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An Uneasy Alliance With the GOP

CLEVELAND—Much of the morning of the second day of the Republican Convention was taken up by the Melania speech flap. It’s an odd world. One can understand how it was news: there are thousands of reporters chasing any news, especially news embarrassing to Trump. One can imagine that if Jackie Kennedy inadvertently mouthed some earnest and eloquent platitudes that another speechwriter had previously prepared for a different celebrity, few would have noticed, and certainly few would have made a case of it. It might have been mentioned in an aside in a column.

Melania’s reading of secondhand words is not entirely insignificant. Of course the “plagiarism” case was the result of poor staff work, and it’s not unreasonable to wonder if it’s symptomatic of a more general confusion at the heart of the Trump campaign. If they can’t get Melania’s speech right, and they didn’t, who is going be in charge of implementing the Iran deal, or dealing with the Turkish coup aftermath, or trying to be a good friend to a Europe undergoing worse crises than we are? You can look at the Donald Trump operation and not come away with obviously reassuring answers.

And yet. Trump has won the Republican nomination. He has partially unified the party, but when one recalls the nearly universal predictions of the fractured chaotic convention made three months ago, you can see how far Trump has come. He has, at least partially, vanquished an out of touch GOP establishment, in thrall to Beltway lobbies and deeply influenced by neocons, out of touch with the Republican electorate and the country. And for the moment that establishment, has, however grudgingly, for the most part accepted its defeat.

They don’t like it, and surely half of the Republican officeholders here wish they had just nominated someone else. But in the hall, there is perhaps in equal measure both Trump enthusiasm and Trump acceptance. To have gotten that far, with no political experience, with the party establishment and much of the important media completely aligned against you, is an extraordinary accomplishment.


There is of course the question of how much Trump can actually transform the GOP. That remains the biggest unknown. On the eve of the convention, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam—respected, young, mainstream conservative intellectuals—published an essay [1] in the New York Times that was largely Trumpian in its prescriptions, calling for less immigration, less foreign military intervention, more tax policy favoring the middle and working classes. Designed to appeal to the real interests of Trump voters. Yet the two cast their piece as “anti-Trump,” calling Trump a demagogue, and assuming that he couldn’t possibly implement their agenda. It’s a loss to Trump that he hasn’t won over people who so largely agree with him, but a sign too of the remaining power of the Republican establishment, which can make even people who mostly agree with Trump unable—so far—to see themselves as potential Trump backers.

In the GOP platform, there are mixed signs of Trump’s influence. As some neoconservatives have lamented, the party has retreated from knee jerk support of trade deals. But the speeches at the convention have been almost uniformly hawkish—the sentiment that prompted Donald Trump to call the Iraq war a disaster is hardly visible. The Israel platform segment is more obsequious toward Israel’s occupation than any major American party ever has been. There is not much sign of the Donald Trump who said that negotiating a fair deal between Israelis and Palestinians would be the greatest of diplomatic accomplishments.

In short, if he wins, Trump will still have to govern with the Republican Party. Transforming the party to govern in any sort of Trumpian fashion might be even more unlikely than what he has managed so far.



I want to shift gears and speak briefly about the scenes outside the convention. As has been reported, there are scores of cops here, units from Texas and California, Indiana and nearby Akron. There are squads of dozens of well-trained Cleveland cops with sturdy mountain bikes, which can be wielded as crowd control barriers.

Last week’s cop killings may have diminished any enthusiasm of the hard left to take to Cleveland’s streets. In the main public square, a few blocks from the convention, you can see demonstrators of all sorts—the “Revolutionary Communist Party” mounted an anti-cop protest this afternoon, but there was also Code Pink, various white anarchists, and some right wingers associated with radio host Alex Jones. But the communists numbered only about thirty, heavily outnumbered by journalists, onlookers, and cops. There were even fewer anarchists, who were told in no uncertain terms to keep their masks off.

Public Square in Cleveland is large, about 10 acres, but the demonstrators, journalists, and cops were sequestered in about a fourth of that—so that on Tuesday afternoon, it was filled with a big scrum of demonstrators, cops and journalists, perhaps a thousand or 2,000 people at most. When Cornel West descended into the crowd he was surrounded instantly by camera wielding journalists. On the edge of the square stood four members of the “Ohio Minutemen,” bearded white guys carrying loaded assault rifles. One senses, in all these groups, a lot of anger in America, more than existed a decade ago.

