Dispatches From Cleveland

Derek Hunter
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Posted: Jul 20, 2016 6:00 PM
Dispatches From Cleveland

I’m in Cleveland – affectionately known as “the mistake by the lake” – for the Republican National Convention. This is the third GOP convention I’ve attended.  Each have had their moments of weirdness, but this one has managed to cram an awful lot in the first two days.

I get it. Donald Trump isn’t a politician, so you can’t expect political correctness and all of that. But we aren’t talking about political correctness; we’re talking about basic competence.

Paul Manafort, we were told, was hired because of his ability to organize a convention to ensure there were no challenges to Trump in the rules committee or on the floor. Manafort worked his arm-twisting magic to thwart attempts to unbind the delegates, but he forgot to manage what happens on the stage.

Monday at the convention was a disaster.

It wasn’t just one thing; it was all things. Even the victories were ultimately defeats. For a convention organized by a “convention expert,” there were a lot of rookie mistakes.

Manafort started the day by taking an unnecessary swipe at Ohio Gov. John Kasich for not attending the convention. Think what you will of Kasich’s decision to skip Cleveland, he’s a popular governor in a crucial state in the fall election.

Alienating his supporters was self-destructive. Simply say, “We wish he were here, but he’s not. We’re focusing on the convention and uniting the party.” That’s it, and move on. Manafort didn’t do that.

Beyond the floor fights and fumbling, there were a lot of unforced errors by Team Trump.

First was the speaking order. Donald’s wife, Melania, was the headliner, yet she didn’t end the night. Why not?

When Melania was done, so were the delegates. But the speakers weren’t. Why have speeches after the headliner? The opening band doesn’t play after Guns ‘N’ Roses.

This scheduling snafu left Lt. General Michael Flynn speaking to a half-empty hall. Horrible optics for an important speech from a man of substance.

After the scheduling issues, the morning was greeted by charges of plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech. They were insignificant but important. As a writer, plagiarism is offensive, though what she’s been accused of is small, it matters. The handling of it – sort of admitting it, then denying it, then defending by citing “My Little Pony” – gave the story legs it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Another unforced error made worse by the reaction to it.

With Monday in the rearview mirror, hopes were high for Tuesday night. With floor fights pretty much over, all that had to happen was people delivering prepared speeches.

The theme of the night was to be “Make America Work Again,” but you’d never know it by the words delivered from the podium.

With the exception of an excellent speech from Donald Trump, Jr., Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and a former soap opera actress turned avocado farmer, jobs and the economy were absent.

Tiffany Trump delivered a short, sweet “I love my dad” speech, well delivered by a young, poised, recent college graduate. But it wasn’t a “move the needle” speech.

Donald Jr. could have a future in politics if he wants one.

Speaker Ryan was the on-theme highlight, but he wasn’t in prime time, so he wasn’t seen by most of the country.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered a red meat indictment of the corruption of Hillary Clinton. But, again, it wasn’t in prime time.

Why have powerful speeches if no one hears them? It’d be like if Frank Sinatra sang only in the shower. Keeping those out of prime time was a major fumble.

Dr. Ben Carson delivered a nothing-burger of a speech, and the night awkwardly ended with a prayer from Sajid Tarar, head of Muslims for Trump. I get the reason for him speaking – the media has burned a lot of calories painting Donald Trump as an anti-Muslim bigot. But Tarar’s closing prayer came two speeches after what should have been the last speech, and again, the delegates had mostly left. Horrible optics for the viewers at home.

The themes have fit together well, but who speaks and in what order also is important. Strategy matters, and Paul Manafort and his team didn’t seem to have one for the first two nights of the convention.

Manafort did head off any floor challenges, but he appears to have ignored the most important part of a presidential nominating convention – what the audience at home sees. Aside from the debates, the candidates never will have this large an audience listening to them as they and their supporters deliver their vision for the country than at their convention.

There’s always going to be some sand in the gears of a convention because there are so many moving parts. But to focus on the sand to the exclusion of the gears was a mistake no one saw coming. The media will highlight every mistake, try to make every straw be the one that breaks the camel’s back while dusting every straw off the back of the donkey that is the Democratic nominee. It’s how the media works, you know that going in and have to act/plan accordingly. So far, they haven’t.

The Trump campaign has until the balloons drop and pop Thursday night to right this ship, because from the moment they fall until Nov. 8, there won’t be anymore free air for their message or audiences this large to fill them. I hope I can report they do…