The main purpose of the modern political convention is to produce four days of televised propaganda. The subsidiary function is structural: Unify the party before the final battle. In Cleveland, the Republicans achieved only a rough facsimile of unity.
The internal opposition consisted of two factions. The more flamboyant was led by Ted Cruz. Its first operation – an undermanned, underplanned, mini-rebellion over convention rules – was steamrolled on Day One. Its other operation was Cruz’s Wednesday night convention speech in which he refused to endorse Donald Trump.
Cruz left the stage to boos, having delivered the longest suicide note in American political history.
Cruz’s rebellion would have a stronger claim to conscience had he not accommodated himself to Trump during the campaign’s first six months. Cruz reinforced that impression of calculation when, addressing the Texas delegation Thursday, he said, “I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father.” That he should feel so is unsurprising. What is surprising is that he said so publicly, further undermining his claim to acting on high principle.
The other faction of the Trump opposition was far more subtle. These are the GOP congressional leaders, who’ve offered public allegiance to Trump but are privately unreconciled. You could feel the reluctance in the speeches of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
McConnell’s pitch, as always, was practical and direct. We’ve got things to achieve in the Senate. Obama won’t sign. Clinton won’t sign. Trump will. Trump will be an instrument of the governing (establishment) wing of the party.
This is mostly fantasy and rationalization. And good manners by a party leader obliged to maintain a common front. Trump will not allow himself to be the instrument of anyone else’s agenda. And the congressional leaders ignore the president’s most important role, conducting foreign and military policy, which is almost entirely in his hands.
Ryan was a bit more philosophical. He presented the reformicon agenda for which he too needs a Republican president. Ryan kept his genuflections to the outsider-king to a minimum: exactly two references to Trump.
In defending his conservative philosophy, he noted at its heart lies “respect and empathy” for “all neighbors and countrymen” because “everyone is equal, everyone has a place” and “no one is written off.” Not exactly Trump’s universe of winners and losers, natives and foreigners.
McConnell and Ryan made clear that if Trump wins, they will cooperate. And if Trump loses, they are ready to inherit.
The loyalist (Trumpian) case had stars, too. It was brilliantly presented by the ever-fluent Newt Gingrich, whose presentation of Trumpism had a coherence and economy of which Trump is incapable.
Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence gave an address that smoothly bridged his traditional conservatism with Trump’s insurgent populism.
Rudy Giuliani gave the most energetic loyalist address.
Chris Christie’s prosecutorial indictment of Hillary Clinton for crimes of competence and character was doing fine until he went to the audience after each charge for a call-and-response of “guilty or not guilty.” The frenzied response was a reminder of why trials occur in a courtroom, not a coliseum.
On a cheerier note, there were the charming preambles at the roll call vote, where each state vies to out-boast the other. Connecticut declared itself home to “Pez, nuclear submarines and … WWE.” God bless the United States.