Allen Abel is in Cleveland to cover the Republican National Convention for Maclean’s. Read his day one dispatch here.
Delegates to the Republican National Convention formally, but far from unanimously, baptized Donald J. Trump for the U.S. presidency under a full moon on Tuesday night, a process that will culminate in a prime-time, original acceptance speech two days from now in which the Manhattan zillionaire is expected to pledge to uphold “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” declare that “it’s morning again in America,” and urge his fellow citizens to “ask not what your country can do for you.”
What nominee Trump is not likely to pilfer on Thursday is Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous assurance that the people of the United States “have nothing to fear but fear itself”—not after speaker after speaker after convention speaker on Monday and Tuesday evenings made it clear that (straight, white) Americans do need to be terrified not only of radical jihadist Islamic terrorism, but also of homicidal Mexican immigrants, homosexual parenthood, cop-hating black assassins who need to be called out by “someone with a tan,” mendacious Washington politicians, and the cackling, calculating witch-with-a-capital-B who enables all of the above, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
For example: “What happened, what happened to, what happened to ’there’s no white America, there’s no black America, there’s just America?’ WHAT HAPPENED TO IT? WHERE DID IT GO? HOW DID IT FLOAT AWAY?” (Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, New York).
And: “For thirty years, our right and decent people have rightly pleaded with their leaders for an end to the lawlessness . . . to this legitimate plea, our elites have responded with disdain, dismissal, and scorn.” (Jeff Sessions, U.S. Senator from Alabama.)
And: “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son . . . Hillary Clinton for prison! She deserves to be in stripes!” (Patricia Smith, mother of a U.S. diplomat killed in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.)
And: “Yeah, that’s right, lock her up! You’re damn right. There’s nothing wrong with that. Lock her up! You know why we’re saying that? If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.” (Lt. Gen’l. Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.)
And: “We didn’t disqualify Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States. The facts of her life and career disqualify her.” (New Jersey governor Chris Christie, urging the crowd along to lustily scream “guilty” as he played the part of a federal prosecutor, listing the alleged sins of the Democratic presumptive nominee.)
Conventioneers, a reporter discovered, ate this up like stale stadium popcorn.
“It’s hard to hear it, but it’s true,” Martha Wallick of Barrington, Rhode Island, a delegate from the microscopic Ocean State, told Maclean’s. “We need a backbone. We need someone who is willing to go and make the right decisions.”
“The truth hurts,” agreed Mary Lou Saliaris, vice president of the central district of the Ohio Federation of Republican Women. “Rudy Giuliani was by far the best speaker of the night, the way he laid out the failures of Hillary Clinton.”
“We don’t trust the people that are in government,” said Martha Wallick. “But I do trust Donald Trump. I don’t think he’s doing this for his own benefit.”
(The monetary consequences of Trump’s quest for the White House were revealed in detail on Tuesday, when Bloomberg reported that the one-per-center’s net worth had increased since 2015 from US$2.9-billion to US$3.0-billion, a seemingly trivial increase until one realizes that $0.1-billion equals one hundred million clams. This rise was attributed to higher valuations of Trump’s Manhattan real estate holdings and golf courses, but it did not account for the generous eleemosynary contributions that, Mayor Giuliani vouchsafed Monday night, the humble Trump prefers to keep hush-hush.)
“It used to be, what can you do for your country?” sighed Martha Wallick, Melania-izing John F. Kennedy’s famous Inaugural Address of January, 1961. “But now, the attitude has turned. Too many people are asking, ‘What can I get for me?’ ”
“Is it time for Donald Trump to get sunny and bright and Reagan-esque?” Maclean’s asked Sen. Sessions, recapitulating the litany of doomsday histrionics.
“He didn’t say any of those things,” the Alabaman winked. “I did!”
The wellspring of ill will continued unabated on Day Two, even as the roll of states was called to affirm the preferences of primary voters and caucus-goers from the Gulf of Maine to Guam. But, for some – perhaps many – Republicans here, it was Trump himself who loomed as the bogeyman and bane.
“In a society where we are trying to teach our children not to bully others, we have a man running for the highest office in the world who is a bully himself,” delegate Sue Sharkey of Colorado told Maclean’s on the convention floor as Trump rolled inexorably toward the magic number of 1,237. “It’s sad to hear talk that’s so deeply in the gutter. It’s a bad message, it’s a bad role model, and I’m ashamed.”
It was the Colorado delegation that walked out of the Cleveland basketball arena on Monday during a contumelious and ultimately futile attempt to change party rules and un-hinge delegates from the wishes of their states’ primary electorates. Now they were being swept away by a phony-gold-plated steamroller.
“Can you envision the entire party being unified behind Trump now?” Ms. Sharkey, an original supporter of businesswoman Carly Fiorina, a latter-day and stubborn holdout for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Denver suburbanite, and an elected regent of the Centennial State’s university system, was asked.
“Right now,” she sighed, rolling her eyes in exasperation every time the words “Donald” and “Trump” came cascading down from the podium, “I’m going to go home and wait until November to decide what my conscience tells me to do. I had hope that we would win, but regardless of whether we won or not, it was right to stand for freedom and liberty.”
Just then, at 7:13 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time – exactly 47 years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Sea of Tranquility, Donald John Trump, Jr., flanked by his sister Ivanka and assorted others of The Donald’s disciples and spawn, and speaking, in his words, “for real Americans”—announced that New York would cast the votes to put his father—“Congratulations Dad, we love you!”—over the top.
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OVER THE TOP agreed the Jumbotron, as the band played New York, New York and the hall erupted in nearly three full minutes of not-that-spontaneous pandemonium. The throng erupted even less volcanically at a quarter after nine, p.m., on Tuesday, when a pixelated Trump appeared on the stadium scoreboard and promised to show up at the convention in person on both Wednesday AND Thursday.
“Strong leadership, national defence, support for the police,” enumerated the vituperative Rep Peter King of Long Island, a member of the Empire State delegation, ratifying da cherce of his constituents. (In New York’s April primary, Trump won every county except, oddly enough, Manhattan. Peter King cast his own ballot for Ohio governor John Kasich after announcing that he would swallow cyanide before he’d vote for Ted Cruz.)
Yet Congressman King admitted that he, too, was astonished that Trump now actually was the Republican nominee, succeeding such eminent partisans as Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, the two Bushes, Calvin Coolidge, William McKinley, Warren Gamaliel Harding, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Ulysses S. Grant.
“I was in Chicago and I had missed my plane,” Rep. King related, remembering his reaction on June 15, 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy. “I looked up at the TV and I saw him coming down the escalator at Trump Tower. But I didn’t really take it seriously until last August, when I would go to my grandson’s baseball games and all people wanted to talk about was Donald Trump.”
“If you could change anything about him, what would it be?” Maclean’s pressed the legislator.
“There’s a million things you’d change about Donald Trump,” Peter King replied. “The fact is that he won. Maybe we should change.”