Charlie Harper: United We Stand?
Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
Republicans have finished their week in Cleveland Ohio. Those seeking the elusive dream of a brokered or contested convention can put away their hot takes for another 3 years. It was not to be.
As is now custom, the suspense for who would be picked as the nominees for President and Vice-President concluded well before the convention gaveled open. Instead, the convention process now consists of Republicans spending four Saturdays of their time to elect a slate of delegates who end up being little more than a cheering section to demonstrate party unity.
Well, “unity” was a common platitude last week. Reality often differs greatly with platitudes.
The early Monday news cycle was dominated by the ongoing feud between Donald Trump’s campaign and that of the Ohio delegation. Their Governor, John Kasich, chose not to attend, and still refuses to endorse Donald Trump. Ohio, as we will be reminded repeatedly for the next four months, is a crucial swing state.
This skirmish would be quickly forgotten quickly when the convention began and the vote to approve the convention rules was taken. It seems the Convention Secretary went into hiding rather than accept states’ petitions to open the rules up for additional nominations. Despite whips including Georgia’s Randy Evans confidently stating that there were more than enough votes to maintain existing rules that would only allow for the nomination of Trump, the show of “unity” was apparently too important to allow delegates to petition for an open recorded vote.
By Tuesday morning we began a news cycle of charges and denials of plagiarism with Melania Trump’s speech. Calls from Trump’s former campaign manager for his replacement to resign demonstrated that even within the Trump camp, “unity” was more of a slogan than reality.
On Wednesday, of course, we had the non-endorsement speech of Ted Cruz. Unlike former rivals John Kasich and Jeb Bush who declined a speaking spot and refuse to endorse Trump, Cruz couldn’t turn down a prime time national audience. Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, are reported to have whipped delegations to boo Cruz’s speech. “Unity” had an entirely different meaning at that point.
Just in case anyone was confused on where Trump stood, he clarified that Friday morning in his trademark unscripted style. In lengthy extended remarks the morning after his highly scripted acceptance speech, Trump focused his wrath not on his opponent Hillary Clinton, but on Cruz.
Trump not only said he wouldn’t accept Cruz’s endorsement, but again brought up the primary’s controversy over each’s wife (in which Trump made clear that GQ was much classier than Penthouse). For good measure, he also defended the National Enquirer’s stellar journalistic reputation when again launching the claim that Ted Cruz’s father was pictured with Lee Harvey Oswald.
This is not your father’s definition of a “Unified” Republican party. Instead, it appears team Trump has adopted a page from George W. Bush’s ways of dealing with terrorists, sending the strong message “you’re either for us or you’re against us.
It would be easy for Republicans to be pessimistic over this behavior, but the Democrats don’t want to seem to accept the gift Republicans keep trying to give them. They are responding to the GOP’s nomination of the candidate with the highest negative rating ever recorded by Gallop with one who is almost able to match in net negative perception.
The coronation festival that was supposed to be the Democratic National Convention was headed into choppy water as this column was filed, as DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has announced her resignation after embarrassing emails were released showing collusion and favoritism toward Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Democrats will have their own version of “unity” this week, with Sanders supporters already grousing about a system stacked with super-delegates and a VP pick insufficiently socialist enough. Add the email revelations and expect the Democrats to have an equal and opposite week in Philadelphia as the Republicans did in Cleveland.
One might think that the erratic messaging and public displays of infighting would hurt in the polls. This is 2016, where the normal rules don’t apply. CNN is reporting a 6-point convention bounce for Trump in polls taken Friday through Sunday following the convention. Most if not all of those surveys would be before the newest email scandal.
It appears unity may be grossly overrated.
Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.