Party Planning

The Republicans are about to hold their Republican National Convention in Cleveland, but it won’t be a nominating convention. The primaries settled things long ago, no matter how unhappy the party establishment is. They wouldn’t dare tell the party base that Paul Ryan will now be the nominee even if not a single Republican anywhere voted for him. They’d have a revolt on their hands – riots in the streets or something.

They know this isn’t a nominating convention. It’s a four-day infomercial for all things Republican, with the nominee as the featured product. That’s what they have to sell, and if they do that well, every Republican everywhere will turn out to vote for the top of the ticket and everyone on down. Not a single Republican will skip voting. The Democrats will be overwhelmed – at least that’s the theory. This year, however, more than half of all Republicans wish it were anyone but Donald Trump. Brent Scowcroft and Hank Paulson have announced they’ll vote for Hillary Clinton. They’re not alone, and George Will, like so many other influential Republicans, has announced that he won’t vote at all. There’s a lot of that going around. That means that this convention had better be one damned good infomercial.

That’s all it is, even if some miss the good old days:

In the early 19th century, members of Congress met within their party caucuses to select their party’s nominee. Conflicts between the interests of the Eastern Congressional class and citizens in newer Western states led to the hotly contested 1824 election, in which factions of the Democratic-Republican Party rejected the caucus nominee, William H. Crawford of Georgia, and backed John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson (all of whom carried more states than Crawford in the election) instead.

In 1831 the Anti-Masonic Party convened in Baltimore, Maryland to select a single presidential candidate agreeable to the whole party leadership in the 1832 presidential election. The National Republican and Democratic Parties soon followed suit.

Conventions were often heated affairs, playing a vital role in deciding each party’s nominee. The process remained far from democratic or transparent, however. The party convention was a scene of intrigue among political bosses, who appointed and otherwise controlled nearly all of the delegates. Winning a nomination involved intensive negotiations and multiple votes; the 1924 Democratic National Convention required a record 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis. The term “dark horse candidate” was coined at the 1844 Democratic National Convention, at which little-known Tennessee politician James K. Polk emerged as the candidate after the failure of the leading candidates – former President Martin Van Buren and Senator Lewis Cass – to secure the necessary two-thirds majority.

And so on and so forth – no actual voters were involved in any of this – the party bosses decided who the nominee would be, until one crazy year changed everything:

A few, mostly Western, states adopted primary elections in the late 19th century and during the Progressive Era, but the catalyst for their widespread adoption came during the election of 1968. The Vietnam War energized a large number of supporters of anti-war Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, but they had no say in the matter. Vice President Hubert Humphrey – associated with the unpopular administration of Lyndon B. Johnson – did not compete in a single primary, yet controlled enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination. This proved one of several factors behind rioting which broke out at the Democratic convention in Chicago.

Both parties got the message. There’d be state primaries, or at least caucuses. Those would determine the nominee – neither party wanted riots in the streets. The Democrats had second thoughts after their George McGovern disaster in 1972 and invented their superdelegates – hundreds of old hands and career leaders in the party, who floated about the primaries and caucuses and whose votes would counteract any irrational exuberance in the rank-and-file. And that finally worked. Bill Clinton was a neoliberal centrist who deregulated the financial industry and “ended welfare as we know it” and all the rest – not at all what the party rank-and-file had in mind – but he won two terms. The exuberant left in the party was marginalized.

The Republicans, however, decided they had no problem with irrational exuberance – that’s freedom and passion – but now the price of that irrational exuberance is Donald Trump. They’ll just have to deal with that, and now that the national party conventions are not nominating conventions at all, they need to put on a damned good show in Cleveland, to fire up the troops and drag the stubbornly rational folks back in. They’re not going to overwhelm the Democrats if they don’t put on a great show – a four-day infomercial for all things Republican, with the nominee as the featured product.

That’s going to be difficult this time, and Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel review the challenges:

Dozens of well-known Republicans aren’t showing up. There’s no word yet on who will speak. A growing number of corporate sponsors are taking a pass. Groups of white supremacists and other agitators are on the way, while the official protest routes are frantically being redrawn after being thrown out in court. And then there’s the fight to dethrone the big star.

Other than that, this will go fine, but things are a mess:

The candidate, his family and close supporters are expected to play starring roles. So will most top congressional leaders – but many Republicans who want to distance themselves from Trump’s incendiary rhetoric are refusing to attend. Past corporate sponsors such as Ford, General Electric and JPMorgan Chase have declined to participate.

The four-day meeting kicks off July 18 at a downtown multipurpose arena with Trump scheduled to formally accept the nomination July 21. Convention organizers denied reports that several sports figures would be speaking at the convention. There’s still no official word on who will speak or entertain the delegates. Lee Greenwood – who has performed his hit “God Bless the USA” at several GOP conventions – declined through a spokeswoman to say whether he’s attending. Singer Ted Nugent, a Trump fan, is skipping the convention despite numerous invitations to appear “due to our intensive concert touring schedule,” a spokeswoman said.

