Deep into the national convention, what have Americans learned about Donald Trump’s Republican Party? Little we didn’t already suspect.
Just say, Ronald Reagan has left the building. The sunny Californian who declared a new morning in America 3 1/2 decades ago is nowhere to be found in the mean-spirited, hostile, ugly display being orchestrated in Cleveland.
Most of Day One of the Republican National Convention centered on over-the-top attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or exploitation of people who lost loved ones or fixations on far-right conspiracies.
Then there was increasingly out-of-touch Rudy Giuliani, newly baptized as a Trump supporter, bellowing to terrorist, “You know who you are and we are coming to get you!” An even lowerlight was reality actor Antonio Sabato Jr. insisting to ABC News that “we had a Muslim president for 7½ years” followed by Trump adviser Roger Stone, who ranted about “carpet fibers” and implied Clinton killed former White House counsel Vince Foster.
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Political conventions belong to true believers, but calling for the imprisonment of political foes is what politicians do in banana republics. We can only hope that, as the convention proceeds, the Donald Trump’s GOP will offer something beyond anger, darkness and threats.
Trump’s Republican Party has yet to erect the Big Tent. Instead, backers chant “build the wall.” The Trump platform – the most extreme in memory – is a compendium of nativist, homophobic, protectionist, retrograde shibboleths.
Front and center is the California delegation. Virtually handpicked by Trump’s team, they were positioned near the convention speaker so that when a measure to free delegates to vote their conscience was presented, they furiously shouted it down.
More notable is those who aren’t here: Both of the party’s former presidents, its past two nominees for the White House, a half-dozen Republican governors, including the governor of Ohio. More than 20 GOP senators, nine House members and prominent Republicans such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also declined to attend.
House Speaker Paul Ryan flocked to the light, as did House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But their limited involvement, like that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, just reveals the extent to which any vision beyond Trump’s raw ambition has been taken hostage. Trumps on the bill outnumbered congressional leadership.
Also revealed? How Trump operates under pressure. Consider the discovery that passages in his wife Melania’s speech – the one oasis of compassion – were plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s speech introducing her husband in 2008. That’s the same Michelle Obama that Trump has spent years reviling. The words copied for Melania by speechwriters (presumably) were about dignity, hard work and honor.
Not only did the ethical transgression go viral, but it became a Twitter meme by Tuesday morning. It only got worse when the Trump camp denied any error then doubled down, insisting Clinton was somehow to blame.
Trump’s formal acceptance of the nomination won’t be until Thursday, but watching his party’s performance has been like witnessing a train wreck or the throes of an angry animal.
Can’t America do better than this mess of marketing and rancor? Yes we can. But those are words Trump hasn’t said. Not yet.