All gall, in Cleveland

A Rhetorical Recap of the third night—and a preview of the fourth—of the Republican Convention, Cleveland, Ohio, July 20, 2016

NOTE: These observations are based on my impressions from being inside Quicken Loans Arena, not from watching on television.

CLEVELAND—Donald vs. Ted.  Donald vs. John.  Everyone vs. Hillary and the media.  It’s another Republican rumble!

At the level of presidential politics, the Republican Party has split into three parts, and it stews in open rancor before the voters and the world. Three men espouse clashing ideologies of authoritarian isolationism (Trump), originalist conservatism (Cruz), and pragmatic internationalism (Kasich). Their substantive differences have been exacerbated by personal conflicts; the long trail of slights, insults, and snubs amounts to a fundamental failure of politics on their parts.  And the situation is further worsened by the ineptitude of the Trump campaign organization, a family business that seemingly refuses to scale up, partly out of a belief that celebrity bravado can compensate for adequate staffing to carry out fundraising, advertising, surrogate speakers, canvassing, data analytics, and so forth.

In his speech, Ted Cruz enacted his separation from Donald Trump through a Thomas More-like declaration of conscience.  Had Donald Trump the power of a Henry VIII he would have shut down Cruz’s microphone, or had him seized. He did appear, in a silent but highly visible protest to a non-endorsement he knew was coming. Then, by coincidence, the television screens went dark, depriving son Eric Trump of maximum visibility in the arena.   

John Kasich’s protest at a distance continued, and that split deepened with Trump’s anti-NATO remarks in an interview with the New York Times.  In a world where policy statements took precedence, that would be the top story.  

We’re back to the verbal fisticuffs of the GOP debates but the stakes are higher.  Night three, like its predecessors, careened from hatred to tedium with stops at cringe-worthy amateurism.  

There could be a strategy in play here along with chaos and personal confidence.  Perhaps the Trump circle read Cruz’s non-endorsement speech and sandbagged him by letting him proceed, the better to put him down tonight.  We’ll see.

Let’s turn to the speeches.

Laura Ingraham walked a path Trump should take.  She opened with autobiographical story that affirmed shared values.  She chastised Cruz and Kasich as “wounded boys” who needed to grow up and honor their loyalty pledge to the nominee.  It was the most effective speech of the night. She summoned the anger without boiling over into rage, and she blended that with an upbeat nostalgia worthy of the word “Reaganesque.”

Scott Walker proved himself incapable of conducting a call and response.  He stepped on the response repeatedly.  As a public speaker, he remains a minor leaguer.

In a taped video, Marco Rubio steered clear of the wreckage without violating his pledge.  Canny.

Ted Cruz came out to a big cheer. He invoked LeBron’s comeback (real subtle), congratulated Trump, and said that he wants to see “our principles prevail.” His eulogy for one of the fallen Dallas policemen, told through the perspective of his daughter, brought the arena to breathless attention. Then Cruz gave a veritable 2020 candidacy announcement speech, taking stands on issues tied to the news but not to the nominee. He closed by telling the nation to vote up and down the ballot for candidates who will “defend our freedom and be faithful to the Constitution.”  He’s set yet another marker of aggressive disassociation from his political counterparts, and we’ll see how and what he does in 2018.

Newt Gingrich somehow landed a personal introduction from his wife.  Callista said “I’m excited” in a monotone and handed over the mic to hubby.  Newt tried a logical bank shot: use Cruz’s test, he lectured, and you’ll conclude that Trump is the only choice this November.  It got a rise from the crowd, but that’s it.  They were still murmuring and boiling over the Cruz-Trump conflict. Gingrich may have sensed that, because he rushed through the rest of an apocalyptic political science fiction lecture.  He showed his loyalty to Trump.

Mike Pence has a smooth radio voice, and his remarks evinced an aptitude for good speech structure. The self-deprecating laughs he drew came as a great relief in the hall. In embracing the subservient role of the number two slot on the ticket, he did himself and by extension Trump great credit.  By this morning Pence was doing well, but not great, on social media.  His fate rises and falls with Trump; he’s no power source.

What three men have put asunder was slightly assuaged by the Pence’s speech.  The next move belongs to Trump.  

He has four big rhetorical cards to play: anti-Hillary of course, but now also anti-Cruz on the question of the pledge, and anti-media on Melania, and pro-himself for having selected Pence.  (Sidebar question: Can Meliana smile on cue tonight?  Ivanka will deliver and set the table for her dad, it seems safe to say.)

Trump has his base locked; Cruz and Kasich are playing for 2020.  (Our PEORIA social media data show that #nevertrump remains moribund.) Will Trump reach out empathetically to Republicans unsettled by his doctrine and manner enough to broaden his party support?  Or will he be defiant and isolationist within the party as well as the world?  

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