CLEVELAND — In 2012, the non-TV press at least had a halfway decent view of the stage. The press stand seats here in Quicken Loan Arenas are effectively behind the podium, which will eventually have the unintended effect of making it clear to the media when any speaker goes off-prompter (not that anyone scheduled to speak this week is known for that, or anything).
For now, I was afforded a distinct, if distant, view of Reince Priebus’s bald spot (pictured), as he called the 2016 Republican National Convention to order, and then promptly squashed the first floor rebellion of the week.
Most of the daytime business of a political convention is meaningless and ceremonial. One of those ceremonial acts was to name Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the temporary chair of the convention. Mitch McConnell—the most effective elected Republican in the nation by a long shot—is not very popular among the conservative grassroots, so when Priebus called for a voice vote, there was plenty of opposition. From my seat, the nays sounded equally as loud as the ayes. (Tim Carney says they may have been a bit louder.) Priebus, flashing something between a grimace and a smirk, dismissed the jeering with a “sorry guys,” as if he was actually informing the delegates that, no, we will not be stopping at DQ on the way home.
The rest of the afternoon seemed designed to be about as lively as a Jeb Bush town hall. A small parade of no-name state legislators (future stars!) and conservative organization honchos made happy talk about the great state of the Republican Party. The apparently 40-something head of the Young Republicans was among multiple speakers insisting that the GOP has any shot at appealing to the youngs. RNC official Steve King (not that one) mentioned that the last time the Republican National Convention was held in Cleveland was 80 years ago—during the Great Depression, which, he said, was a bit like the last eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. (He did not mention that that convention nominated Alf Landon, who lost to incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a historic landslide).
Between the speakers and the prepackaged videos, G.E. Smith and a small band do nothing to dispel the pervasive feeling that we are living through an endless and not particularly funny 1990s-era SNL cold open. Here’s the Texas delegation getting really into G.E. Smith and the not-the-Saturday Night Live Band’s rendition of the classic Bowie cocaine anthem “Station to Station.”
[There was a video here]
For all the disorganization, the threatened delegate rebellion, the capricious nominee, and the threatened fracturing or extinction of the entire conservative movement, everyone on stage is carefully acting like nothing in particular is going terribly wrong with their party. So far, it’s not a crypto-fascist revival, a chaotic spectacle of incompetence, or a bizarre reality show. It’s mostly just boring.
Which is not for lack of trying by certain elements. The Never Trump contingent tried to disrupt the rules process to free anti-Trump delegates to vote against him. RNC officials attempted to quash the challenge, to a chorus of boos and, then, competing chants of “roll call vote!” and “USA! USA!” After a few minutes of floor arguments (G.E. Smith and company vamped for a bit), Rep. Steve Womack took control. He held a voice vote on adopting the rules—the ayes pretty clearly louder than the nays this time—and announced that three of the state delegations that had petitioned for a roll call vote had subsequently withdrawn their support. Colorado and Iowa’s delegations walked out—and, on stage, for the cameras, Senator John Barrasso moved on to introducing the party platform.
Everyone on stage is carefully performing business as usual, as if we’d all gathered here together to nominate a normal Republican with a good shot at winning the presidency.
The Never Trump show is done, but it won’t be until prime time when the Trump show begins properly—he’s already threatening to speak tonight, in defiance of usual convention norms. This afternoon’s parade of happy-talking speakers were mainly addressing us from a world where the Republican Party is healthy, forward-looking, and poised to win a new generation of conservative voters.
Tonight, in this world, Melania Trump will speak on foreign policy.