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Bits from Cleveland: Day 1

Matt Harkins | Posted over 1 year ago.


RNC Goes Unhinged and on the Fringe

Before I get to my report, I'm going to promote my Twitter again. (@mpharkins). Because of the strict security, they don't allow backpacks in the convention site, so I don't have a laptop or the ability to write comprehensive updates. I actually drafted this report on the notes app on my iPhone...

It's hard to imagine how things could get any worse for Donald Trump and the Republican Party after day one of the convention in Cleveland.

Let's start with what most cable news outlets have been calling the roll call floor fight. Unfortunately, I missed most of the fireworks because I was wrapping up my coverage on the America First Rally in a public park on Cuyahoga Lake several blocks away from the Quicken Loans Arena. Several state delegations affiliated with the #StopTrump movement submitted formal requests to the party that would have required individual delegates to publicly cast their nomination vote for Trump. This parliamentary maneuvering led to some awkward optics on television and the walk out of contingents several state delegations. I don't feel bad about not being around the action, because even the RNC floor managers and parliamentarians tasked with running the show smoothly didn't even see it coming. This led to some awkward television shots of angry masses of delegates and an empty podium.

I talked to a delegate from Montana who called the fight a "moot point," because there wasn't a large enough anti-Trump contingent to bar Trump from the nomination. A delegate from Pennsylvania told me that he wasn't concerned because the same thing would happen to Hillary Clinton next week in Philadelphia when Bernie Sanders supporters inevitably try the same tricks. The vast majority of delegates I talked to on and off the record agree with these sentiments.

It would have been a lot more interesting if the #StopTrump maneuver was successful, because at least one speaker on the schedule for Monday night is a Ted Cruz devotee and would have been placed in the awkward position of delivering a speech in support of the nominee he voted against several hours earlier. Darryl Glenn, El Paso County Commissioner and GOP candidate for Senate in Colorado, had one of the more well-received speeches throughout the night, and one can only wonder whether he even would have been able to deliver his joke about Hillary Clinton's affinity for pantsuits if he didn't vote for the party's presumptive (read: inevitable) nominee.

The official theme of the day, according to official party branding, was "Make America Safe Again." In my mind, a more fitting theme would have been "Unhinged and on the Fringe."

Unhinged because speakers often went off script for uncouth effect. One of the Navy SEALs who was in Benghazi when the American embassy was attacked with mortars made some joke about feminine hygiene products that nobody around me understood or laughed at. He also said "kicked their asses" when the TelePrompTer read "butts." The mother of an IT guy who tragically died in Benghazi went off prompt to call Hillary a liar and call for her to be sent to jail.

On the fringe because it was like watching a conservative conspiracy theory website's comments section play out in real life. Several parents whose children were killed by criminals who happened to be undocumented immigrants were invited to speak and referred to officially as "victims of illegal aliens." Factually incorrect allegations about Clinton were leveled with wonton abandon. I saw a reporter on Twitter say that the CNN anchor was having a difficult time debunking some of the falsehoods about and said Jake Tapper was having a difficult time softly explain that everything the aforementioned grieving mother from Benghazi said was incorrect.

A protestor even snuck her way in and was able to disrupt Senator Jeff Sessions, who was railing against undocumented immigrants. I asked the protestor how she got in, and she said she found credentials on the ground. The scary part about this fact is that her found credentials allowed her to sit in the section adjacent to ostensible VP Mike Pence. I don't want to think about what would have happened if she were less committed to nonviolence.

The climax of the symbolism of yesterday, however, came when Melania Trump, speaking to a not-so-packed house recognized Bob Dole in one of the non-plagiarized lines from the speech. If you're not familiar with Bob Dole, he was a Kansas Senator back in the day and ran against Bill Clinton in 1996. He lost fairly conclusively, but went on to become one of the most powerful lobbyists in DC and is one of the most respected Republicans in the game. When Dole stood up to accept his applause, he fell over. The television cameras cut away and you would have missed it if you blinked.

Tonight's speakers should be more conventional, but I don't see much of an opportunity to undo the damage that has already been done.

Stay tuned.

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