The white elephant: Day 1 of GOP convention, a cynical recap

Approx Reading Time-14We sent our chief political analyst to cover the GOP convention (from his loungeroom), so you didn’t have to endure it. You’re most welcome.




Day 1 of the GOP convention. Cleveland, Ohio.

The media has been setting a flammable scene. Reports that the “New Black Panthers” will be arriving sporting assault rifles. Interviews with “Bikers for Trump”, saying they will be ready to “support law enforcement”. If I didn’t know better, I’d get the distinct impression that the news media is baiting these groups, spoiling for a fight. The CNN interviewer asked the biker leader how he felt about the New Black Panthers “open carrying” weapons around the convention.

He replied his “men” would use any and all means necessary to maintain order.

If the media isn’t predicting a combustible and chaotic convention then they’re expecting a total flop. There have been needling attacks that Trump may not get all the balloons inflated in time, that many traditional GOP speakers are not in attendance, that the failed “roll-out” of Trump’s VP pick signals the kind of soufflé-like convention we can expect. It’s clear that since Trump is not following the media-preferred script for any of his politicking, pundits are fuming (and playing catch-up). But not “playing by the rules” is not the same as “not having any rules”. The NBC was quick to lambast the fact that Trump announced his VP, Mike Pence, via Twitter rather than a well-choreographed press conference. They fail to recognise that Trump is trying to peel audience and voters away from the mainstream media by offering breaking news via his Twitter feed. The more he offers “exclusives” via Twitter, the more his “followers” grow, the more he speaks directly to them, the more Trump controls the narrative. What the media sees as naïve is, in fact, a sophisticated strategy; employing new media in a way that may generate dividends come November 8.

Cenk Uygur (TYT) posts a low-budget selfie-video – presumably from his hotel room (quite some distance outside Cleveland he is at pains to say) – reporting that “People in the mid-west are completely different than people in the major cities (NYC, LA etc)”. Uygur comes to the remarkable conclusion that folk in the fly-over states may have different concerns and interests to those in the metropolitan East and West Coast areas, and that these peculiarities may tend to favour candidate Trump. Uygur now reports, “Anyone could win this election”. That’s different! It wasn’t so long ago he was convinced that Trump, “will never win the election”. Oh well, at least he’s receptive to new information – such as the Ohio-diner-conversations he overheard and reported in his short video.

One of the first events of the GOP convention was a foiled attempt by the #NeverTrump crowd to have the convention rules re-litigated so that delegates might be able to vote “according to conscience”, rather than according to the popular vote in the states that sent them to the convention. It’s a complicated way of saying that the anti-Trumpkins wanted to change the rules in an attempt to prevent Trump from being crowned nominee. The strategy leaked through Politico about two hours before execution, giving the presiding official, Rep Steve Womack, time to maneuver and deny them this last, desperate play.


The convention begins in earnest:

The star of Duck Dynasty, Scott Baio (another sitcom personality), a former Texas Governor, a retired Navy Seal…all in the first 15 minutes. One thing is for sure: the convention has the pace of reality TV and is tailor-made for an audience with attention-deficit disorder. Definitely more spectacle than substance.

With misty eyes, the Seal exalts, “America is the light”.

Patricia Smith, the mother of a soldier killed in Benghazi, takes the stage (presumably to bash Hillary Clinton who she has repeatedly blamed for “leaving her son to die”) – tears across the convention floor. “Radical. Islamic. Terrorism,” – twenty minutes in and we’ve broken the seal. “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son” – yep, there is it. Attendees are praying. “Donald Trump is everything Hillary Clinton is not”…well that’s a statement without any normative content – for Trump fans that’s a good thing – so too for Hillary fans…?

CNN: “There’s no way around it. I thought these were great speeches…for this room, and American audiences as well.”

Van Jones: “Very powerful. But, narrow-casting…it didn’t speak to me yet. Very uncomfortable with the mother…she seems unhealed. I’m worried about exploiting grief in this way.”

The next speaker is Antonio Sabato Jnr, an ex-Calvin Klein model. No, I’m not kidding. One of the most “genetically fortunate” humans lectures immigrants on work-ethic and following the rules. You couldn’t make this up. He leaves the stage with a fist-pump (not the last, I’ll bet).

Pastor on stage: “Trump is sent by God”.

CNN commentator Van Jones: “This is turning into a hate-fest”. Anderson Cooper pushes back on the comment sufficiently for Jones to qualify it…a little. “Ok…it’s a borderline hate-fest”.

Rep Michael McCaul: The second politician of the evening strangely parrots the crowd who chants, “U, S, A… U, S, A…” But he sort of mouths it, and then says it slowly like he’s trying to work out what it means although he’s sure it means something important. “Radical. Islamic. Terrorism,” (the punctuation is reflective of the GOP stylized delivery). “Donald will never apologise for American greatness” – another one of those ambiguous statements. These will all sound very funny when cut together over footage of 2018s World War III.

Also on The Big Smoke

The camera pans and finds the one black man in the crowd. He looks confused like he’s thinking, “this isn’t the marine recruitment office. The guy outside lied to me…”

Sheriff David Clarke: This guy really hates Obama. His opening line: “Blue lives matter in America”. He’s black, so I suppose that makes his message permissible? It’s pretty sad (and not a little bit racist) that certain races can express facts that others cannot. Sheriff Clarke provides black-on-black crime statistics that white law enforcement officers are shouted down for offering.

