The Cleveland convention is a train wreck; you don’t want to stare, you can’t do anything else. The cast of speakers at #RepConv2016 is as baffling as it is unimpressive: sitcom and soap opera stars, a professional golfer I’d never heard of and a UFC fight promoter.
And of course there are ‘The Donald’s’ close family members. Look, there’s absolutely no doubt that portions of Melania Trump’s Monday speech were lifted. She’s not running for office so I really don’t care if her writers plagiarized deliberately or inadvertently. What I was interested in seeing was how the Trump campaign would officially respond. Denial? Contrition? It turned out to be more along the lines of “nothing to see here, let’s move on.” Nobody will be fired, nobody will be held to account. An unusual response from someone who turned firing subordinates into a TV laugh line.
Predictably, they blamed the whole fiasco on the Hillary Clinton campaign, ignoring the fact that it was a journalist who discovered the similarities. (I suppose the thin-skinned Trump could have claimed Michelle Obama lifted the lines from a speech Melania gave at her college graduation.)
Plagiarism is hard to prove; copyright infringement is much easier. On the Monday before he introduced his wife to the convention, Trump entered the convention stage backed by the classic Queen anthem We Are The Champions. Pretentious, presumptuous — and Queen’s publicist confirms the campaign never received permission to use the song. (Rather than seeking a cease-and-desist order, maybe the rights holder should simply tell Donald Trump that Freddy Mercury was gay.)
The convention has been disappointing, and yet (train wreck) I can’t stop watching. Last night, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie donned his old prosecutor hat and had the audience convict Hillary Clinton of crimes and acts of misjudgement from Libya to Russia to Cuba.
This is Donald Trump’s show — lots of sizzle, no steak. Infotainment for an audience that can’t seem to get enough of it. We’ve heard very little talk of policy; Trump doesn’t have much to offer and the policy he has tends to be contradictory and made up on the fly.
There are still many thoughtful conservatives on both sides of the 49th parallel. They’re just not in Cleveland. George Will, conservative columnist and baseball historian, changed his voter registration recently from Republican to Independent. The Grand Old Party is at war with itself — a dirty war between bedrock GOP ideology and Trump’s brand of angry, incoherent populism, between Washington insiders and an ‘anti-establishment’ candidate.
And so far, it’s been no contest. This is no longer the Republican Party; it’s becoming the Trump Party — bombastic, obnoxious and playing deliriously on the fears of white America. Trump has dumped the conservative Republican playbook — he favours brick walls over free trade, a police state over smaller government. His appeal is based almost entirely on xenophobia and many Americans (mostly, but not entirely, Republicans) seem to believe what he is saying about Mexicans and Muslims.
Ronald Reagan was a populist, but he was a populist who represented core conservative values — such as limited government and free trade — in addition to some social conservative values that are still important to some, but not all, conservatives.
The only constant coming out of the Trump Convention has been the sustained, visceral and vicious attacks on Hillary Clinton. I’m no fan of the former Secretary of State, but one should rely on facts when attacking a political opponent — not wild hyperbole and unhinged fantasy. Given the lack of anything like substantive policy in his campaign, Trump’s strategy seems to be limited to malicious, often reckless, character assassination.
And that may be the most alarming thing about Trump — nobody really knows what he wants to do as president. His speeches are generally too incoherent to allow for inferences about whether he stands for anything apart from racial prejudice and misogyny. He is unpredictable, offensive and a blowhard. He is one of the most polarizing figures to aspire to high office in a western democracy in ages.
It’s unclear how many mainstream conservatives will vote for him. If he wins, a Trump administration could have a worse working relationship with a Republican Congress than does the current Obama administration.
If he loses to Clinton, mainstream Republicans might get their party back. If he wins, they might need to start over.
What makes him appealing to some is exactly what makes him repulsive to others — it’s all about his personality, the cult of the leader. As of 8:09 pm last night, it is Donald Trump’s party now.
Author: Brent Rathgeber