How do you think the Republican convention will go for a candidate who so deeply despises convention? Conventional wisdom dictates a “do-list” for presumptive nominee Donald Trump in Cleveland: party unity; become more likable; reassure you can lead in deeply troubled times; offer a little more detail on your plans. But Trump has his own plans. The would-be architects of Trump’s convention are likely to have as little success as a designer who might have the temerity to offer an alternative look for his buildings. “Mr. Trump, perhaps a little less gold plating and . . . uh, a little less about you?”
Trump is very clear about what he is selling, whether it is in politics or real estate: his brand. In his mind, his brand stands for success, and you buy it because you want to share in it. His brand is his north star, and when he deviates from it, he is at best annoyed; at worst, lost. For example, consider how he handled the selection of his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Trump himself said he chose Pence in a bid for party unity. But party unity bores Trump; he doesn’t want to unite the party so much as replace it with himself. Perhaps this explains why, according to reports, Trump immediately second-guessed his choice after making it. Or why he spoke mostly about himself at the awkward news conference announcing Pence, then walked off the stage during Pence’s remarks. Or told “60 Minutes,” “I don’t care” that Pence voted for the Iraq War even though it would seem to compromise one of his attacks on Hillary Clinton. And why would he? Pence is irrelevant; it’s all about Trump.
The convention, too, will be all about him, at least the parts worth watching. The prime-time hours will bear, to an unprecedented and literal degree, the stamp of all things Trump. It will be like walking into the lobby of a Trump hotel and everyone working there is named Trump: Melania, Ivanka, Tiffany, Eric, Donald Jr., and, of course, The Donald himself. (No reports, yet, on whether Barron will speak.) Cleveland, then, is best viewed not as a convening of a political party but as a celebration of a brand and its proposed takeover of another venerable, but troubled, brand: the United States of America.