Back in July of 2014, when it was announced that Cleveland, Ohio, would be the host city for the Republican National Convention, few city leaders (or, for that matter, even gifted and prescient political media types) envisioned the fractured, fragmented, almost-unrecognizable-as-a-political-party political party that’s about to descend on the city by Lake Erie.
Back then, it’s safe to say that Clevelanders hadn’t anticipated becoming a part of the Punch and Judy show that’s sweeping in with Presumptive Presidential Nominee Donald Trump, business tycoon, developer, celebrity, reality show host and candidate extraordinaire, who swept by some 17 GOP wannabes with a combination of guile, arrogance, insults and exaggerations, forming what appears to be a deep and mysterious and mystical bond with that part of the electorate that’s described as angry white American males.
That group, quite a few of which, but perhaps not as many as anticipated, will show up in Cleveland, a city that has experienced an economic and cultural resurgence (and finally won a major sports title thanks to LeBron James) in recent years, but seems not as prepared as it might be for what is amounting to an insurgent convention.
The convention will take off on Monday, two days after Trump, ever the showman, was to have announced his choice of running mate, a choice which appears to have stopped being a secret, with anonymous campaign insiders — who will either get a raise or be fired — letting it be known that the Donald had settled on Indiana’s socially conservative governor Mike Pence, whom GOP operatives are hailing as the second coming of Ronald Reagan.
The convention and conventioneers come together at a time when the nation has gone through a wrenching period of violence, with the shootings of two black men by police and the murder of five Dallas police officers by a lone black sniper. The country was wracked by anger, mourning and demonstrations, and the sound of gunfire and the fires of anger have as yet not dampened.
At a convention where Trump — who has declared himself the Law and Order Candidate — will preside inside and competing demonstrators (Black Lives Matter, Bikers for Trump) might tangle outside, anything could happen. This is a city that has an open-carry policy, which means that, yes, you can bring your gun to town, Son, but not to the convention itself.
It’s hard to actually say what will happen, who will say what, but you can probably predict that the proceedings will at least partly be a quasi-official convention, that will try to anoint a man whom many of the GOP’s high-profile leaders have disdained to be their standard bearer. It’s also likely to have the shouting-match flavor of almost any number of popular television reality shows, not excluding the “Housewives” franchises, “American Ninjas,” “Duck Dynasty,” “The Voice” and, of course, Trump’s own “The Apprentice,” a version of which we saw this week with the visitations of potential VP candidates to Trump’s side.
Of course the biggest reality show, “Survivor,” has already played itself out, with Trump left standing alone after 17 aspirants were kicked off the Republican island in a year-long, grueling, astounding, unprecedented competition.
Trump, it turned, was right about one thing: he was not a politician. This may account for the fact that he was forgiven sins ranging from wild exaggeration, outright lies, cruel insults and sexism to not revealing tax information, that other candidates — How do you like them emails, Mrs. Clinton? — would not be forgiven for. Trump, it may be, was the wrong man at the right time.
Be that as it may, it’s safe to say that the convention will not follow usual flight patterns. It’s likely to veer between official normalcy — House Speaker Paul Ryan, who still pretends to be the leader of the GOP, will give a speech and perhaps call the meeting to order — and a Donald Trump political rally, which is not always pleasant to watch, or a Trump family picnic, what with all of Trump’s children, the fair daughter Ivanka, the fair wife Melania, the fair sons, Donald Jr. and Eric and the fair other daughter Tiffany all scheduled to speak on behalf of husband and father Trump.
While VP aspirants Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie are expected to speak, Ted Cruz, once known as Lying Ted, and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, an early presidential dropout, will also be there, along with Ben Carson and sundry other GOP stars, but not so many as you might think. Absent is the entire galaxy of Bush stars, two presidents and low-energy Jeb, a presumptive favorite in the presidential race before Trump trumped and trampled on everyone.
You can sort of get a flavor of things inside the hall in Cleveland by the official list of speakers taken from the GOP Convention website: somewhere between a list of quasi-famous, but not-so-much celebrities, country-rock musicians (“Kid Rock,” no longer a kid), reality “stars,” family members, former aspirants for the land’s highest office. Rumor has it there will be a night or an afternoon devoted to Benghazi, and it’s probably a sure thing that there will be Benghazi nights and pot luck dinners held by former Benghazi committee members — along with “Repeal Obamacare” reunions hosted by Mitch McConnell — years into the foreseeable future.
There is one sheriff in the crowd, Sheriff David Clarke; twice a candidate for president Governor Mike Huckabee, who will speak wherever more than three are gathered; Mayor Rudy Giulani, who ran some time ago, and lost while waiting for the campaign to come to him in Florida; Senator Joni Ernst, a rising party star who demurred on the VP race; another rising star Senator Jeff Sessions; the still retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who for a very brief time this week was in the VP sweepstakes; reality show performer Antonio Sabato, Jr., and entrepreneur Peter Thiel — not to mention Cruz and Newt, Governor Rick Scott and Jerry Falwell, Jr.
There is always a temptation when you’re dealing with all things Trump — and this convention will be all things Trump — to get caught up in the unreality, not even virtual reality, of the coming week.
You hear the rally cry of Trump, over and over again, and you hear it everywhere.