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 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.