It must be strange being a police officer when people far more heavily armed than you are standing at the edge of the crowd.

Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, reports this week from Cleveland.

Follow @ScottMcConnell9 [2]

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "An Uneasy Alliance With the GOP"

#1 Comment By balconesfault On July 20, 2016 @ 4:19 am

To the extent Trump has unified the party … it is because for at least the last 8 years the GOP has defined itself not by a vision of how to make American’s lives better … but by opposition to whatever the Democrats propose.

This was evident in the GOP’s “Make America Work” night, when virtually all the speechmaking was dedicated not to unveiling an economic model to further reduce unemployment and raise middle class wages … but to various attacks on the Democratic nominee.

Just as the GOP agenda in 2009 was defined as “make Obama fail”, for the rest of the 2016 campaign we can expect it will be “convince America how evil Hillary is”.


The Melania speech, even before I heard the reports of wholesale passages lifted from Michelle’s speech 8 years ago, sounded funny to me. Because it didn’t sound like a speech by a Republican of today.

When Melania declared One of the many causes dear to my heart is helping children and women.You judge a society by how it treats its citizens. We must do our best to ensure that every child can live in comfort and security, with the best possible education. I was thinking “so, it takes a village, eh?

America making the comfort of every child a societal goal, rather than simply an individual responsibility for the parents … that’s what Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have been pushing for over the last 8 years?

And when she declared As citizens of this great nation, it is kindness, love and compassion for each other that will bring us together – and keep us together. I had to wonder … do she and Donald even talk?


Re: guns. I have long had sympathy for the cops of today, who do have to fear at every routine traffic stop that the occupants of the car they approach may have the weaponry on hand to hold off half their local police department for an hours long siege. Approaching that car by oneself must often be terrifying. And in a heavily crowded situation having open-carry fetishists brandishing their semi-automatic assault weapons simply to prove that they can … were I a cop I’d certainly be worried every second about how to respond if one of those peaceful protestors had come planning to become the next martyr to the cause of ISIS/Black Lives Matter/anti-Big Government/stopping Trilateralism/etc. And the sad fact is … there’s no way the cops can guarantee that a few dozen won’t be lying dead at the end of the day if some psycopathic dead-end loser decides to end his life that way.

#2 Comment By William Burns On July 20, 2016 @ 6:31 am

Even considering how deep in the bag the press was for JFK, I think that if Jackie had stolen entire paragraphs from Pat Nixon, it would have been a big story.

#3 Comment By Fred Bowman On July 20, 2016 @ 9:29 am

Well the way I see it, if Trump is elected (and that’s a big “if”) one of two things will happen. One, he’ll quickly “sell out” to the Republican establishment or Two) he’ll be an “impotent President” with no real support from either party in Congress. I would welcome an article in the TAC on just what it would take for Trump to be able to govern successfully. But I thing we all know that can’t be done without Trump “selling out” to the Republican establishment.

#4 Comment By Rossbach On July 20, 2016 @ 9:53 am

“It must be strange being a police officer when people far more heavily armed than you are standing at the edge of the crowd.”

The real power of police depends less on their armament and more on community support for them and – by extension – for the rule of law. That is why the US government has traditionally supported private ownership of firearms. When citizens and their government trust each other, weapons are not an issue because violence is not an issue.

#5 Comment By MikeCLT On July 20, 2016 @ 10:28 am

I wish Chris Christie had used his opportunity to make the case for Trump or a reformed GOP focued on the middle and working classes rather than slam Hillary. During the campaign in NH I thought he was especially effective in town hall type settings where he spoke of the problems of the middle class and working class such as drug abuse and possible treatments.

#6 Comment By Joe F On July 20, 2016 @ 11:48 am

Not sure I agree about if Jackie had cribbed and in today’s political environment, it would be a huge deal whomever did it, but more interesting is that she likely got punked by a speechwriter. Maybe one of Ted Cruz’s who joined up with Trump after he ended his campaign or Lewandowski, who still has allies in the campaign and has scores to settle. The line “he will never give up never never gonna give you up is a well known internet gag, which not coincidentally was used by the Cruz campaign on April fools. Maybe one one of the brashest political sabotage even pulled off. It is almost a certainty that she got set up for humiliation, which also be a nice pay back for insulting Cruz’s wife

#7 Comment By Chris C. On July 20, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

I enjoy these on-the-ground reports from the convention. Keep them up.

