Now the Republicans advance to the hard part of an unusual, open-ended presidential election. But while convening in Cleveland, the party and its delegates set down some firm impressions unlikely to change between here and November:
Whether on the topics of terrorism or attacks on police, the American people were told they are afraid and that they should be. Ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani said most don’t feel safe. Donald Trump tweeted last Thursday that “if the Dems win the presidency, the new justices appointed will destroy us all,” whatever that means. The pitch, of course, is that he’s the strongman to save us, and he invoked “law and order” in his speech as if the nation has turned into the Thunderdome.
The GOP is badly divided.
Despite the billionaire’s predictable preening about “great love in the arena,” cracks in the facade were also clear. There were multiple reports from GOP insiders of grim delegates joylessly discharging their duties to back him.
Ted Cruz was roundly booed when he said “Vote your conscience” rather than “Vote for Trump.” But Cruz’s very presence telegraphed dissent and the idea that Trump could well fail in November.
Republicans who skipped the event with extreme prejudice included two living GOP ex-presidents, the host governor of Ohio, and a number of elected party members. They weren’t courted so much as taunted.
Hillary Clinton will get pilloried.
“Lock her up” became a war chant notwithstanding self-styled centrist commentator John Avlon’s take: “There are countries where political opponents are threatened with imprisonment. America hasn’t traditionally been one of them.”
But the strategy looks sensible: Bashing an opponent who drives the adrenaline, who’s palpably disliked in her own right, especially after a tantalizing email investigation. It became clear over four days that much rides on the phenomenon of Hillary hatred to pull Trump’s ticket through.
Donald was coddled.
The party was molded to his special brand, to his own, homemade circle of speakers: family members, with the type of accolades you’d hear at a man-of-the-year dinner; other politicians, including rivals-turned-sycophants; and appreciative show-business friends, from a soap-opera actor to a mixed-martial-arts promoter.
Aides ferried him in his personal jet. National committee chairman Reince Priebus gamely endured his boasts — at least in public — that he would beat the GOP candidate if he ran as an independent. Trump ensconces himself in his force field, perhaps more flamboyantly than other major-party White House candidates.
VP pick made sense, but much is muddled.
It is hard to say if other Republicans will line up behind Trump’s pro-Russia tilt in Europe, or his sweeping denunciation of current trade pacts, or his grim assessment of the state of the military or other musings. Running-mate Mike Pence, a career politician, voted for the Iraq War and Trump-derided trade deals, for example.
But Pence signals a rare flexibility, saying in his address Wednesday: “At the very moment when America is crying out for something new and different, the other party has answered with a stale agenda and the most predictable of names.”