And Then There Was Trump

10 months ago Alger Mag Editor 0

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From July 18-21, the Republican National Convention will take place in three of the most politically important states: the state of Ohio, the state of fear, and the state of denial.  As no Republican candidate has ever gone to the White House without the Buckeye State, the GOP had hoped that a unifying convention in Cleveland would be the final step in securing the three branches of government, complete with a man in the White House and a conservative-leaning Supreme Court bench.  What it has instead is a larger-than-life, brash businessman, who rails against political correctness and utilizes crass racial politics to win more populist sections of the primary electorate but is isolating the nation as a whole.  Recent strings of race-related violence and riots at Trump’s rallies have provoked qualms about the need for heightened security and the possibility for this gathering of harmony to bitterly erupt into violence like the 1968 Democratic Convention.  That is, from party figures that even to bother to show up.  More and more, long-time party figures walk a fine line of distancing themselves from Trump, while coming to terms with the fact that they need the same people to vote Republican in the fall in their own state races.  In the background, the delegates intend to assert what they believe is their right to vote with their conscience, even if their personal decision goes against the will of the people.  Now it all converges on the Quicken Loans Arena, a party and convention disorganized and torn apart by the seams.

Following on the heels of the 2008 election, it seemed that we as a country were veering left.  As the Republican Party licked its wounds, the Democrats pushed through the Affordable Care Act and other liberal policies while political analysts discussed demographics and the ”blue wall” of the Electoral College. The party seemed to be finished and talks flared up of an overhaul.  It was in the 2010 midterm elections that grassroots conservatives took their revenge. Supported by those angry with the Obama administration and resolved to take down Pelosi, and backed by libertarian-leaning wealthy business owners, the Tea Party reclaimed the House, and four years later, would do the same with the Senate.

And yet, during the presidential year of 2012, when having to appeal to a broader electorate, Romney came up short.  He was portrayed as too moderate by those who valued ideological purity and too conservative by an early assault by the Obama campaign.  Following the blowout loss of what was considered to be a winnable election, the party released a document that, in my opinion, led to the rise of Trump and Cruz: The Growth and Opportunity Project.  The report detailed demographics, such as single women and Hispanics, that the party needed to reach out to through more accepting views of immigration reform and same-sex marriage.  Blue-collar workers and the conservative wing went berserk over these assertions, arguing that they were appealing to the moderate wing that led to the electoral victory in the midterms. They were unsatisfied being paid lip service as social issues continued to move to the left and fast-tracking led Obama to unilaterally land a trade deal.  It appeared that Republican politicians were taking their votes for granted, and this time they wanted to show the D.C. establishment that it was their voices and their concerns that should be prioritized.  Ted Cruz was fond of pointing to Reagan, Nixon, and Bush as those who ran as conservatives and won, while moderates like Ford, McCain, and Romney were shut down time and time again. It would have to be a real right-winger to garner enthusiasm in the general election.

As people predicted a Bush vs. Clinton matchup at the outset of the election cycle, I waged on a Rubio nomination. I thought he was the most acceptable, even if he seemed to be everyone’s second choice.  Looking at Clinton’s unfavorable numbers, especially among independents, I remarked, “Republicans could stuff a mannequin in a suit and put on a giant flag pin, and it would beat Clinton.”  However, voters chose to make Donald Trump the divisive, presumptive nominee and left the party officials more disconnected than ever.  This is evidenced in the fact that no past Republican presidential nominee will visit the convention this year, along with a flurry of elected officials. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) claimed that he has to mow his lawn during the convention.  The most notable exception is Governor John Kasich, who will not step foot in the arena despite being the home state governor and one of the most popular Republicans in the nation.  But one by one, the leaders appear to be falling in line; Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Ted Cruz will all speak at the convention, although Cruz has withheld his endorsement and has begun planning a 2020 run predicated on a Trump loss.

The most talked about movement going into the convention is the Free the Delegates movement, which seeks to disrupt the image of unity through possible delegate walkouts and public displays of defiance to a national viewing audience.  Both Trump’s flip-flopping political policies and his personal conduct have inspired them to look for a more acceptable nominee within the party.  However, for a candidate who ridicules a ground game, Trump immediately put into place a whip operation of over 150 staffers intended to keep delegates in line, run by Paul Manafort, Trump’s second-in-command and a veteran of the contested 1976 Republican Convention.  In response, the RNC, which hopes to ease tensions, is speaking with anti-Trump delegates and conservative activists and appear willing to make concessions for the sake of unity.  Recent comments about the Mexican heritage of a judge and an anti-Semitic tweet have many delegates uneasy, but the only thing that makes them even more nervous is retaliation from Trump and the primary voters.  Randy Evans, a National Committeeman who is backing Trump, says that his private whip count has about 900 pro-Trump delegates and around 600 anti-Trump delegates, though Ted Cruz’s decision to speak weakened the opposition.  The Dump Trump movement also is not giving up, banking about $3 million and having the support of Bill Kristol, a prominent conservative editor of The Weekly Standard.  They have set up a physical office for their own whip operation but face stiff resistance from the official party structure.

While the majority of the anti-Trump movements are conservatives, they have yet to decide what would happen if the convention goes through more than one ballot of voting.  While the weekly Free the Delegates strategy calls emphasized that there is no white knight and that they are focused on a united front, the tensions bubble underneath the surface.  Last Sunday, after the leaders had signed off of a large group call, one could distinguish mentions of Kasich or Rubio in the crescendo of voices, and one man chanted “Cruz Crew” over and over again.  It seems like every name floated about, such as Walker or Cruz, while the party moved to intercept it, offer speaking slots, and call for unity.  A CNN report claims that both the Trump campaign and the Republican National Convention are actively lobbying Kasich to come on board with threats or promises to open donor floodgates in future elections.  Rendering these lobbies meaningless, the Kasich team has flirted with Free the Delegates, saying delegates should use their conscience to vote, and emailing out recently commissioned polls that show Kasich with a wide lead over Clinton, indicating an electoral landslide.

There are many protests scheduled throughout the convention period for both fans and opponents of Trump.  While several liberal and minority groups such as Stand Together Against Trump and local Black Lives Matter groups promote more love and peace, they also protest against the GOP policies in general, arguing that they alienate the same people the party was trying to reach out to.  White nationalists that were involved in the violent altercations in California are also planning to speak out in favor of the presumptive nominee.  The riots and viciousness surrounding the Trump rallies have shown the need for Cleveland to bolster security and even take out a $50 million insurance policy.  Depending on where I walk around the convention site, it may be just as dangerous to stroll through an area wearing my “Kasich 4 Us” hat as a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.  Many have suggested wearing a helmet for protection, but it may be safest to just follow the lead of the GOP establishment by sticking my head in the sand.

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By: Noah Rudnick

(Image Courtesy: Gage Skidmore on Flickr; “Unafraid and Unashamed” by Julian Raven)