I’d largely agree with the Douthat and Salam analysis except some details of their immigration policy. The primary problem that I have (and I suspect that they do too) with Trumpism is, well, Trump.

I don’t trust that he’d actually get anything done since he doesn’t like specifics other than impossible things like “build the wall” (even the US Border Patrol union–the most pro-Trump union in the US–says it’s not gonna happen). If he tried to make a good-faith effort to learn about the world and demonstrate that he might listen to experts and take their advice into consideration, it might be a different story. But he seems to have no intellectual curiosity, a massive ego, and an inability to learn from his mistakes.

Unfortunately I also don’t think that the aspects Douthat and Salam highlight will rub off on more adroit politicians seeking to take up the mantle of Trumpism either. It seems more likely that future political entrepreneurs on the right will grab the white identity mantle rather than these policies because American politics seems to be increasingly identity-centered rather than policy-centered (this is as true, if not moreso, on the left as on the right).

#8 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On July 20, 2016 @ 12:39 pm

sorry Scott, you lost me until “partially unified”. as the late George Carlin might have observed, this means the GOP is also partially divided.

#9 Comment By Bratman On July 20, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

” Yet the two cast their piece as “anti-Trump,” calling Trump a demagogue, and assuming that he couldn’t possibly implement their agenda. It’s a loss to Trump that he hasn’t won over people who so largely agree with him”

I’m unimpressed with this supposed conversion to “Trump’s” issues. It strikes me more as belated jumping on a train while complaining that they still don’t like the look of the conductor. It’s never been about Trump. It’s about issues voters have been screaming about and that Trump embraced, issues that until fairly recently the Douthats and Salams of our political class neglected, downplayed, or even sneered at. At first, Trump’s candidacy made that easy, back when they still thought they held the whip hand, certain that Trump’s bombast, inconsistency and vulgarity would turn everybody off. Now that that’s obviously not the case, they suggest that it wasn’t the issues but just Trump himself that turned them off.

Screw that. Some of us have been screaming bloody murder about immigration, intervention, self-destructive trade deals, and parasitic “allies” for many years. Where were Douthat and Salam? I mean where were they before an enraged electorate finally crammed Trump down the Establishment’s throat for lack of an alternative, bringing those issues front and center?

@Fred Bowman : “what it would take for Trump to be able to govern successfully. But I thing we all know that can’t be done without Trump “selling out” to the Republican establishment.”

We don’t “all know” that at all. He may indeed “sell out”, but I can also foresee more Establishment Republicans being made to walk the plank, Eric Cantor style. Ryan, for example, is in a real fight with his primary opponent because of his immigration record. The Tea Party never went away and has been slowly picking off Establishment big game for three election cycles now. Rest assured, that won’t end any time soon.

The point being that if Trump wins it will be because voters gave him the juice. Establishment hacks will either get in line – some more quickly, some more slowly, some kicking and screaming, as they prefer – or be replaced by the voters – as will Trump himself if he starts backsliding. He may well have a more cooperative Establishment because of continuing changes in its composition and character.

#10 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 20, 2016 @ 1:04 pm

You mentioned that yesterday you saw Code Pink with other groups demonstrating in the main public square, a few blocks from the convention.

In his interview with you a few days back Phillip Weiss (Mondoweiss) said to you: “I’ve seen you working with Code Pink. Have you been able to do that without strain?”

You answered: “Well, first, I’m loosely enough affiliated with the right, that no one cares. The American Conservative is in terms of the Republican establishment, a dissident enough magazine that nobody is saying, They’re in bed with Code Pink, that’s terrible. At least no one cares about me. I know some of the people involved with Code Pink, and I would have had doubts about this in the late 1990s. But then I realized that if you feel you have to go into the streets to demonstrate against war, you go with the people organizing the demonstration. That’s just the way it is. I’ve been in demonstrations organized by groups more radical than Code Pink.”

I, too, have been very supportive of Code Pink’s anti-war demonstrations and direct actions and I agree with you totally that ”if you feel you have to go into the streets to demonstrate against war, you go with the people organizing the demonstration” – and Code Pink is certainly a reliable anti-war group to demonstrate with. They’re well-organized, disciplined, they stay on message, and there’s no crazy, spontaneous, violent stuff.

However, yesterday I was disappointed to see that inside Quicken Loans Arena during the Ben Carson address Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans was caught on camera by C-SPAN holding a sign which read “No Racism. No Hatred.”

