...Great writers steal outright. Or so the saying goes. The Republican National Convention is off to a rip roaring start. As a warm up act we almost got to watch a roll call vote on the rules. And then it really got entertaining. Highlights for me:
Scott Baio delivered his speech in such a dull, off-kilter way that hopefully I could be forgiven for forgetting he was an actor. Or maybe he was a bad actor, and I’m too young to remember. Baio’s performance made me worry that, like Chris Christie before him, he was being held hostage by Trump; I started watching Baio’s eye blinks, looking for a hidden Morse code message. “Donald Trump is running for all of us,” delivered as it was in monotone by a not quite smiling Baio was the most freakishly awkward sentence I’ve ever heard. Pod People awkward.
The text of Rudy Giuliani’s speech, had it been delivered by someone who wasn’t arm-flailingly insane, might have been effective as a general effort to speak to Americans’ anxieties. A lot of the sentiment in his speech was dead on, and most people would find elements within it to agree with at a time when our everyday security sometimes feels like it’s balanced on knife edge. Unfortunately Giuliani has long since abandoned reality and become a caricature of himself. It was a hell of a convention speech, but while it stirred Republicans it probably scarred the crap out of everyone else. The high point surely was when he took President Obama’s one America idea and threw it back in Democrats’ faces as an indictment. With Hillary Clinton running so close to the president, could there be mileage in that criticism?
Donald Trump sure knows how to make an entrance, doesn’t he?
Melania Trump. I’ll hit the controversy at the end. Her speech did what it had and introduced her as a potential first lady. For those people who, somehow, don’t have fully formed set in stone ideas about this election, Melania beats out Bill for least creepy First Spouse. Whether she successfully humanized her husband I don’t know. But her story is one of an immigrant that came here legally so that alone is ammunition to attack the charge that Trump is xenophobic and anti-immigrant. Perhaps it’s best to find ways to keep that story as part of the campaign without utilizing Melania who is obviously not comfortable in these environments.
Woman Iraq war veteran and sitting US senator. If I were the Trump campaign I’d have Joni Ernst front and center until Election Day or Ernst is somehow destroyed by a Trump campaign unforced error—whichever comes first. Ernst took FBI Director Comey’s assertion before Congress that Hillary Clinton may not have been sophisticated enough to understand top secret classifications, distilled it down to Hillary Clinton “may not be intelligent enough” and suggested that was a scary trait for someone running to be president. A smart campaign would grab on to that idea and run with it until Election Day. The jury is still out on whether the Trump campaign is smart.
Holding speeches after Melania’s and as the convention audience streamed out of the arena looked silly. Ernst dropping big applause lines to a smattering of people who offered polite clapping was a visual and auditory non sequitur to her otherwise strong delivery.
A consistent theme throughout the night was the idea that Donald Trump was running for president out of a sense of duty--that he genuinely wants to help "us." I'm not sure whether undecideds--to the extent that they actually exist--will buy that line, but it made a striking contrast to Hillary Clinton's slogan of "I'm with her" and plays further into the notion that Hillary Clinton is running for president and expects to win out of a sense of entitlement. This is another theme I'd expect a smart campaign--so not necessarily Trump's--to hit from not until Election Day.
The Melania Trump plagiarism issue hangs over what was otherwise a reasonable-to-successful first night of the convention. I side with the people saying that either Melanie should come out and say “whoops” because America will forgive her, or the campaign should identify a culprit who they can fire. On the other hand, Melania is likely to disappear after the convention and Trump has frequently shown a Teflon characteristic uncommon in American politics so perhaps this will be much ado about nothing by tomorrow. To the point that there is a double standard between Melania Trump and Michelle Obama—yes the Slovenian born model to whom English is a second language is probably getting lighter criticism than Michelle Obama (and many other former first ladies) would have. If someone wants to hang his or her hat on that as an opinion piece call to arms so be it, but given Melania’s virtually nonexistent public role in the campaign I’m not sure such criticism does anything but preach to the Democratic choir.
Speaking of preaching to the choir, Politico referred to Trump’s supporters painting “a dark and dystopian portrait of an America in decline” and suggested there was little effort at across-the-aisle outreach. The red meat in the speeches, though, served up a powerful reminder to vacillating Republicans—of which there are many—that the only realistic alternative to a Donald Trump who they may not like is a Hillary Clinton who they likely loathe. As for reaching across the aisle, in an election that will almost certainly be determined by which candidate is less disliked such outreach need not be conciliatory; if the Trump campaign can highlight and reinforce Hillary Clinton’s negatives, advertising his positives may be less crucial. Clinton’s strategy to hew so close to President Obama’s policies give Republicans an opening to say: “All those things you haven’t liked about the last eight years—that you think have made us less safe and that you think have made it harder for you get a better paying job—Hillary Clinton is responsible for some of them and she’s going to keep doing all of them.” That was largely last night’s message, and I suspect it will be the message Tuesday and Wednesday as well. The question will be whether all of that will sync with Thursday’s “Making America One Again” theme when the convention will likely see its biggest audience and Trump will speak.