Folks are bailing, in spite of what the nominee wants:

Trump has called for a glitzier affair, telling The Washington Post in April that “it’s very important to put some showbiz into a convention; otherwise people are going to fall asleep. We don’t have the people who know how to put showbiz into a convention.”

It’s very important to put some showbiz into a convention? Why? Don’t ask:

Shortly after Trump clinched the nomination in early May, convention organizers began sharing plans for the event’s staging and schedule with his aides, who traveled to Cleveland to inspect the facilities and begin reviewing details. A stage design unveiled on Tuesday – a black circular platform surrounded by white stairs with a large video backdrop – was reviewed personally by Trump who requested a few changes, according to convention officials.

He was in his element, and Republican delegates are getting used to this:

“This is a volatile year, and if we have learned anything so far, it is that the customary rules and methods of winning elections probably don’t apply,” said Steve Duprey, a delegate from New Hampshire.

That applies to the old-fashioned idea of a nominating convention:

Before completely focusing on presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump first must quell a potential insurrection at his own convention. He’s preparing a team of 150 staffers and volunteers designed to corral votes, push potential changes to the party’s platform and, most important, block any attempt to unseat him.

A plan to allow convention delegates to vote however they want, rather than follow the results of their state’s primary, has earned the support of hundreds of delegates upset by Trump’s impending nomination, according to Free the Delegates, the group pushing for the change.

But a five-member Trump “study committee” is focused on quashing any effort to unbind delegates.

That seems to be working, or it isn’t:

Kendal Unruh, the leader of the Free the Delegates group, said it is clearly succeeding if Trump feels compelled to divert resources and focus on defeating the effort. She said an updated tally of the group’s support would not be available until Thursday.

“We’ve got a candidate who lied to everyone and said he’s going to self-fund,” Unruh said, referring to Trump’s paltry campaign coffers. “I’m sure he has more staff at the convention than he does on his national campaign.”

Unruh and her team are raising money through a separate PAC that is planning to hire staff and rent office space in Cleveland to serve as a command center.

Expect chaos, and stay away:

Members of Bush family, including the former presidents, are planning to skip the convention even though they essentially helped build the modern GOP. Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, also won’t be there.

Many current GOP leaders remain committed to going. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) will attend as the convention’s official chairman, and all of his lieutenants are scheduled to be there, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is a Trump delegate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be at the convention with most of his leadership team in tow.

But Sen. Roy Blunt, the fourth-ranking Senate Republican, will be in Missouri tending to a closer-than-expected reelection campaign. Several other incumbents up for reelection are also steering clear, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John McCain (Ariz.), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). Two who will be there are home-state Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who said he is willing to speak at the convention.

Some vulnerable GOP House incumbents are also skipping, including Reps. Mia Love (Utah), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Carlos Curbelo (Fla.).

Now add this:

In 2012, companies including Amgen, General Electric and Ford ponied up tens of thousands of dollars to officially sponsor the Republican convention in Tampa. This year, they cite varying reasons for withholding support; none mention Trump.

Several traditional sponsors are still involved, including Google, which is serving as the convention’s “official live stream provider.” Coca-Cola donated $75,000 each to the Republican and Democratic conventions, a smaller sum than previous years. The American Petroleum Institute is also still on board: “Because our candidate is energy, we are supporting both conventions,” a spokesman said.

David Gilbert, president and chief executive of Cleveland’s 2016 convention host committee, said he is about $6.5 million short of his group’s $64 million goal.

It’s hard to put glitzy showbiz into a convention when you run out of funds, but there are other issues:

Groups planning demonstrations for and against Trump are still sorting out where exactly they can march. A federal judge ruled that protest routes planned by Cleveland officials were unconstitutional and ordered up a new plan. Talks are underway among city leaders, federal security officials and protest organizers, but there’s no way to ensure that pro- and anti-Trump factions won’t come face to face in the streets of Cleveland, potentially causing mayhem.

Officials are particularly concerned about extremists on either side. A group of white nationalists who held a rally in California last weekend where five people were stabbed has said it plans to show up in Cleveland “to make sure that Donald Trump supporters are defended,” according to a McClatchy report.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the Hells Angels showed up at Altamont to protect Mick Jagger and the Stones on stage, and stabbed that fan to death right there on stage – in the middle of the concert. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a few feet from this convention in Cleveland. It could be like old times, and may be like old times, or it may be all business:

Some delegates say they’ve discussed potential security risks, but received assurances that there will be enough security to protect them. Those who dislike Trump still plan to show up to deal with other party business.

“This isn’t going to be one of those things where we back 100 percent of what our candidate says,” said Craig Dunn, a delegate from Indiana. “The only one real consistent thing is that what unites us is that we believe Hillary Clinton is a thoroughly corrupt person.”

Will folks say that when the knives come out? She may be the last thing on their minds, and Politico also reports this:

It’s the streets themselves where tension will run highest. Cleveland’s protest zone, even in its revised form, will permit demonstrators to roam freely, so long as they don’t block pedestrian or vehicle traffic. That raises the prospect of pro- and anti-Trump groups meeting in the same vicinity. Groups like the anti-LGBT Westboro Baptist Church intend to rally, and a white supremacist group at the center of a violent outburst in California last week has pledged to show up in Cleveland too.

