By Jeff Cahlon
Pity the Republican establishment. Virtually any of the 16 defeated candidates for the Republican presidential nomination—failed business executive Carly Fiorina, anyone?–would have made for a more palatable nominee than Donald Trump. But with Trump having emerged as the overwhelming choice of Republican primary voters, Republicans gathered in Cleveland to put aside their misgivings and make it official: the Republican establishment has learned to stop worrying and love The Donald.
Well, love may be a strong word. That Trump is a buffoon, an ignoramus, a breathtakingly brazen liar, patently and dangerously unqualified and unsuited for the presidency, major Republican figures scarcely bother to dispute. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Ryan nonetheless spoke at the convention, offering their praise and endorsements—albeit damning in their faintness–for the nominee. As long as Trump promises to rubber stamp virtually any rabidly right wing legislation cooked up by Ryan’s Tea Party-dominated House, and nominate Antonin Scalia clones to the Supreme Court, not even Trump’s penchant for the occasional “textbook racist comment” (as Ryan characterised Trump’s attack on a judge of Mexican descent), would stand in the way of Republican “unity”.
But as the convention kicked off, the path to Republican “unity” kept hitting roadblocks. The Trump campaign was forced to respond to a New Yorker magazine tell-all interview with Tony Schwarz, the ghostwriter of Trump’s bestselling book “The Art of the Deal”. Schwarz expressed his regret for putting “lipstick on a pig” by creating “a character far more winning than Trump actually is”. The real Trump, as Schwarz got to know him while writing the book, is a “sociopath” for whom “people are dispensable and disposable” and “lying is second nature”. Schwarz also revealed that he wrote virtually the entire book himself. Even as they did their best to sweep the Schwarz revelations under the rug, the Trump campaign and convention organisers—with much of the Republican establishment, as epitomized by McConnell, Ryan et al., now firmly in their corner–recognised the true purpose of the convention: the pig needed a fresh coat of lipstick.
Applying that fresh coat would prove to be a difficult task. As befitting the Trump campaign, the convention was, by and large, an ugly, shambolic and disastrous mess.
The tone was set on the first night when it emerged that parts of the featured speech by Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, were plagiarised. The plagiarism scandal served to distract from what a dismal dud of a speech Melania delivered. Her speech was a vapid uninterrupted stream of inanities clichés and platitudes—a paean to a “loyal”, “kind”, and “generous” man, that failed to mention a single actual instance of loyalty, kindness or generosity. Like the speeches of McConnell and Ryan, her speech was unintentionally damning.
Not that we should be too hard on Melania. She seems like a nice enough trophy—I mean, woman. In any event, she likely wrote about as much of that speech as Donald wrote of “The Art of the Deal”.
Matters did not improve much on the second and third nights. Night two featured Dr Ben Carson, as kooky as ever if not quite as drowsy, ranting about Lucifer. The big story on night three was the non-endorsement by the runner-up for the Republican nomination, Senator Ted Cruz, who incurred the wrath of convention delegates and the Republican establishment by refusing to deny the existence of the pig underneath the carefully applied lipstick. Cruz was booed off the stage.
Throughout the convention, speaker after speaker—none more than Trump himself–described a dystopian alternate universe consumed by, as Trump put it, “death destruction and weakness”. In this alternate universe, Americans bemoan their “shrinking” 401(k) accounts (even as, in reality, the stock market reaches new all-time highs), “crime and violence” spiral out of control (in reality, crime rates remain near multi-decade lows), and Americans are among the most highly-taxed people in the world (in reality, American tax rates are relatively low for an advanced country). The fault for this nightmarish state of affairs lies with the Democratic nominee, who should be promptly imprisoned for what Trump called her “great crimes”.
Only on the fourth and final night of the convention was a semblance of basic competence and professionalism conveyed. Trump’s daughter Ivanka gave a well-received introduction to her father, though her speech in some ways seemed to belong in a different convention altogether, describing, for example, an imaginary Republican nominee who would fight for affordable child care (Trump himself didn’t have a word to say about the matter).
Trump’s speech followed in which he promised to be the “voice” for the “forgotten men and women of our country”. It was in some ways, the mirror image of his wife’s, replacing his wife’s saccharine sentimentality with a faux populist fury. Both only served to obscure the hollow core at the candidacy’s centre.
Whatever its flaws, Trump’s speech seemed professionally, if not particularly impressively, written and delivered. The lipstick covered the pig, if barely.
According to Realclearpolitics.com’s average poll rating, Trump sits at 42.6%, with Hillary Clinton ahead at 44.6%.