Volunteers in Cleveland prepare for Thursday night’s balloon drop at the Republican National Convention. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
THE BIG IDEA:
CLEVELAND—Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012 upended the first nights of the Republican National Convention. In 2016, a man-made tempest is making landfall here on the shores of Lake Erie: Hurricane Donald.
In what might be interpreted as a metaphor, a bad storm swept through town overnight – briefly knocking out power at some hotels.
The coming days will undoubtedly be awkward. Exactly one year ago today, Donald Trump declared in Iowa that John McCain was not a war hero because he got captured by the North Vietnamese. As recently as last week, Trump reiterated his refusal to apologize for saying that and even attacked the 2008 GOP nominee for not doing enough to help veterans. (Ironically, Trump being at the top of the ticket has imperiled the Arizona senator’s reelection hopes.)
We know McCain is one of many luminaries – including Mitt Romney and the Bush clan – who will skip the festivities to celebrate Trump officially completing his hostile takeover of the Republican Party.
Partly because Trump values and thrives on unpredictability, there’s a lot we still don’t know. Organizers said at a briefing last night that there will be “plenty of surprises.”
Here are seven questions we will know the answers to by the end of the week:
Mitch McConnell, joined by his wife Elaine Chao, and Paul Ryan, with his wife Janna, did a sound check on the main stage yesterday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
1. How many speakers don’t say his name?
Chris Christie was widely lampooned in Tampa for delivering a self-aggrandizing convention keynote that did not mention Romney until 16 minutes in and, even then, made him seem lukewarm about the then nominee.
That could happen again in several of this week’s highest-profile speeches.
Respecting the adage that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” many leading Republicans are not going to take the stage – including home-state Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rob Portman.
One of the drollest neologisms this cycle comes from GOP members of Congress who say they “support the nominee” but steadfastly refuse to say Trump’s name and insist that “supporting” him is not the same as “endorsing” him – a distinction without a difference, as far as the dictionary is concerned.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are speaking Tuesday night. All have been lukewarm about Trump; will they do the same awkward dance that their members do in the corridors of the Capitol?
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) – one of the most vulnerable congressional incumbents up for reelection this year – is also speaking Tuesday in prime-time. It’s hard to imagine a full-throated endorsement, unless he’s looking to commit political suicide…
It’s also difficult to envision Ted Cruz heaping too much praise on Trump, whom he has still not endorsed, when he talks Wednesday night. (See the full schedule here.)
Officers monitor a small anti-Trump protest in downtown Cleveland yesterday. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
2. Do the protesters make bigger headlines than the speakers?
The city is jittery, and security is tight. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified last week that he’s “concerned about the possibility of violence in Cleveland.”
A major skirmish could occur as early as today when pro-Trump demonstrators hold a midday rally. Local hospitals have opened up extra bed space in case of mass casualties, and battalions of police officers on bikes are prepared to swarm protest areas, Joel Achenbach reports. The chief says the city has brought in “thousands” of officers from “hundreds” of other police departments across the country.
While there are widespread fears that Cleveland in 2016 could become like Chicago in 1968, but there’s also a very good chance that the planned protests are being over-hyped and will stay relatively peaceful. It’s impossible to know at this hour. Importantly, unlike Mayor Richard J. Daley in the Windy City, local leaders here seem eager to do everything possible to diffuse tensions.
Ohio has an open-carry law that permits people to walk around with loaded handguns or long guns. A man with a long rifle slung over his shoulder attracted a cluster of cameras and curious onlookers yesterday, Achenbach reports. And some members of the New Black Panther Party, a black militant group, have said they plan to carry weapons around the streets of Cleveland.
After the horrifying murder of three Baton Rouge police officers yesterday, the president of the local police union publicly called upon Kasich to temporarily suspend open carry in Cuyahoga County for the week. The governor quickly rejected the request.
“He could very easily do some kind of executive order or something,” Stephen Loomis, president of Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said Sunday. “I don’t care if it’s constitutional or not at this point. They can fight about it after the RNC, or they can lift it after the RNC, but I want him to absolutely outlaw open-carry in Cuyahoga County until this RNC is over.”
A spokeswoman for the governor said he does not have “the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws as suggested.”
3. How thin is the veneer of party unity?
“The Never Trump agitators have been defeated, but they say they’re not going away,” Ed O’Keefe reports. “Republicans who failed to change party rules (last week) are threatening to cause chaos on the floor … to draw at least some political blood … The options are limited, and attempts to cause trouble at political conventions are usually quickly thwarted. But anti-Trump activists who spent weeks trying to play within the party structure now say they will do what Trump hates the most — find a way to embarrass him.”
