Another Opening, Another Show

It’s a quiet evening here in Hollywood – no police helicopters overhead at the moment – and in the other room, on the television, the opening night of the Republican National Convention is unspooling – in silence. Some things are better without sound, like disaster movies – that’s the best way to understand how the special effects actually work. Late in the evening, when it’s a wrap, the pundits on Fox and CNN and MSNBC will talk about who said what, and why, and what it might mean – with clips. No one has to watch this stuff in real time. Few want to. The clips will do, and in the morning there will be extended assessments online in the Washington Post and New York Times, and at every political website and blog. If this were the opening night of a Broadway show, the cast would be sitting around at Sardi’s waiting for some assistant to an assistant to run in with the first morning newspapers, and someone would read the reviews, aloud to the exhausted cast, to see what the “very important” critics said of the show. It would be heartbreak or triumph, depending on which old black-and-white movie from the thirties this happened to be – but everyone would love Ruby Keeler. A star is born.

Politics isn’t like that, except that this year Donald Trump promised a convention that would be show-business, not boring political nonsense. Perhaps he sees himself as Ruby Keeler, the unlikely understudy who surprises the world, through sheer charm, and steals the show, and everyone’s heart. It has been said that politics is show business for ugly people, and this may be the year for that. On the other hand, as a backstage story of how the show gets put together, things have been a bit strange:

Donald Trump reportedly had a hard time understanding that Republican officials didn’t view a boxing promoter convicted of manslaughter and a woman who accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual assault as suitable speaker choices for the Republican National Convention.

A New York Times report published Sunday shed some light on some of Trump’s speaker picks that were shot down by Republican officials, as well as the difficulties those officials had getting Trump to understand why those picks would be disastrous.

Trump said earlier this month that he’d told notorious boxing promoter Don King that he’d like him to speak at the convention. The real estate mogul had bragged about receiving King’s endorsement, although King denied giving one.

It turns out Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus had to explain that a man convicted of a felony could not speak at the convention, three anonymous GOP strategists familiar with those conversations told the Times. He reportedly reminded Trump that King had stomped a man to death, and Trump eventually conceded.

Oh, that, and the woman who was going to explain to America how Bill Clinton seduced and abandoned her, many years ago, was nixed too. What was the point?

Putting a hit show together is tricky and hard work. There’s that opening number of Cole Porter’s 1948 musical Kiss Me, Kate – “Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse, / Three weeks and it couldn’t be worse, / One week, will it ever be right? / Then out o’ the hat, it’s that big first night! / The overture is about to start. / You cross your fingers and hold your heart. / It’s curtain time and away we go!”

It’s another opening of another show:

After getting off to a chaotic start because of a procedural skirmish, Republicans opened their national convention here Monday night with savage attacks on Hillary Clinton, blaming the former secretary of state for tragedies at home and abroad.

Nominee-in-waiting Donald Trump’s supporters took to the stage to prosecute the case against Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and convince Americans that he has the strength and judgment to be a credible commander-in-chief in the face of terrorist attacks on the homeland and around the world.

“What I did for New York, Donald Trump will do for America,” said Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who steered his city through the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Rudy, however, was the warm-up act:

Trump made a splashy debut on the convention stage about 10:20 p.m., walking out in silhouette to Queen’s anthem, “We Are the Champions.”

“We’re going to win so big,” the candidate vowed, as he introduced his wife, Melania, for her keynote address.

Melania Trump, a former fashion model born in Slovenia, who has shied away from public speaking, testified to Trump’s heart and love of country in a well-received speech.

“I have been with Donald for 18 years, and I have been aware of his love for this country since we first met,” she said. “He never had a hidden agenda when it comes to his patriotism because, like me, he loves his country very much.”

Melania Trump also praised her husband’s vision.

“Donald thinks big, which is especially important when considering the presidency of the United States. No room for small thinking. No room for small results. Donald gets things done.”

She sought to broaden her husband’s appeal to the general population, including groups that have been outright hostile to his candidacy, saying that love binds their family and that together they would bring compassion to the White House.

“Donald intends to represent all the people, not just some of the people,” Melania Trump said. “That includes Christians and Jews and Muslims. It includes Hispanics and African Americans and Asians and the poor and the middle class.”

That’s news to most Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians, not to mention the disabled, who he’s mocked, and a whole lot of women he’s called ugly pigs, but that’s not the point:

Afterward, Donald Trump returned to the stage, kissed his wife and pointed at her with his signature gesture, as if to show her off to the roaring crowd.

As he likes to say, or used to say, that’s a nice piece of ass on his arm. He has a trophy wife and you don’t – and that’s his third. He’s a winner. You’re not.

Ah well, that aside, it was back to business:

A trio of speakers railed against undocumented immigrants – whom they repeatedly called “illegal aliens” – for killing their loved ones and argued that only Trump could keep the country safe.

