This week I thought I would share my thoughts on the GOP national convention. Next week I’ll provide the same regarding the Democratic national convention.
Last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland was, overall, a mess.
The Trump campaign planned to focus each night on a theme but was repeatedly pulled off message by missteps, ie. Melania Trump’s plagiarism, and allowing Ted Cruz to overshadow Mike Pence’s pretty solid speech.
Overall, the Trump campaign came off as terribly disorganized and unfocused, which bodes poorly for the fall.
I was struck by the poor quality of most of the speeches. The fundamental problem is that many of those invited were second or third tier in quality and it showed once they mounted the podium.
There were exceptions. I thought Paul Ryan did a good job as did Mike Pence and Peter Thiel. I thought Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., also performed well.
Stepping back, national conventions generally serve three purposes: 1) Pull the party together, 2) Lay out the case against the opposing party/candidate and 3) Boost the presidential candidate.
Arguably, last week’s GOP convention fulfilled the second purpose, specifically trashing Hillary Clinton. Speaker after speaker argued that her foreign policy role in the Obama administration had been flawed, that she had screwed up the response to the Benghazi attack, and that she should be in jail rather than out on the campaign trail (reinforced by the repeated chant “Lock her up”). The speeches by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie were demonstrative of that theme.
But, the other two purposes, party unity and boosting the presidential nominee, were at best muddled.
This was the convention that will be known for those who didn’t make an appearance – no former President Bush, no John McCain, no Mitt Romney. Most GOP U.S. senators in key competitive races stayed away, like Sen. Portman of Ohio and Sen. Ayotte of New Hampshire.
The most telling was the absence of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He is very popular in Ohio and has not endorsed Trump. His campaign apparatus is on the sidelines. It is very likely that without his embrace Trump will lose Ohio and, probably, the election.
Party unity was further undermined by Sen. Ted Cruz who encouraged voters to vote their conscience and was roundly booed by the convention audience. Many questioned why Cruz spoke, given his unwillingness to support Trump. The love lost between Trump and Cruz further ramped on Friday as I write this column. Trump is again raising his silly claim that Cruz’ dad was involved in the JFK assassination, citing the National Enquirer, and claims he won’t accept any future Cruz endorsement. Expect more fireworks there over the next few weeks.
The bigger issue is did this convention provide a boost to Trump’s candidacy?
Trump currently trails Clinton, according to RealClearPolitics, in every swing state. Some are close, like in Florida.
Did Trump paint a vision that will attract the swing state voters he needs?
That is where I think his acceptance speech was off-kilter. Trump painted a dark vision of the U.S. as a failing country with a weak economy, a faltering foreign policy and lurking danger at home. He didn’t make the case why his leadership will result in a brighter future. His address was more Nixonian in tone than Reaganesque.
The problem is Trump has few solutions to any of these issues. His prescriptions of cracking down on illegal immigration, tearing up trade agreements and pulling back abroad are unlikely to result in a stronger, more secure country.
Trump’s hope for victory is that the electorate’s disdain for Clinton will be enough to overcome their personal dislike for him.
I expect he will get a small bump, perhaps drawing even or a bit ahead of Clinton. But, the real key will be where things stand after the Democratic convention and later in August once the convention bounces on both sides evaporate.