So Happy Together: The Strained Partnership Between Trump and His Party

11 months ago Alger Mag Editor 0

0719161951RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (middle) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (right) comb over the rules after a delegate counting challenge from Alaska.

“If I should call you up, invest a dime
And you say you belong to me and ease my mind
Imagine how the world could be, so very fine
So happy together.” -The Turtles

On the first night of the convention, The Turtles hit ‘60s song “Happy Together” played out over the loudspeakers (albeit without the band’s approval), pushing the message of unity against Clinton and the need to put a Republican in the White House.  Under the surface, however, there was intense jockeying for a superior positioning among the three main players of the GOP: the party establishment, the Trump infrastructure, and the conservative grassroots campaign led by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.  Each in its own way, the three schemed to control not only the optics of the convention, but also the position of the party going forward and defining of the conflicts in the future.  While the split within the party may seem ideological, it is more of a power struggle; the aligning of views is to provide a direction for the next contest, an ideas blueprint.

It appears as if the Trump campaign, relying on the party structure for all of its organizational needs, have closely integrated with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the centralized committee, who had previously sent signs of disapproval to Donald Trump during the primary season.  Watching this cycle, I have been shocked at how many esteemed party leaders have acquiesced to Trump even as he insults them and their achievements. This sort of surrender only seems to hurt the leaders themselves, as they are viewed as unprincipled flip-floppers who sacrifice their dignity for the sake of getting Trump voters in the fall.  Looking back, the only party politicians who have seen their profiles raised significantly on the national stage are, in my opinion, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who have yet to endorse the nominee.  At the same time, some party leaders have also worked to distance themselves from Trump in order to provide cover to their own state and local officials in tight general election races, while risking a fragile alliance to the man who built his political brand on tearing it all down.

Ken Cuccinelli arrived in Cleveland with a plan.  As the Free the Delegates movement received more media coverage, the former Cruz delegate coordinator wanted to pass a rules package that would help a grassroots candidate in the 2020 primaries, such as giving a bonus to closed caucuses and primaries, preventing lobbyists from becoming RNC members, and other small tweaks.  There were backroom agreements to adopt these changes during the Rules Committee meeting on July 14th, but talks fell apart as Trump sympathizers and longtime party members shoved through vote after vote on centralizing measures that shut down all of the reform proposals.  The conservatives were furious, vowing to team up with the unbound delegates to cause a commotion during the convention.  The goal: show that elements of the party are opposed to the real estate mogul nominee.

The Republicans moved fast, whether it was Trump surrogates harassing delegates or Trump’s senior campaign adviser creating a whip team of around 150 people to make sure everyone stayed in line.  From the vantage point of my seating spot in the arena, which someone next to me described as, “Good, though the air’s a lot thinner up here,” you could see the floor helpers in yellow neon hats rushing to Cruz-sympathetic state delegations and making sure that everything stayed on time.  Dissent was shouted down by chants of “U-S-A!” While they appeared organic on TV, the shouts were spurred by the same floor whips.

After getting shut down on a full roll call vote, Cuccinelli threw his credentials on the ground and stormed out. The Virginia delegation was not present to nominate Trump on Tuesday night during the roll call and alternates had to fill their place.  Depending on Cruz’s speech Wednesday night, the conservative activists could decide to break with the party and Trump and come back in four years with a vengeance.  The irony that the party is so dedicated to Trump after fighting him for almost a year is not lost on the convention floor.  A Maryland delegate I talked to said he was fine with Trump but voted for the roll call because he felt that delegates deserved to speak their preference.  Because anti-Trump sentiments seemed to be so prevalent, I had expected a floor fight or at least a struggle. However, it seems that the rebellious movement have been overhyped heading into the convention. They were much weaker in resolve and numbers.

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Presidential Nominee Donald Trump addresses crowd while introducing his wife Melania to applause and enthusiasm.

The heavy-handed convention tactics could be mere spectacle, as other actions behind the scenes show that Republican party insiders are playing a double game: using Trump forces to keep power while backing away from him behind closed doors.  For all the wishful show of unity, the RNC has sent out several warning signs, such as when House and Senate leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell publicly rebuked Trump’s mainstay policies like the immigration wall and Muslim ban.  They also worry about vulnerable Republican senators all over the country.  But there is a rumored nuclear option, where all is admitted lost and the GOP overtly runs the need to create an opposition Republican Senate to a President Clinton.  As prominent business donors that support free trade and worry about Trump’s rhetoric on trade deals and Chinese tariffs back away, the Republicans and their wide fundraising network look to protect their down-ballot candidates by redirecting funds from Trump to themselves. They look to utilizing the joint fundraising account to give the majority of the money raised to their own internal structural costs, rather than letting the Trump campaign use it.

There are definitely fissures within the Republican Party, but the problem will be solved not by continuing to back one faction over the other but by finding a compromise.  There needs to be reconciliation, not just between populists and free trade advocates, or social conservatives and moderate gay rights advocates in the platform, but also between the entrenched hierarchy and the rising activist class, focused on issue purity and intent on decentralization. The party establishment should ensure that the anger and frustration of the voters are used for internal and structural change, and such change does not come by nominating the person who can channel the most hate and spread it as wide as possible.  It will become necessary for the aforementioned three groups to coexist, or we could see the dissolution and splintering of our party, starting with Trump and following one divisive candidate after another.

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By: Noah Rudnick

(Image Courtesy: Noah Rudnick at the RNC)