unusual hair not descended deux ex machina a year ago from the escalator at his 5th Avenue penthouse to announce his biggest celebrity stunt evah. We will never know. But it is likely that if not Trump, someone else would have fulfilled the Republican death wish. And that four years hence, the lessons of 2016 also will be unlearned, although the year will be viewed as not the beginning of a new era but the last gasp of an old one as the party pained itself into a demographic corner from which there was no escape.
But this is the big takeaway: As someone who is appalled by the America that my grandchildren will inherit, who still remains unable to process why some people are so hateful and angry, I can only bow my head in sadness that the Cleveland convention will be a nihilistic celebration of all that is wrong with our once proud republic. And that the party of Abraham Lincoln will leave the city firmly established as the party of white-identity politics to the lasting shame of most especially Republicans, but of all Americans, as well.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GENE J. PUSKAR/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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