As the convention sets are torn down, Ubers are cued up, and lines of departing conventioneers wrap around Cleveland’s airport, let’s take a quick look at the final act of the 2016 Republican National Convention, where Donald J. Trump made history as the first reality TV star to receive a major party nomination.
We’ll begin where we ended with Trump’s convention address. If you like Trump, you probably liked the speech. If you are a Republican, maybe you liked the speech. If you are anyone else not fitting those categories and you came to the event starving for substance, you left hungrier than when you arrived. In the end, Trump was literally talking loudly while saying nothing (we hadn’t heard that before).
In 2012, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, in a moment of candor sometimes referred to as a ‘gaffe’ in this business, said that all of the stuff the candidate said during the primary to get the nomination did not matter, because Romney would have an “Etch-A-Sketch” moment during the summer. What he meant was that the nominee would make the turn and begin delivering a message that appealed to a broader national audience, rather than a very narrow set of primary voters.
Trump made it clear in his speech there will be no Etch-A-Sketch moment. There will be no turning the page. Declaring himself as the only one who can actually get things done in government, Trump doubled down on the negative and hyperbolic language that made his candidacy a phenomenon among conservatives and the media, from the day he announced his plans to run for the presidency. Through all of the shouting—which lasted a record 75 minutes—he decided to speak only to the folks in the hall—folks who should already be with him—rather than a broader audience across the nation. Declaring himself as the “law and order candidate” on the final day of the convention, Trump was still working desperately to unify his party.
This term, “law and order candidate,” is the continuation of the dog whistle politics Trump has invoked throughout his campaign. He clumsily borrowed the term from Nixon’s 1968 Convention acceptance speech, which, at the time, was code for vulnerable whites pitted against the angry blacks that continued to protest in the streets for recognition of their civil rights and human dignity. It’s the language of “us versus them,” with the potential impact of dividing us, as Trump likes to say, “more than ever before.”
“We’re familiar with the phrase, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” However, in Trump’s address, dawn never came. It has been widely described as a very dark speech, because there were no solutions assigned to any of the ills he defined and no hope offered. The speech was a fact-checker’s nightmare that was a continuation of the theme of the week; prosecuting Hillary Clinton with fact-free evidence. Hispanics continued to be characterized as threats invading our nation, and African Americans as powerless to overcome the systemic challenges they face.
While the night offered some light in sincere outreach to the LGBTQ community, it was mostly rain without rainbows, offering Trump as the messianic figure who could save the nation.
Again, Trump’s address was “us versus them” rather than empowering us as a community by bringing us together. It was a disappointing end to four days of bluster and bombast, where the candidate’s management skills left many wanting and the Republican Party still very divided. The Republican Convention was essentially a four-part reality TV series, with twists and turns and drama pushed to full effect. Add to all of this the speech-gate scandal with Melania Trump, the lack of endorsement by Ted Cruz, the persistence of the Never Trump movement, and the botched selection of the Republican vice presidential candidate, and it was good TV–I’m just not sure it was good for the nation.
Corey Ealons is a partner with VOX Global, a public affairs firm based in Washington, DC, and a former White House spokesperson for President Barack Obama. Follow him on Twitter: @CoreyEalons and LinkedIn.