CNN Don Lemon: “I think Scott Baio got more applause than Sheriff Clarke. The ‘Blue Lives Matter’ line fell flat”.

It bears mentioning that Don Lemon yesterday suffered through an excruciating interview with the sheriff where he completely lost control of his guest and threatened to end the interview if Clarke wouldn’t “behave”. Fortunately for the CNN audience, Anderson Cooper (once more the voice of reason) jumps in to say, “I’m not sure where Don was sitting, but the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ line got the biggest applause of the night. Clarke’s address was very well received.”

CNN cuts away from the stage to indulge in punditry so it isn’t clear who exclaims, “The threat from Radical. Islamic. Terrorism. Is real.” It’s clear the audience appreciates the sentiment, though.

“Let me tell you a story about an Arkansas farm-boy…” the opening to what is bound to be a barnstorming address by Senator Tom Cotton. Is anyone surprised he’s talking about himself? Love the third person rhetoric: it’s as American as apple pie. “We don’t fight because we hate our enemies, but because we love our country”. I’m sorry, that distinction is lost on me. It must be a Republican thing. “It would be nice to have a Commander in Chief who can be trusted to handle classified information”. Zing! Ouch! That’s gotta hurt. Best burn of the night so far.

On the convention floor, CNN’s Dana Bash asks Governor Chis Christie if being at the convention tonight is “bittersweet”. She’s referring to the fact that he’s not Trump’s VP running mate…low blow, but funny. Christie pivots to some folky nonsense about being a Jersey-boy. I guess that means he can take the rub.

Senator Jeff Sessions refers to Clinton as a “globalist”, a common epithet that is meant to stand in opposition to the values of “true Americans” who by GOP reasoning must be “nationalist” – at least for this presidential election. Sessions goes on to make the astonishing claim that all of the job growth of the past few years under Obama has gone to immigrants…that can’t be right? Can it?!

Mayor Rudy Giuliani takes the stage and assumes the role as the police force’s staunchest defender: “When they come to save your life, they don’t ask if you’re black or white, they just come to save you!” (That’s how he said it). “There’s no black America, no white America, there is just America!” This “shout the last two words” is a fascinating rhetorical device. I’m calling it a “raucous-couplet”. “Islamic! Extremist! Terrorism!,” Rudi raps the evening’s touchstone and then follows up with this bizarre and somewhat sinister message for the terrorists, “You know who you are…and we’re coming to get you!” Whenever someone says something like this I become acutely self-conscious: is he talking about me?

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer calls Giuliani’s speech the most rousing of the night. Must have been all the raucous-couplets.

Donald Trump enters the stage to Queen’s We Are The Champions. He leans into the mic, “Oh, we’re gonna win. We’re gonna win so big”. The room loses it collective mind. “Oh, we’re gonna win, ladies and gentlemen. We’re gonna win so big”. That point bears repeating obviously. Donald comes on stage simply to welcome his beloved wife Melania. Wow! She looks pretty amazing: hottest first lady of all time! Notice I said “hottest”, not “most elegant”. No one will ever take that away from Jackie.

Melania Trump swallows hard and peers intently at the teleprompter. This is not her comfort zone that’s for sure. Bless her heart. “I was very proud to become citizens of the United States…” (Oh my gosh, the accent is adorable…”citizens”. How can you not love someone who speaks like that?) “He’s tough when he has to be, but he’s also kind, and fair, and caring”. As much as I hate this observation, the “optics” of Mrs Trump on stage, dressed in white, with flawless makeup and incredible hair, lauding her “fine” husband, are pretty great.

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The CNN panel called Trump’s entrance “swaggeriffic”. He stood silhouetted behind a damask curtain with smoke curling around his feet, until the screen rose to reveal the Republican champion. Wolf Blitzer confirmed, “The stagecraft was very impressive”.

Lt General Michael Flynn had a hard act to follow but recuperated the glory of the United States: “We are the first country to put a man on the moon, we ended the cold war, we stopped Communism’s quest for world domination. As Ronald Reagan said…” Classic. You’ll never go wrong with a good Reagan quote. “War is not about bathrooms…” That’s a stupid note to end the night on. But I guess you can’t expect much from a general that served under the “don’t ask don’t tell” protocol. “Radical Islamists, and failed tyrants”. Quick rub of the touchstone before throwing some more red meat to the ravenous crowd: “American exceptionalism is very real!…Our country was built on Judeo-Christian values…America is the greatest country in the history of the world.” I must say that this is an incredibly bombastic speech to hear at 10:45PM on a Monday night. Undeterred, Flynn presses the point: “Donald Trump will restore America to the undeniable and unquestioned world leader.” Unquestioned?! Oh, no…I’m scared now. “There will be no apologies for our American exceptionalism!” Seriously, that’s terrifying. Even Dick Cheney never said that.

I hope the kids were all in bed.

Wow, that was something else…

Although Trump didn’t speak tonight, his cameo appearance seemed somehow magical. He came on stage to introduce his wife and then blended back into the shadows. Once Melania finished speaking, Donald returned to escort her off stage. Hardly the action of the “megalomaniacal narcissist” we hear so much about – classy actually.

This was a well-choreographed evening.

If the balance of the convention nights are like this, the Democrats have a tough task ahead of them. Tonight was entertaining, potent, bite-sized, direct, and all-American.

Good luck, Hillary…

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