CLEVELAND – I confess that I wasn’t really looking forward to attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. It had the potential to range all the way from nauseating to dangerous, based on the hype leading up to the event. Advance news reporting by the major media outlets predicted deep divisions in the convention between Trump supporters and anti-Trump forces, deadly terrorist attacks, paralyzing traffic jams caused by civil disobedience and a list of speakers that excited no one.
Once again, the big media got it wrong, totally wrong. The Republican National Convention was an outstanding success. It was full of drama, full of excitement and a good showing for Team Trump. As to the location, I don’t want to hear another person refer to Cleveland as the “Mistake on the Lake.” Cleveland rocked, literally and figuratively. Cleveland is a great city with big city attractions and some of the friendliest people in the nation.
Of course, the big worry going into the RNC was the question of public safety. We were told there would be thousands of protesters wreaking havoc on Cleveland and the convention. The reality was that Cleveland was possibly the safest city in the United States last week, as thousands of imported law enforcement officers and a shortage of serious protesters made for a great environment. A delegate almost had to go out looking for protesters to see any. Score a big win for public safety.
The RNC kicked off its festivities on Sunday evening with a gigantic rock-n-roll and food festival on the Cleveland lakefront. Fifty food vendors, multiple beer gardens and three live entertainment stages kept delegates stuffed, hydrated and rocking the night away. The evening concluded with a gigantic fireworks display that left everyone oohing and ahhing. I’ve been to a lot of big events in cities trying to put their best foot forward. Cleveland ranks near the top in staging one heck of a party.
Monday, Donald Trump and the Republican Party dodged a big ole bullet when the Rules Committee made no changes regarding freeing delegates to vote their conscience, to allow delegates to dump Trump. First in the Rules Committee and then later beating back a petition effort, proponents of “Dump Trump” were decidedly thumped by a big plurality in the committee and then by some apparent good old-fashioned arm twisting.
The majority of delegates in nine states signed a petition to force a roll call vote on the issue. However, miraculously, delegates in three states changed their minds and the strategy fell two states shy of success. Score a big win for the Trump Team. The effort to allow a conscience vote smelled an awful lot like the handiwork of the Ted Cruz forces.
Amazingly, Trump and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus allowed Cruz to address the convention on Wednesday. Cruz spoke for about 15 minutes to a respectful audience. As it became obvious that he was wrapping up his speech, it dawned on the delegates that Cruz had no intention of endorsing Donald Trump. As the delegates grew restless, a murmur and then a low booing began from both ends of the convention hall. The booing rose, with Cruz making a snide comment to the New York delegation. Then the convention burst out in yelling, more booing and taunting of Cruz. He was literally booed off the stage. I’d like to thank Ted Cruz for doing what Donald Trump could never do, uniting the Republican Party.
What about Ted Cruz’s future in presidential politics? I may be wrong, but he came across as a spoiled, petulant little crybaby who is a colossal sore loser. But hey, that’s just my opinion. Unfortunately for Sen. Cruz, I heard a lot of former Cruz delegates express their disgust for his actions.
What about the bizarre world of Ohio Gov. John Kasich? This one hurts me personally because I endorsed Kasich, donated money to his campaign, and took a bunch of arrows for expressing my support. Kasich totally sat out the RNC in Cleveland in a demonstration of bad form and worse hospitality. After all, even the Democratic mayor of Cleveland welcomed the convention. Gov. Kasich worked hard to entice the Republicans to Cleveland and then didn’t show up to his own party.
Making matters worse, he staged a big party at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making invitees feel that it was going to be a somewhat intimate affair and then leaving hundreds of supporters sweltering outside waiting to be allowed in by the Cleveland fire marshal. I hope John Kasich enjoys being governor. He won’t be going any further.
A rising star in the Republican Party emerged from the convention. Delegates were extremely impressed with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. He gave a dynamic speech and positioned himself well for a future presidential run.
Speaking of rising stars! Either as reality television stars or future political powers, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. established themselves as extremely impressive progeny with bright futures. With well-known names and a billion dollars, you have to think there will be a Gov. Trump or Sen. Trump in the not-so-distant future.
Two speakers at the convention surprised the delegates with their renewed energy and effective speeches. Rudy Giuliani showed personality and potent punch in his speech that left delegates wondering where was that Rudy in 2012. In the same category, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker delivered a popular message that belied his disappointing 2016 campaign. The delegates also appreciated Walker’s willingness to bury the hatchet and rally to the Trump cause.
Some of my most enjoyable moments came in taxi rides to the Quicken Arena. Hani, a Turkish American Lyft driver, told me that his sister and brother had been fired from their jobs as teachers as a result of the Turkish attempted coup. His brother has even been detained. Their offense? They are secular Turks; Islamic, but not Islamic enough for President Erdogan. Hani fears for the safety of his family and the future of his homeland. He blames President Obama for a weak response to Erdogan’s excesses. He plans to vote for Donald Trump.
My other enlightening taxi ride came with Uber driver David, a native Clevelander who has seen his income drop significantly as the business environment in Cleveland deteriorated over the last 20 years. He blames the loss of the manufacturing industry in Cleveland on NAFTA and Bill Clinton. He believes that Donald Trump will bring jobs back to the United States. He’s voting for Trump.
On Wednesday afternoon, I spoke to the Foreign Press Corps as a guest of the United States Department of State. My job was to explain the role of a delegate to the national convention and field questions. Of course, when they heard that I was from Indiana, all they wanted to talk about was Mike Pence and Donald Trump. I found one question in particular to be of interest. I was asked if I thought Donald Trump would be transformative for the Republican Party. I answered no. I said that I believed that he was a one-off candidate and would not dramatically alter our party.
I now think that I may have been wrong.
Donald Trump asked Peter Thiel, the openly gay founder of PayPal to address the convention. Thiel stated that with all of the problems facing our country we should be focusing on what is important and not on who uses which bathroom. The delegates jumped to their feet and exploded with applause. Later, Trump promised to protect the LGBTQ community from acts of violence. Perhaps, the words of Thiel and Trump and their popular reception can put this divisive issue behind the Republican Party permanently. I sure hope so.
Mike Pence, Indiana governor and Trump vice-presidential candidate, faced a staggering task in closing the proceedings on Wednesday evening. The prospect of a relentless Thursday media spin being about a terribly divided Republican Party was destroyed by a Reaganesque speech that enlightened, informed, excited and motivated the assembled delegates. An evening that began with the question of “Mike Pence, who dat?” ended with the Republican Party thinking that Donald Trump had pretty good judgment when he tapped Pence for the job.
The Indiana delegation aggressively chanted “Mike, Mike, Mike” at the beginning of his speech. By the end of governor Pence’s speech, the cheers of the Indiana delegation were drowned out by chants of “We like Mike. We like Mike,” emanating from all corners of the convention hall. Pence’s speech further served to unite the party by bringing the skeptical evangelicals together with skeptical Trump supporters who hungered for red meat. The governor delivered for both. To Gov. Pence I say, “Job well done.” And on this point I must agree with the Democrats, “Pence Must Go” – only “to the White House!”
Despite the faux drama beaten to death by the media, it was a pretty good week for Donald J. Trump. I never thought I would say this, but I think I could get used to seeing him in the Oval Office.
Dunn is chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.