“My son’s life was stolen at the hands of an illegal alien,” said Mary Ann Mendoza, mother of fallen police Sgt. Brandon Mendoza. “It’s time we had an administration that cares more about Americans than about illegals. A vote for Hillary is putting all our children’s lives at risk.”

Patricia Smith, whose son Sean died in the 2012 terrorist attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, reduced convention delegates to tears with an emotional address about her son’s death – which she said she blames on Clinton, the-then secretary of state.

“I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son,” Smith said. She pointed out a delegate holding up a “Hillary for Prison” sign and said, “That’s right – Hillary for prison. She deserves to be in stripes.”

Smith served as the moving opening act in a series of presentations about Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi attacks, the subject of many congressional and other investigations. Giuliani accused her of “dereliction of duty” in Benghazi.

“She loves her pantsuits,” said Darryl Glenn, a GOP Senate candidate in Colorado. “But we should send her an e-mail and tell her that she deserves a bright orange jumpsuit.”

And meanwhile:

United Airlines has suspended a pilot who charged that Hillary Clinton should be “hung” for her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

In a tweet sent Sunday, the airline said it was “appalled” by the comments from Michael Folk, who also serves as a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates…

United has also launched an investigation into Folk’s comments, which he made Friday on Twitter. In a tweet that has since been deleted, Folk said that Clinton should be tried for “treason, murder, and crimes against the US Constitution and then hung on the mall in Washington, D.C.,” according to the Associated Press.

Folk told the AP in a Sunday interview that he was being hyperbolic and could have stated his point “a little bit better.”

No doubt, and back at the convention:

Willie Robertson, the long-bearded star of “Duck Dynasty,” took the podium wearing an American flag bandana around his head and vowed repeatedly that Trump would “have your back.”

It was quite a show, but Chris Cillizza covered the earlier show:

For weeks, rumors that rump Republicans dissatisfied with the idea of Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee would stage a protest vote swirled. On Monday, those disgruntled Republicans made good on their pledge – sort of.

The fight happened just after 4 p.m. eastern – three hours after the convention was gaveled in on its first day. At issue was the approval of the rules package that sets the parameters for the four-day convention. Pro-Trump forces tried to push through the package on a voice vote.

That didn’t go well:

“Roll call vote” was the chant of the anti-Trump forces, a desire to have each state, one by one, announce their support or opposition not only for the rules package but, more broadly, for Trump.

Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack was – unfortunately for him – tasked with overseeing this chaos. The first time he tried to declare that the “ayes” (pro-Trump) votes had it, he was shouted down and left the stage. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a leading voice of the anti-Trump movement, called that decision to flee “surreal” and admitted that he had no idea what would come next.

What came next was a return by Womack to the stage and a repetition of the voice vote. After declaring that the “ayes” had it (again), Womack noted that only six of the nine states demanding a roll call vote had stood firm. Seven states were needed. …

The Iowa and Colorado delegations walked off the floor. Boos cascaded down. But it was over.

The Cillizza early-edition review:

For Republicans desperately hoping that unity would be the word of the day and the week here in Cleveland, the damage was done. The images of unhappy Republicans shouting for a chance to show their dissatisfaction with Trump and then walking out makes for just the sort of images out of this week that Republicans were hoping to avoid.

It showed, powerfully and with the eyes of the national media watching, that the idea that the GOP was rapidly uniting behind Trump is a pipe dream. And that divisions – real and serious ones – remain, no matter the rhetorical attempts to paper them over.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, once a potential Trump VP, took the stage soon after the eruption. She spent her time touting the party’s unity and the inclusive process of building the party platform. But no one was listening.

Earlier in the day, Greg Sargent noted that it’s more than that:

Three national polls released over the weekend showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump: A CNN poll putting Clinton up by 49-42; an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll putting her up by 46-41; and a Washington Post/ABC News poll putting her up by 47-43.

But buried beneath the top-lines is evidence of another dynamic that gets at something important about the state of this race: While both Clinton and Trump are very unpopular, large majorities in two of these polls believe that only one of them is qualified for the presidency, and equally large majorities believe that the other one is not.

The new WaPo poll finds, for instance, that Americans say by 59-39 that Clinton is “qualified to serve as president,” but they also say by 60-37 that Trump is “not qualified to serve as president.”

The WaPo poll also finds that 59 percent of Americans say that Clinton has the “better personality and temperament to serve effectively as president,” while only 28 percent of Americans say that about Trump.

Meanwhile, the new CNN poll finds that Americans say by 64-36 that Clinton “has the right experience to be president.” But they say by 67-32 that Trump does not have “the right experience to be president.”

