Facing an unprecedented refusal on the part of former GOP Presidents, past nominees, and conservative pundits to even attend the Republican Party's convention in Cleveland this week--as well as a reluctance to speak at the gathering by party insiders and those perceived as the future of the organization, out of fear of having their own careers tainted by events in Cleveland or the expected backlash against his rhetoric and ideas following a Trump loss in November--this convention is expected to be unlike any other in modern history. Ironically, it is for those reasons that in terms of television, the 2016 Republican National Convention just might be the most unpredictable, weird, volatile, and yes, gripping live theater in American political history, more reality TV than political advertising. Think the last blowout of a long-time, poorly-behaved, offensive, obnoxious college frat before expulsion and dissolution. In the absence of party leaders, the speaking lineup reportedly includes Rudy Giuliani, Paul Ryan (as the highest elected Republican official in the land, Ryan had no out, the poor bastard), Rick Scott, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Trump's entire family...and, of course, Donald Trump and his recently-appointed running mate (and long-time hater of anyone who doesn't look like him), Mike Pence.
Here are 10 things to watch for in Cleveland this week:
- Can GOP Party Chair Lance Priebus succeed in sweeping all the hateful, racist and sexist rhetoric and ideas under the rug? Or at least mask it as law and order? Less in an effort to win in November, but more to mitigate further damage to the party brand?
- Will one of the speakers or any number of the convention leaders seize the platform to break with Trump on national television, take a stand against his hate and vitriol and bias, and in so doing, use The Donald to boost his or her own status and future? Go down in GOP history, possibly, as a martyr for the good of the party?
- On the other hand, what speaker or party insider will try to seize this moment to court Trump's favor, gamble all on making outlandish, shocking, and incendiary statements that might just land them a cabinet post or ambassadorship in a Trump administration? Listen on the talk shows and in the spin-rooms, and you should be able to hear who sees opportunity in this convention, and who wishes they were having root canal done rather than talking about this campaign and this convention.
- Will the Stop Trump movement see the light of day...and will it lead to the promised violence on the floor or outside the hall between so-called establishment Republicans and Trump's true believers, if it does? And what about this insane open-carry law in Ohio that makes carrying a gun into the convention legal?
- Will clashes between Trump supporters and protestors outside the convention explode across the city, and if so, given the painful national struggle to sort out the issues once and for all around law enforcement, equity, and people of color, how will Cleveland police respond? In some ways this could be the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in '68, but in other ways it's much, much more complex than those anti-war protests. The fire-eaters at the convention are largely white males...and the protestors reflect the diversity of the nation. While speakers inside the hall offer red meat to the base on issues like immigration, terrorism, the economy, political correctness, and the Christian character of the nation (seeking to Make America Great Again), outside, the Cleveland PD will literally be standing between those who want to turn back the clock to 1950 and maintain their privileged status in society (though they certainly don't recognize that status) and those fighting for inclusion, equity and reform of biased institutions and policies. I have tremendous appreciation for the protestors in this struggle, and that's where my heart is...but I also have great empathy and concern for the cops in Cleveland. I would not want to wear a badge, carry a gun, and stand there this week.
- Will The Donald's TV chops help him charm some independent undecideds?
- How much of what is said and seen at the convention will Hillary's rapid response team actually respond to? Or will her advertising team simply, quietly, behind closed doors, mine the convention as a treasure trove for new commercial spots, while her speech writers craft language to make the contrast between Trump and Hillary even greater come the Democratic Convention in Philly starting July 25? Responding to everything seems defensive, but not responding at all to hate makes one seem indifferent or disconnected. Surrogates, I imagine, will do most of the talking during the GOP Convention. But if violence does, sadly, break out in Cleveland, the White House and Hillary's team will need to coordinate responses carefully. While Hillary will seek to present herself as Presidential, Barack is, well...the President. Given the unpredictable, contentious and volatile nature of this GOP gathering, and given the unpredictable and volatile nature of these times, and given the unpredictable and incendiary, divisive nature of Trump and his campaign...I suspect Team Hillary will get little sleep this week, much less than during their own gathering in PA. It's a week of absolute insanity, ahead.
- It's nasty business, but it has to be said, I think: the threat of a lone-wolf type of terrorist attack is real, and can never be discounted at such an event. It's less the convention itself, but soft targets around the city or even the country, timed to the convention and its international television coverage. All one can do is hope, and pray, and trust that our government officials are doing all that can be done, within the law, to keep everyone safe...whatever that means in 2016 America. Keep everyone as safe as humanly possible. What else can we do?
- What can Trump say and do this week to try to re-assure down-ballot GOP officials across the nation that he's really committed to helping them get re-elected, too?
- And, finally, related to the question above, will there be evidence of Trump's money/funding challenges at the convention? And how much of the orchestration will be aimed at big donors, trying to sell them on the idea of Trump?
As Hemingway once wrote, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"