It’s bizarre watching the Republican National Convention on TV and rooting for the podium to break free of its moorings or for the lights to go out or — can you imagine? — for a speaker to get caught plagiarizing in a prime-time address.
Typically in a presidential year, I’d be on the convention floor working. I’d be the guy knuckling back tears at the veterans’ speeches, nodding at talk of “one America” and listening for perspicacious new themes to take home to clients.
Thursday night, I’ll be praying for Donald Trump to go off teleprompter, to start talking about his hands again — about bosoms or germs or Vladimir Putin — anything to remind Americans how unfit he is to be president.
It won’t happen. Trump will give an expertly crafted populist speech that will likely put him ahead in the battleground states.
The speech writes itself: Defense of police officers, Islamic terrorism, Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, greedy Washington insiders and the forgotten working-class American. A hundred bucks says it includes Benghazi and Clinton’s 2008 “3 a.m.” TV spot, as it should.
Unless Trump completely breaks character — he hasn’t in 30 years — there will be no humility and no contrition. Not even for his belittling of Sen. John McCain being shot down over Hanoi.
It stings to see faces at the convention who should know better than to be there. But there is solace in the rows of empty chairs. In them lies hope for eventual Republican Party renewal and survival. I see a future leader in every vacant seat.
This new GOP doesn’t see it that way. There are murmurs of a party purge.
Ivanka Trump told ABC News that no-shows “don’t want to be part of the future.” Trump, 34, couldn’t vote for her father in April’s New York primary. She wasn’t a registered Republican.
It’s excruciating to listen to the intermingling in Cleveland of sound conservative principles with the shifting sands of populism. They are being carelessly mixed in a bucket as the foundation of a new party that cannot last.
“A man’s house which is built on a foundation of rock will endure, but a man’s house which is built on a foundation of sand will be destroyed,” Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. Even then it was a reminder.
A party founded on the principle of equal rights under the law cannot bind with a nativist movement and survive.
A party that claims to believe in economic freedom, personal responsibility and constitutional limits on power cannot long sustain a standard-bearer who thinks nothing of walking away from debts, who favors trade barriers and who boasts that he’ll make U.S. military leaders commit crimes.
That’s what I’ll be reminding myself of during Thursday’s balloon drop. It’s why I won’t be taking home a balloon for my youngest daughter this year.
Republicans and conservatives who refuse to rationalize Trump’s candidacy are a lonely lot right now. But wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it, as Tolstoy put it. And two wrongs still don’t make a right. The looming and disagreeable prospect of a President Hillary Clinton makes Trump no less reckless and unfit for the presidency.
Millions of Americans can no more bear the prospect of voting for Clinton than they can of pulling the lever for Trump. They aren’t wrong. Neither candidate feels right for the presidency because neither candidate is right for the presidency.
That presents a giant opening for former governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party candidates for president and vice president.
It’s a place where millions of us can go after the conventions, and not hate ourselves in the morning.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.