By Jonathon Van Maren
Has there ever been a Republican Convention like this in modern times? The 2016 barn-burner resembles a circus, which isn’t surprising considering the fact that the GOP has nominated a carnival barker. A few observations on the convention so far:
As I said on Facebook, on one hand, it seems pretty obvious that Melania Trump’s speech borrowed from Michelle Obama’s, which is kind of funny. On the other hand, every political speech seems like the same hopes n’ dreams n’ bold bright futures n’ the next generation pablum, so who can really tell? These speeches are like pop songs. The same people are writing all of them, and maybe they just forgot to reword their script with different enough buzzwords. This is an annoying non-scandal. Although perhaps the funniest response to Melania’s speech was various commentators quoting her statements concerning Trump’s faithfulness and steadfastness followed by the snarky rejoinder: “says Trump’s third wife.”
Something else I’ve noticed is the level of irrationality, anger, and sensitivity displayed by those who have decided to wholeheartedly endorse Trump. On one hand I understand—being consistently forced to defend his left-wing record, ignorant statements, and constant missteps would render me a perpetually frustrated person, too. But there’s something ironic about a campaign that styles itself a full frontal attack on political correctness and a repudiation of social justice warriors creating such a hyper-sensitivity in Trump supporters. The most reasonable of criticisms generally results in angry demands that I remember that Hillary Clinton is worse, which is entirely missing the point. My problem with Donald Trump is that he seems to be in the process of destroying the one thing Barack Obama never could: the Republican Party. At least in terms of blind ideological loyalty and raging hypersensitivity, many Trump supporters seem to emulate the leftie social justice warriors they profess to hate so much.
When Trump supporters inform me that I’ve got him all wrong, that he’s going to destroy political correctness, and that his election (which I think is dubious) is going to be America’s last best hope, all I can say is this: I hope they’re right. I think I can speak for many of the conservatives who think Donald Trump is a disaster when I say that we would thoroughly enjoy being proven completely wrong. If Donald Trump gets elected and begins to govern as a conservative, I will be the first to publish a column eating crow.
Moving on to Chris Christie. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed finding out that the bombastic New Jersey hatchet man had utterly failed at his risky gamble: He was passed over for the coveted vice-presidential slot. This must be especially embarrassing for Christie because his early endorsement of Trump was a direct repudiation of everything he had said about the New York businessman earlier in the primaries. Surely, Christie must have thought, with so few conservative Republicans willing to endorse Trump and so few Republicans willing to be considered for the VP slot, endorsing Trump when it actually mattered would make him a shoe-in. Christie has a bad habit of trashing Republicans in order to advance his own career—refusing to appear with Romney after hugging Obama in front of hurricane wreckage during the final months of the 2012 campaign and going after Marco Rubio during the primary campaigns with a vengeance—and now he appears to have obtained the prestigious position of Trump surrogate. No wonder the cameras caught Christie looking grimly at Cruz during the Texas senator’s primetime speech—he was probably wondering enviously what it was like to be the sort of politician who hadn’t sold out in hopes of being lifted to the top.
Rudy Giuliani’s Deanesque howling aside, the most enthusiastic speech at the RNC so far has to be Speaker Paul Ryan’s introduction of Mike Pence. He seemed almost giddy, and I had the sneaking suspicion that his excitement at endorsing Pence was making up for his distinct lack of enthusiasm for Donald Trump. “We need someone who is steady and secure in his principles,” he gushed, “someone who can cut through the noise and make a compelling case for conservatism. Mike Pence is that man.” Just to clarify, Pence is in fact the VP nominee, not the presidential candidate. But I don’t think I was the only one who wondered whether or not “the noise” that Pence needed to cut through in order to make the case for conservatism was the bombast of Donald Trump, who has never made the case for conservatism in his life. Ryan exuded an aura of relief: Finally, something in this campaign I can wholeheartedly get behind!
Pence’s speech was very good. He did in fact make the case for conservatism, and he laid out his impressive record as governor of Indiana. His one major drawback, in my opinion, was his surrender in the face over pressure over Indiana’s religious liberty law, but his pro-life credentials are impeccable. I heard Pence speak back when he was a congressman, and he’s the sort of quiet, solid, principled man that may inspire confidence in conservative voters who are currently tempted to stay home come November. The only time his speech sounded awkward and cringe-worthy was when he attempted, a few times, to channel Donald Trump: “This nation needs to start winning again!” Uh, okay, Mike. Back to your own script.
Ted Cruz’s speech was brilliant. He did a masterful job of expressing support for those Trump policies he agrees with, while making the case for conservatism overall. The booing that started up right around the moment when Cruz urged the nation to “vote your conscience” was interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, the backlash was obviously orchestrated. As Ben Shapiro and others have already laid out in detail, the Trump campaign had previewed Cruz’s speech earlier and were fully aware of everything Cruz was going to say. They planned to humiliate Cruz because they are apparently upset that Cruz is refusing to endorse a man who claimed his father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and who insulted his wife’s looks. If you listen closely during the speech, you can hear the moment the “EN-DORSE TRUMP!” chanting started. Up until that point, Cruz had been very well received. It’s obvious that Trump’s aides on the floor pumped up the delegates in order to turn the crowd against him.
It seems that many of them missed the brilliance of Cruz’s “vote your conscience” line. After all, if the crowd was as supportive of Trump as they claimed, they would have assumed Cruz was talking about Trump—isn’t that supposed to be obvious?—and cheered the implicit endorsement. For those who feel that Trump is unprincipled and unbalanced, it could mean something else entirely. But the fact that so many Republicans responded with anger to Cruz’s statement says more about their own uncertainty about Donald Trump than it does about a man with the principles to stand up in front of a potentially hostile crowd and lay out the case for constitutional conservatism. As for the idiots claiming that Cruz did something awful in refusing to endorse Trump, I have a few questions: Would you truly respect a man who endorsed an opponent who insulted his wife’s looks and accused his father of conspiring to kill a president? Would you truly respect a man who endorsed Donald Trump after calling him an “amoral narcissist”? Would you really respect a man who sold out his principles for a cheap partisan unity? The fact that so many people expect a man like Ted Cruz to be publicly dishonest as a matter of course says much about how acclimatized they’ve already become to Trump’s modus operandi: Say whatever you want to in the moment, and either ignore your past statements entirely or pretend you didn’t say them later on.
The reality is that Ted Cruz is much more equipped to defend the platform of the Republican Party than Donald Trump is, and that fact is obvious to anyone who bothers to take a quick overview of the facts. I was in Cleveland last week with a number of pro-life leaders who were in town prior to the convention to push for strong language on human rights for the pre-born and other social conservative issues, and those leaders were thrilled with the resulting platform. The 2016 Republican platform is the most conservative platform yet: a repudiation of abortion, a commitment to defund Planned Parenthood, an affirmation of traditional marriage, a pledge to defend religious liberty, and even a declaration calling Internet pornography a public health crisis. The thrice-married strip club owner with a framed copy of Playboy on his office wall seems like a less than perfect representative for such things.
That said, conservatives must be willing to take encouragement where they can. Mike Pence is someone that any Christian could vote for in good conscience, and there is every indication that in a Trump administration, Mike Pence could be one of the most powerful vice presidents in recent history. Perhaps Mike Pence is a reason to vote for the Trump-Pence ticket, seeing as the only other good reason—and it is a good reason—seems to be “Trump isn’t Hillary Clinton.” Even as populism has swept Donald Trump to the Republican nomination, the party platform is more affirming of Judeo-Christian values than ever. Even if Trump gets destroyed in the November election, perhaps the Republican Party as a vehicle for conservatives can live to fight another day.