Trump might not be the unlikely “sudden star” after all:

This is the story that lurks underneath the widespread lament that Americans are unhappy with the two candidates. It’s true that both are disliked: These polls show, variously, that Clinton and Trump are both viewed very negatively; that neither is seen as more trustworthy than the other; that majorities would not be proud to have either as president; and that majorities think both are out of touch with everyday Americans’ problems. They also show vulnerabilities for Clinton in certain areas: For instance, Trump is favored more on the economy, and the email story has raised serious concerns for many voters about Clinton’s judgment. But regardless, only one of the two candidates is seen –  by large margins – to be qualified for the job, while the other one is seen as unqualified by margins that are at least as large.

Trump might want to worry about this a bit:

Nate Silver recently suggested a useful framework for thinking about this campaign: One way Trump might be able to win is if Americans “come to view the race as one between two equally terrible choices, instead of Trump being uniquely unacceptable.” One way that might not come to pass is if majorities of Americans – while disliking and mistrusting both – continue believing that Trump, unlike Clinton, is simply unfit for the job on a very fundamental level.

Trump, however, doesn’t seem to worry about such things:

As he has prepared to be named the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump has not read any biographies of presidents. He said he would like to someday.

He has no time to read, he said: “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.”

Trump’s desk is piled high with magazines, nearly all of them with himself on their covers, and each morning, he reviews a pile of printouts of news articles about himself that his secretary delivers to his desk. But there are no shelves of books in his office, no computer on his desk.

Presidents have different ways of preparing to make decisions. Some read deeply, some prefer to review short memos that condense difficult issues into bite-size summaries, ideally with check-boxes at the bottom of the page. But Trump, poised to become the first major-party presidential nominee since Dwight Eisenhower who had not previously held elected office, appears to have an unusually light appetite for reading.

But he does have his reasons:

He said in a series of interviews that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.”

Trump said he is skeptical of experts because “they can’t see the forest for the trees.” He believes that when he makes decisions, people see that he instinctively knows the right thing to do: “A lot of people said, ‘Man, he was more accurate than guys who have studied it all the time.’

Who says that to him, a lot of people? He does have a habit of making stuff up of course, so no one may have said that, and that’s a worry here:

Trump’s approach goes beyond the chief executive manner of Reagan or the younger Bush. “We’ve had presidents who have reveled in their lack of erudition,” said Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University, citing Warren Harding and Lyndon Johnson as leaders who scoffed at academics and other experts. “But Trump is really something of an outlier with this idea that knowing things is almost a distraction. He doesn’t have a historical anchor, so you see his gut changing on issues from moment to moment.”

Still, if knowing things is a useless distraction, we have an explanation of the opening night of the Trump (sort of Republican) convention. And that also explains this:

Although he’s almost a decade shy of the voting age, Micah St. George has a message he’s anxious to deliver to the Republican National Committee: Please don’t nominate Donald Trump for president.

A soon-to-be fourth grader in Newton, Massachusetts, Micah is the co-founder of Kids Against Trump, a group that started with a paper petition passed around the playground at Angier Elementary, a K-6 school in a bucolic suburb just west of Boston.

The idea for the petition started in February after some of Trump’s speeches. The candidate’s words troubled Micah on two levels. First of all, there were Trump’s disparaging comments about women, Muslims, and immigrants. Micah was adopted from Guatemala as an infant, and he has two moms. So it felt to Micah like Trump was attacking his family and friends.

But another thought stuck with Micah: I can understand everything he’s saying.

“He’s talking on my level – I’m 9 years old,” Micah says. “That’s not okay.”

Micah’s friend and classmate Alexis Fridman – who started the original recess petition with him and is the other co-founder of Kids Against Trump – put it another way: “If I talked like Donald Trump, I’d get sent to the principal’s office immediately.”

And now lots of people are signing their petition, there’s a Facebook page, and Trump has one more worry – the nine-year-olds of America are telling him to grow up.

That will spoil your opening night, and earlier in the day it was the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who interviewed Tony Schwartz, the author of The Art of the Deal. He wrote the actual words that were then packaged as a Donald Trump book, which was a HUGE success. That’s okay. He got half the advance and continues to get half the royalties, but the whole thing was a bit odd:

“If I were you,” Schwartz recalls telling [Trump], “I’d write a book called ‘The Art of the Deal.’ That’s something people would be interested in.”

“You’re right,” Trump agreed. “Do you want to write it?”

Schwartz thought it over for several weeks… Being a ghostwriter was hackwork. In the end, though, Schwartz had his price. He told Trump that if he would give him half the advance and half the book’s royalties he’d take the job.

Such terms are unusually generous for a ghostwriter. Trump – despite having a reputation as a tough negotiator – agreed on the spot.

