In the modern political world, conventions are supposed to be boring, at least when it comes to who the nominee will be. Cleveland has been anything but. After two nights of the Republican National Convention, what have we learned, and where do we go from here?
The answer to the first question should be obvious — as a movement, Never Trump was an unmitigated failure. Talking to delegates from around the country here in Cleveland, the frustration with opposition to the Republican nominee is palpable. The Never Trump movement offered no direction, no alternative. It asked the RNC to unbind delegates pledged to Donald Trump, based on the votes of citizens across the country in the primaries, without any notion of who would replace him.
Should delegates support Ted Cruz? Marco Rubio? Mitt Romney? Some other candidate unnamed and unknown? Never Trump turned out to be only the latest example of hashtag advocacy — lots of bluster, lots of tweets, little substance and no leadership.
It didn’t help that Never Trump adopted the worst political tendencies of the left. It labeled Trump an anti-Semite, a bigot, a proto-fascist. And worse, it cast the same aspersions on his supporters.
Republicans who had spent their lives defending their party and its supporters from unfounded accusations of racism found themselves attacked by their longtime friends and allies. The anger with leaders of the Never Trump movement — many of them once influential members of the conservative political class — will not dissipate any time soon.
If the Republican Party remains divided long after the final vote is cast in November, it won’t be Trump who is responsible, but rather those who were willing to do anything to oppose him, even if it means supporting their longtime nemesis, Hillary Clinton.
So what can Trump do in the days remaining in this convention and in his much anticipated acceptance speech Thursday to close that divide? Frankly, he shouldn’t even try.
In politics, there are contests of ideas and there are partisan fights where logic, reason and argument go out the window. Donald Trump is faced with the latter. He will have no more success reaching out to members of Never Trump than he will in convincing Bill Clinton to give him his vote.
Instead, Trump should stick to the same thing that won him the nomination in the first place. He should speak directly to the American people.
Trump’s speech Thursday shouldn’t be about unifying the Republican Party. It shouldn’t be aimed at the Manhattan intelligentsia or the inside-the-Beltway elites. Rather, Trump should continue to speak to the people who’ve been left behind. The families for whom the recession never ended, who’ve seen factories close and job opportunities dry up, even as the stock market has soared. He should speak to the mothers and fathers of soldiers who came home to be police officers, only to find themselves targeted on their own streets. He should make his case to those many Americans whom the two major parties have long ignored.
Trump should not shy away from the substance of the campaign. His caustic wit has made him famous. His ideas won him the nomination: His assertion that trade deals should work for American workers, not against them. His willingness to return to a foreign policy that puts American interests first. And the central plank of his campaign — that America, like every country — should have a border that is secure and an immigration system that works.
This convention has been one unlike any other in recent memory. Floor demonstrations and rules debates targeted at undermining the presumptive nominee were supposed to be a relic of the past. But unscripted democracy can be a messy thing, especially when the established order is upset. And upset the order Trump has done, no matter what else you may think of him. But the verdict on this convention won’t be established by what has happened so far. The next few days will tell the tale, especially Thursday night.
When Donald Trump announced his candidacy, no one believed he could capture the nomination. And today, few people believe he can win the presidency. Trump has overturned the conventional wisdom once before. Now the most important speech of his nascent political career is before him. And if he can deliver, the strangest convention in recent memory might end up being the most successful one, too.