How could they do that? Upset delegates might attempt to officially register their opposition to Trump on the floor or to force an hours-long roll call of the states, which would upend a schedule aimed at prime-time television coverage, O’Keefe explains. They could also stay away: “Some senior RNC officials worry that delegates might start leaving Cleveland before Trump is scheduled to formally accept the nomination on Thursday night, possibly forcing the campaign to scramble to fill seats inside Quicken Loans Arena. The lack of prominent speakers on most nights of the convention might also compel delegates to reconsider their plans.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus yesterday called on anti-Trump Republicans to “give up.” “If they want to delay the proceedings, all they’re doing is delaying the evening and helping Hillary Clinton,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There is no [alternative] candidate. … What is your goal other than to distract and cause problems?”
Mike Pence’s speech on Wednesday night could excite some rank-and-file delegates, especially religious conservatives who view the thrice-married Trump warily because of his brash lifestyle and apostasy on abortion. “One of the big reasons that I chose Mike … is party unity, I have to be honest,” Trump said Saturday. “So many people have said, ‘party unity.’ Because I’m an outsider. I don’t want to be an outsider.”
Donald and Melania Trump appear on NBC’s “Today” show in April. (Richard Drew/AP)
4. Can Trump’s family members sandpaper his rough edges?
A fresh Washington Post/ABC News poll finds Clinton leading Trump by 4 points among registered voters, 47 percent to 43 percent. That’s down from 12 points last month, a reminder that he has some momentum coming into the convention. But there is a notable gender gap: Trump leads among men by 8 points (49-41), while Clinton leads among women by 14 points (52-38).
Trump’s campaign wants to make inroads with women by softening his image, and they’re leaning on his family to do that.
“I think people actually want to like him,” Priebus told Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker. “They’re intrigued by him. They’re interested in him. And him becoming likable will make him unstoppable.”
Trump’s wife Melania, who very rarely speaks in public and usually says little when she does, is tonight’s headline speaker. Tomorrow his children Donald Jr. and Tiffany speak. His son Eric speaks Wednesday. And then Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, will introduce him Thursday night.
It will be amusing to listen to what Melania and all the children say about Trump as a dad in the context of his past comments about parenting. The business mogul has boasted about never changing diapers and bragged about refusing to take his kids out for walks in Central Park. “I won’t do anything to take care of them,” he told Howard Stern in 2005. “I’ll supply funds and she’ll take care of the kids.” Ivana Trump said earlier this year that she deserves the credit for raising Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric because they were very little when Donald divorced her.
5. What does Donald do?
Trump originally wanted to speak every night, which is at odds with decades of precedent in both parties. He’s only officially on the schedule for Thursday, but campaign chairman Paul Manafort said last night that there is a good chance he will appear more than once. “Donald Trump will be Donald Trump. Scripted is the wrong word,” Manafort said. “He will probably be making a couple of appearances.”
How exactly he appears is unknown. Does Trump do some TV interviews? Provocative tweets? Appearances on the Jumbotron by satellite?
Trump’s unpredictability could be great for ratings. Real people hate stage-managed conventions, and they love reality TV. “Overall, viewership for the national political conventions dropped 26% after 1968,” USA Today reports, citing Nielsen ratings. “The drop became even more pronounced after the 1980 conventions. The average ratings for the 1984 to 2004 conventions were 30% lower than the previous 20-year period. There was a dramatic jump in viewers for the 2008 GOP convention, driven largely by interest in … Sarah Palin. … (Pence) isn’t likely to generate the same level of interest as Palin did in 2008, but many people will be tuning in to get their first look at the Indiana governor. The real draw, of course, will be Trump himself. He brought record numbers of viewers to the GOP primary debates, and it’s likely he’ll have a similar effect on interest in the convention.”
6. Does Trump seem plausible as a president?
Though he’s only trailing Clinton by 4 points in our new poll, 64 percent of Americans view Trump unfavorably as he enters the convention – more than twice as many as view him positively. “The Post-ABC poll found that nearly six in 10 registered voters say he is not qualified to serve as president — with 49 percent saying they strongly believe that,” Scott Clement and Dan Balz note. “Meanwhile, Clinton is seen as qualified to serve as president by 56 percent of voters.”
The attempted coup in Turkey and the Bastille Day attack in France are reminders that the world is a tinderbox and unexpected challenges confront a president.