Local pro- and anti-Trump organizers say they have confidence that even their political opponents are planning peaceful rallies, but they’re less certain that outside agitators won’t show up to stir the pot.

Larry Bresler, a leader of the progressive Organize! Ohio, said he speaks regularly with pro-Trump organizer Tim Selaty and is confident they’re both committed to holding peaceful rallies. But the agitation by anti-Trump activists from outside Cleveland who are pledging to stop Trump’s nomination at the convention has heightened tension.

“This is a whole different animal from other political conventions,” he said, noting that typically, most RNC protesters come from the left. “The serious problems that you had in terms of any kind of disruption by and large came from the anarchists. Here you’ve got a big number that are coming from the right this time … it presents a different dynamic.”

Bresler noted that firearms will be allowed in the “event zone” because of Ohio’s status as an open carry state, even though other more mundane items will be banned – from water guns to tape to sleeping bags.

Yes, you can’t bring a water gun but you can bring a real gun. That somehow sounds very Republican. But the rest is pure Trump, as Ben Mathis-Lilley notes here:

Bloomberg News, citing “people familiar with the planning,” reported Tuesday that officials were “lining up” macho sports figures Mike Tyson and Mike Ditka to appear at the Republican National Convention in July. (It’s been previously reported that Donald Trump intends to make the convention an entertainment spectacle that will involve more than just the typical schedule of political speeches.)

This seemed like a questionable move given that Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist and listening to Mike Ditka attempting to formulate coherent sentences, even on apolitical subjects like football, is like listening to a cow trying to play the piano. Now, various parties report that pretty much everyone involved is denying all parts of Bloomberg’s report.

From the Chicago Tribune – “While Ditka, 76, has made no secret of his support for presumptive GOP presidential nominee, and Trump has in the past publicly returned the love, the Chicago Bears legend told the Tribune on Wednesday morning, ‘No one’s ever talked to me about it. I have no idea where it’s coming from.'”

And from Bloomberg itself – “On Wednesday, Jo Mignano, Tyson’s personal publicist, told Bloomberg Politics that the former boxer will not attend the convention. He’ll be nowhere near Cleveland, she said.”

This doesn’t get any easier. Everyone is bailing, and Trump is getting angry:

Donald Trump said Wednesday that he thought his Republican primary opponents who vowed to support the Party’s nominee should follow through or be banned from running for public office.

Trump, speaking at a campaign rally in Bangor, Maine, said those who signed the RNC’s pledge should “honor the pledge.”

Trump went on to note that some of his former opponents, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Dr. Ben Carson, had endorsed him. But not everyone has given Trump the support he desires.

“But just remember this, they signed a pledge saying they will abide, saying they will back the candidate of the party. And now they sit back,” Trump said. “They broke their word. In my opinion, they should never be allowed to run for public office again. Because what they did is disgraceful.”

What they did was understandable:

This morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver predicted that Hillary Clinton will win the presidential election against Donald Trump.

Clinton has a 79 percent chance of winning, compared with Trump’s 20 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s forecast.

“We’re at halftime of the election right now,” Silver said. “She’s taking a 7-point, maybe a 10-point lead into halftime. There’s a lot of football left to be played. She’s ahead in almost every poll, every swing state, every national poll.”

Silver said “both candidates have a lot of room to grow,” but the only recent candidate to blow a lead like the one Clinton holds was Massachusetts’ then-Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988.

“Trump has never been ahead of Clinton in the general election campaign,” Silver said. “He did a great job of appealing to the 40 percent of the GOP he had to win the election, the primary – a lot different than winning 51 percent of 100 percent.”

Silver called 49 states correctly in the 2008 presidential election and got all 50 in 2012.

Now add this:

Hillary Clinton is crushing Donald Trump in almost all of the states needed to swing the presidential election in November.

A new Ballotpedia poll of swing-state voters released Tuesday found Clinton leading Trump by significant margins in numerous key battleground states.

According to Tuesday’s poll, Clinton leads Trump 51% to 37% in Florida, 45% to 41% in Iowa, 48% to 38% in North Carolina, and 45% to 38% in Virginia.

The poll, conducted June 10-22, also significantly undermines Trump’s argument that he can reach the 270 Electoral College votes needed to clinch the presidency by mobilizing white working-class voters in Rust Belt states. According to the Ballotpedia poll, Clinton led Trump 50% to 33% in Michigan, 46% to 37% in Ohio, and 49% to 35% in Pennsylvania.

Other Republicans won’t endorse Trump. They won’t show up in Cleveland. The sports stars, who Trump says know more about winning than any politician, won’t show up in Cleveland. No one wants to go down with this guy, and that makes party planning difficult. Glitz is hard to come by under these circumstances. Things were easier when we had actual nominating conventions, with more than one hundred ballots and one or two party leaders doing back-room deals, before the conventions became infomercials. Who watches those anyway?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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