It’s not as if we haven’t seen bad nominating conventions before. During the 1968 Democratic convention, there were literal riots outside the hall. At the 1972 Democratic convention, the presidential nominee chose a running mate, then felt the need to swap him out for someone else.
As the 1992 Republican convention, the American mainstream recoiled when Pat Buchanan declared a religious war. Twenty years later, Clint Eastwood got into an argument with an empty chair – and somehow managed to come out on the losing end of the quarrel.
And yet, reading the New York Times’ David Leonhardt’s summary of the 2016 Republican gathering, it’s hard not to marvel at this week’s developments in Cleveland.
Screaming matches between delegates. Past nominees who refused to attend. Speakers who seem allergic to mentioning the nominee’s name – or policies. The runner-up refusing to endorse the winner.Plagiarism. Lies about plagiarism. Talk of Lucifer from the stage. Humanizing stories about the nominee relegated to obscure time slots. Multiple speakers calling for the jailing of the opposing nominee. A prominent delegate calling for that nominee’s execution by firing squad.
Well, sure, when you put it that way, it sounds like things haven’t gone well.
It’s important to note that this week’s Mistake By The Lake still has one more night to go. Who knows, it’s possible that this evening’s developments will go off without a hitch and Americans will marvel in the splendor of a Republican triumph.
But if that happens it will be quite a turnaround from the convention’s first three nights.
Let’s not forget the point of a national party convention. As a practical matter, delegates gather to nominate a presidential ticket, but as a political matter, it’s a quadrennial opportunity for a party to put on a compelling show for the country. Convention organizers and party officials are effectively running a multi-day infomercial, presenting Americans with the party’s principles and priorities, making the public feel good about what the party has to offer, all while bringing partisans together ahead of the general election.
Have Republicans met any of their goals this week? Can anyone find a single American voter who feels better about the GOP after having watched the last few days unfold?
Despite GOP officials’ efforts, the party appears lost and divided, lacking direction, united only by their seething contempt for the Democratic nominee and their affinity for demagoguery and conspiracy theories.
Many of this week’s missteps were avoidable. Someone, for example, might have checked one speech in particular for possible plagiarism. What’s more, the candidate didn’t have to step on one Monday night speech with an interview on Fox News, and then step on his running mate’s Wednesday night speech with a New York Times interview. Some of this, in other words, can be chalked up to the Trump campaign’s overall incompetence and inability to function the way a professional operation should.
But that’s not the whole story. There’s something rotten in Republican politics, and it’s contributing to the convention fiasco. This is a party lacking in leadership, substance, and ideas. Each of the individual errors this week help adds up to a debacle, but what GOP officials need to recognize is the bankruptcy underpinning all of their many problems.
The nomination of a racist television personality to be president of the United State is a symptom of a larger crisis. Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann explained this week that Trump’s rise in GOP politics is “the culmination of a proud political party’s steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.”
To understand why this week’s convention has failed, start here.