That was it? Kevin Drum finds that amusing:

This is pretty typical Trump. As near as I can tell, he’s actually a lousy negotiator. There are exceptions here and there, but he routinely overpays for properties he wants and routinely ends up in litigation with the people he does deals with. That’s not the sign of a great negotiator. It’s the sign of someone who can’t get the deal right the first time – and then goes to court in hopes that his partners will cave in because it’s just not worth the money to fight him. This is also why Trump has a hard time getting loans these days and doesn’t do many deals outside of licensing and branding.

But the real “reveal” here is that Schwartz never really liked Trump and now feels guilty for his part in selling him to the American public:

Schwartz thought that “The Art of the Deal” would be an easy project… For research, he planned to interview Trump on a series of Saturday mornings… But the discussion was soon hobbled by what Schwartz regards as one of Trump’s most essential characteristics: “He has no attention span.”…

“Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me. “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit – or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then…” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said. …

So he came up with another plan. He would propose eavesdropping on Trump’s life by following him around on the job and, more important, by listening in on his office phone calls… There was not a single call that Trump deemed too private for Schwartz to hear. “He loved the attention,” Schwartz recalls. “If he could have had three hundred thousand people listening in, he would have been even happier.”

This year, Schwartz has heard some argue that there must be a more thoughtful and nuanced version of Donald Trump that he is keeping in reserve for after the campaign. “There isn’t,” Schwartz insists. “There is no private Trump.”…

He then tried to amplify the material he got from Trump by calling others involved in the deals. But their accounts often directly conflicted with Trump’s. “Lying is second nature to him,” Schwartz said. “More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”… Schwartz says of Trump, “He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it.” Since most people are “constrained by the truth,” Trump’s indifference to it “gave him a strange advantage.”…

Rhetorically, Schwartz’s aim in “The Art of the Deal” was to present Trump as the hero of every chapter, but, after looking into some of his supposedly brilliant deals, Schwartz concluded that there were cases in which there was no way to make Trump look good. So he sidestepped unflattering incidents and details. “I didn’t consider it my job to investigate,” he says. …

As far as Schwartz could tell, Trump spent very little time with his family and had no close friends… “He’d like people when they were helpful, and turn on them when they weren’t. It wasn’t personal. He’s a transactional man – it was all about what you could do for him.”


Just the kind of guy you want in the Oval Office: a serial liar with no attention span who doesn’t care about other people and has no interests other than his own self-glorification. Oh, and he’s a mediocre dealmaker too.

That sort of thing appearing in the media in the morning can ruin your opening night. Ghostwriters can be dangerous, and that was an issue on opening night in a quite different way:

Melania Trump earned praise for her speech on Monday at the opening night of the Republican National Convention, but her remarks almost immediately came under scrutiny when striking similarities were discovered between her speech and one delivered by Michelle Obama at the Democratic convention in 2008.

The phrases in question came when Ms. Trump – who told NBC News earlier Monday that she had written her speech herself – was discussing her upbringing in Slovenia and her parents.

Fine, but phrases, and whole sentences, and one whole paragraph were word-for-word from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, in spite of this:

Ms. Trump said in an interview taped with NBC’s Matt Lauer before her speech that she went over it just once in advance. “I wrote it with as little help as possible,” she said.

Yeah, but you can’t get good help these days:

Mr. Trump’s aides declined to identify who, if anyone, on the campaign helped in writing the speech. Mr. Trump’s main speechwriter is Stephen Miller, and the convention program and speakers have been managed by the campaign’s chief strategist, Paul Manafort.

Mr. Trump’s campaign aides stayed quiet early Tuesday. Privately, one Trump aide said the campaign was going over the passages from the two speeches, while another blamed the news media and Democrats, suggesting they were fanning flames. …

Some of Mr. Trump’s staunchest defenders had trouble explaining the overlapping language. On CNN, Jeffrey Lord, a commentator and Trump supporter, called it “a serious thing” and recalled the plagiarism scandal that helped sink Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s 1988 presidential bid. Mr. Lord speculated that a staff member on Mr. Trump’s campaign was responsible and added that whoever it was should be let go.

Somebody’s head should roll, or Donald should divorce Melania, because this ruined everything:

As it happened, the thrust of Monday night’s speaker lineup was what Republicans called the inauthenticity and incompetence of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Oops. But it had to happen:

Mr. Trump’s reed-thin campaign staff, which served him well in the Republican primary contests, has started to grow in recent weeks. But he has struggled to professionalize his operation to adapt to a general election.

Someone really does need to check these things. She spoke the exact words of the wife of the Kenyan Muslim, who is the secret head of both ISIS and al-Qaeda, and a Black Nationalist who wants to kill cops, to describe her own husband. That’s the worst possible thing that could have happened, but you need staff, and time, to check these things – especially if you’re going to put on a show with big production numbers. Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse. Three weeks and it couldn’t be worse. One week, will it ever be right?

The answer was no.


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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