It’s not that I don’t think that “racism” and “hatred” are things to oppose – and oppose strongly — but Jodie’s sign inside the convention conveyed the impression that Code Pink thinks that those attending the convention – especially the majority, the Trump supporters – are racist or given to racial hatred. I think that conveys the wrong impression. I think it’s unfair.

Your comments to Phil Weiss make me think that you would agree with me:

“Probably most people identify the left as identifying structural racism as the central evil of American capitalism. And I don’t really buy that…I think Trump and Brexit and Marine Le Pen are part of the same phenomenon and they’re all assertions of somewhat ethno but not explicitly racist populist nationalism, and they all are explicitly non-racist in their protestations or their formal presentations. That’s not to say, which I’m sure that you can, that you can’t find racists attached to all of these…

When Phil Weiss said to you that “Trump has been explicitly racist in some of his statements, you answered: “He has and he hasn’t… Clearly he plays with resentment of foreigners, including Mexicans. And then he comes back the other way and says many of my friends and business colleagues etc are. I don’t think Trump is the ideal representative of Trumpism, because he personalizes conflicts and he says things that can easily be construed as racism, but on the other hand I give the man credit because no one who is not a normal politician who wasn’t this figure with brass balls and a lot of money and some celebrity and the kind of supreme amount of self confidence could have broken through the Republican establishment and defeated it, which he did. At least so far.”

You went on to say: “I’ve seen polls saying Trump’s support among Hispanics is comparable or greater than Romney’s. He has said he’s the least racist person in the world, I don’t know about the least racist, but I actually do think he has black friends. I think he has a comfort level around blacks that I doubt that Hillary or Jeb Bush has. Because he likes sports figures and celebrities and he’s in that world, he’s a different kind of guy. When I think that there are among African Americans, a lot of law and order guys. Not the political majority, but maybe 20 to 25 percent. They will support Trump. I think he’ll have as much non-white support as any Republican is likely to get these days.”

Scott: Not to jeopardize your standing in the eyes of Code Pink, an organization which does so much good work, but would you be willing to comment on what you think of the appropriateness and the fairness of Jodie Evans’ “No Racism. No Hatred” sign?

#11 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On July 20, 2016 @ 1:11 pm

2016 is very much a “devil you know” year. I tend to agree with FB, with the caveat; as a carny barker and snake oil salesman, “selling out” to the establishment will merely be the next “deal”. Should Trump win, whether or not the deal “makes America great” (for working Americans), is moot. Trump will proclaim it a “great deal” and the GOP Establishment will certainly “get behind” this proclamation. The real question is, how will Trump respond to “impotence”? Say what you want about the current POTUS, he has accomplished quite a bit in the face of some pretty significant attempts to emasculate him.

#12 Comment By Pcm979 On July 20, 2016 @ 5:17 pm

Using the quality of a candidate’s speeches as a barometer of how well they’d do as President is flawed at best; I remember saying in 2008 that if Obama could govern nearly as well as he could speak then he’d be an excellent President. Turns out he couldn’t and wasn’t.

#13 Comment By balconesfault On July 20, 2016 @ 6:55 pm

@Pcm if Obama could govern nearly as well as he could speak then he’d be an excellent President. Turns out he couldn’t and wasn’t.

I don’t think we ever got to see how well Obama could govern. Not that he’d ever be perfect … being President means juggling the priorities of too many special interests to ever make that ideal feasible, even if I agreed with him on everything (I don’t). And then there are the random events … if you spent too much money or political capitol preparing for something that doesn’t happen, you’ve squandered resources. If you don’t spend enough and it happens, you fail.

But the real crux of my response is that we don’t know how good Obama could have governed because he was dealing with a political opposition whose primary and sometimes only goal was to prevent him from succeeding, no matter what the cost to the the economy, the country, or even the world in the meantime. It would have taken someone with godlike powers to have lived up to his rhetoric in the face of GOP obstructionism … and while many on the right created the strawman that liberals considered Obama a “Messiah”, most of us were always well aware that he is a mere mortal.

#14 Comment By Scott McConnell On July 20, 2016 @ 7:45 pm

@Kurt Gayle, Glad you asked the question. Talked to some Code Pinkers in the square today. I told one (whom I didn’t know) that I agreed with them on Iraq and Israel-Palestine, but not on cops or immigration. She said she’d have to talk to me more. I had a brief hello with two others (one was Jody) whom I had demonstrated with, but no political conversation.