Candidacy could be crippled by limp, chaotic convention
Published 22/07/2016 | 02:30
Never hire the Trump Organization to run your political convention. They'll screw it up.
One thing we expected of the Trump nomination was that it would be beautifully choreographed. Trump is the TV candidate - he is where he is because he manipulated the media so well. And he's running for the presidency on the claim that he can build anything - towers, walls, great Americas - so, again, we assumed that he'd build a fine convention. Instead, it's been a disaster. Starting with the stage. It makes the whole damn thing look like a Scientology awards ceremony.
Day one brought Melaniagate: the scandal over whether Miss Cleveland stole her speech from Michelle Obama. When that broke I was still sufficiently in awe of The Donald to think that maybe this was a gaffe committed on purpose, to keep us talking about it. But this was followed by Tuesday's floor fight over the nomination, in which the narrowness of Trump's primary "triumph" was revealed for all to see. And then, on Wednesday, Ted Cruz offered a devastating non-endorsement that just might cripple Trump's entire candidacy.
Things were going badly before Cruz showed up. Trump's primetime acts are a succession of D-list celebrities who appear never to have spoken in public before. Phil Ruffin - a businessman who looks like a character who gets whacked very early on in 'Scarface' - growled that we should vote for Trump because "he always pays his bills promptly".
Businesswoman Michelle Van Etten, who wore a cape, told us that her dream as a child "was to be a circus performer" and suggested that Trump would make a mighty fine ringleader.
Thing is, it's all very well to have a convention full of ordinary people. But these aren't ordinary people. They're strange people that Trump once met in an elevator.
He once met a guy called Marco Rubio when running for the nomination - "little Marco", he called him - and so Rubio was asked to give an endorsement, too. He did so via a video. So tawdry was Marco's humiliation, so abject, that he decided it was best to deliver it as far away from the convention as possible.
The role of Daniel among the lions was left to Ted Cruz - and, like any good evangelical, he jumped at the chance to be martyred.
Trump's team saw Cruz's speech hours before he delivered it. Yet they let him go ahead. Why? I'm starting to suspect it's because they're idiots. Cruz certainly knew what he was doing when his lengthy, intellectually watertight and highly legalistic non-endorsement started to trigger boos in the crowd.
He acknowledged the New York delegation's displeasure with an evil chuckle. "Endorse Trump!" they cried, "Endorse Trump!" Chuckle. Cackle. Cruz would say only that each man should vote according to his conscience. By implication, a conservative with a conscience cannot vote Trump. Things turned nasty; his speech was drowned out with fury. Cruz's wife apparently had to be ushered away by security. Rep Pete King called Ted a fraud. Chris Christie called the speech "awful" and "selfish".
Maybe it was a bit egotistical. But it was also a moral test of the Republican Party. Ask yourself this: why is there more dissent at Donald Trump's convention than any Republican convention since 1976? And would Cruz (below) have pulled this stunt if Jeb Bush or John Kasich were the nominee? Of course not.
It's about Trump - and not just his personality. His philosophy is what really divides this convention because Republicans really care about philosophy. When Ted Cruz spoke about the importance of upholding the Constitution, the Trumpite delegates got angry because they know that's a dig at Trump. Because they know that Trump is a fan of order but not necessarily of law. Because they know that Trump hardly ever talks about the Constitution, that it's not a big part of his intellectual hinterland. Because what he's about is building things - whatever it takes. Although, like I say, I'm beginning to doubt his ability even to do that.
Trump tried to recapture his convention by walking into the hall at the end of Cruz's speech. But his delegates were too busy shouting at the stage to notice the candidate enter in the room. Cruz scuttled away. Eric Trump came on. And then the video behind him failed, flashing on and off - as if Evil Ted had found the switch and was flicking it up and down. By the time Mike Pence had delivered his VP acceptance speech - designed to reconcile conservatives to Trump - the day had been squandered. The convention was lost.
Why does it matter? Because he has so little time. Trump had four days at this convention both to showcase his conservative credentials and unify the party. Cruz has shattered both illusions. As a result, the week was dominated not by talk about Trump's speech but about stories of bitter infighting.
Meanwhile, Hillary has let it be known that she'll choose an experienced moderate as her running mate and the Democratic convention next week is set to be a well-ordered display of unity and centrism. One of the headliner acts is Lady Gaga, which is a lot better than actor Scott Baio and one of those astronauts who didn't go to the moon. Heck, even Mitt Romney got Clint Eastwood in 2012.
This convention contains almost no talk about policy. Its hits on Hillary, although ringing with truth, are starting to look scarily like a lynch party. The big names aren't big. The most important speech thus far was implicitly attacking the candidate. And, to cap it all, the protests are far bigger inside the convention than outside it.
Would you hire the architect of this convention to build you a wall? (© Daily Telegraph, London)