Today’s theme is “Make America Safe Again” and will focus on foreign policy. Among the speakers are Rudy Giuliani, who has criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst (a combat veteran). Two Americans who were present during the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi will also appear.
“Because of events, Republicans this week and Democrats a week from now will be judged on far more than whether their conventions are well run and well produced, on whose video biography of the nominee is more compelling or whether the balloon drop works smoothly,” Balz writes in his column. “Both Trump and Clinton will be measured by more exacting standards than usual. Can either speak in language strong enough to break through the wall of polarizing rhetoric with which both political parties seem most comfortable? … The rewards for success could be significant. Which candidate will be seen as more suited for the demands of the Oval Office in an uncertain time? Which candidate can voters imagine responding effectively to terrorist attacks? Who will be judged as equipped to bridge racial divisions and ease racial tensions? There will be nothing abstract about all these questions. The videos from around the world will be a constant reminder of the stakes of this election.”
As CNN puts it, “Trump enters the convention under pressure to show more discipline, gravitas, and sobriety.”
7. How big is Trump’s post-convention bounce?
If Trump does not blow it and violence does not overshadow it, the next four days could be a made-for-TV infomercial about how great he would be as president —with 15,000 credentialed journalists on hand to chronicle it all.
“Presidential candidates historically have seen a median increase of five percentage points in their support in preference polls among registered voters after their party’s nominating convention,” Gallup found in a 2012 study. (Check out a cool breakdown going back to 1964 here.)
It will be political malpractice if Trump’s image and standing do not improve. But, but, but: Clinton gets her own coronation next week in Philadelphia. And she is expected to announce her running-mate this Friday, partly to blunt any momentum Trump might get coming out of Thursday night.
THE LONG, HOT SUMMER OF DISCORD AND DISCONTENT:
— A lone gunman killed three police officers and injured three others in Baton Rogue. From Mark Berman, Matt Zapotosky and Peter Holley: “The shootings occurred when police responded to a 911 call that a man dressed in black and armed with what appeared to be an assault-style rifle was walking near a shopping plaza about a mile from police headquarters. Alton Sterling was fatally shot by officers outside a convenience store in the city two weeks ago.
— The gunman, who was shot and killed, was Gavin Long, an African American resident of Kansas City, Mo. “He turned 29 on Sunday and was in Baton Rouge celebrating his birthday. … In the spring of 2012, Long was named to the dean’s list at the University of Alabama, which he attended for one semester. … (He was) a Marine who achieved the rank of sergeant and had been deployed to Iraq before leaving the service in 2010.” Under a pseudonym, Long had posted videos on YouTube advocating for violence instead of protests. (Matt Zapotosky has more.)
— The victims:
- Montrell Jackson, 32, an African American, was married and had a baby. “It’s coming to the point where no lives matter,” his sister said last night, “whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or whatever.” (Theresa Vargas)
- Matthew Gerald, 41, a white officer with two daughters, had served in the Marines and the Army before joining the Baton Rouge police force last year. (Jessica Contrera)
- Brad Garafola, 45, who served with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, was working extra duty at the B-Quik convenience store on Airline Highway and was headed home to begin vacation when he was gunned down. (Jessica Contrera)
— Thirty officers have now been shot and killed in the line of duty since 2016 began, nearly double the toll at this time last year. (William Wan and Kimberly Kindy)
— President Obama condemned the assault as “cowardly and reprehensible”: “These are attacks on public servants, on the rule of law, and on civilized society, and they have to stop.” He also pleaded with the presidential candidates not to politicize the shootings: Describing the upcoming conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia as “a time when our political rhetoric tends to be more overheated,” Obama broadly urged public officials to temper divisive words. “We don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or to advance an agenda,” he said. (Greg Jaffe)
Here’s how Trump responded to the plea:
President Obama just had a news conference, but he doesn’t have a clue. Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2016
— “We must all stand together to reject violence and strengthen our communities,” Clinton said in her statement.
— Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement strongly condemned any form of violence against the police: “We don’t value any life more than any other life,” said Ada Goodly, an attorney and activist with the National Lawyers Guild in Baton Rouge. “This is a huge loss for a community that is already grieving.” “Shooting police is not a civil rights tactic,” said longtime civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. “The shooting in Dallas had nothing to do with the civil rights struggle, and neither does the shooting in Baton Rouge.” (Wesley Lowery)
Sadly, we are reaching the point where, when you see the flags are at half-mast, it is hard to figure out which tragedy they mark.
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) July 17, 2016