Editor's Note:Dr. Terry F. Buss is a fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration. He wrote this article exclusively for Tuoi Tre News to review the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention on Tuesday.
Political party conventions serve to select a candidate for president and to set the party platform to guide the country should the candidate win.
The Republican Party began their convention with a group of anti-Trump delegates trying to derail Trump’s candidacy. Then the convention moved on to one speech after another criticizing Hillary Clinton—the Democrat Party opposition—in the most severe, often outrageous, terms imaginable on television. The evening’s highlight was a speech by Trump’s wife Melania, a rousing success, that later ended in a disaster for the Trump campaign.
A coup attempt against Trump
Trump destroyed 16 Republican opponents in the Republican Party primaries held earlier this year. This, along with his aggressive, vindictive style, pettiness, obnoxiousness, inexperience, and absence of policy proposals made him numerous enemies in the Republican Party. As a result, many party members refused to support him, third party candidates were encouraged to run against him, and some Republicans have pledged their votes to Hillary Clinton.
The Trump opposition—referred to as “Never Trump”—tried one last time to organize a coup at the convention’s beginning, but failed. The Never Trump coup leaders were able to obtain enough delegate pledges to change convention rules, but the Trump Campaign and Republican National Committee outmaneuvered them to defeat their effort. This led to a shouting match among thousands of people in the convention hall, all played out on national television.
Importantly, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, and one of the most powerful figures in Washington did not manage the counter-coup. Republicans were clearly protecting him as important to the party’s future. Ryan rejects much of Trump’s policy agenda, but is supporting him only to achieve party unity.
Does the floor fight show that democracy is just messy or does it show how strong Trump has become? It certainly was embarrassing or exciting depending on one’s perspective.
In any case, Trump is now unopposed. But Republicans are anything but unified. Democrats are gleeful.
Republican no shows
So fractured is the Republican Party that many party leaders decided not to attend the convention. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and 2008 presidential candidate Senator John McCain were off doing other things.
The major “snub” came from Ohio Governor John Kasich who ran against Trump in the primaries. Cleveland, Ohio, is the venue chosen for the convention. Ordinarily the Ohio Governor would make a major speech at the convention. Kasich did not show up. Rather, Kasich went to several delegations in their hotels to try to discredit Trump. This, of course, was widely covered in the press as divisive.
Senator Ted Cruz, Trump’s only serious opposition in the primary elections, was scheduled to address the convention later in the week, but did not endorse Trump. Senator Marco Rubio, also a candidate, was also slated to speak. The other 13 contestants did not participate.
Trump in the past has said that he wants to heal party cleavages and seek unity, but does not really need support from current party opponents. Time will tell whether this strategy will succeed: Republicans cannot win unless their party is unified.
Convention opening theme: national security
Most speakers focused on national security with specific attacks on the records of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, suggesting that this will be a major campaign theme. These attacks overall appeared very effective.
Did Trump supporters go too far or become too negative? General Michael Flynn, former head of Obama’s national security council, called for Clinton to be jailed for her handling of secret emails while secretary of state. Others called for her to drop out of the presidential race for a host of errors and bad decisions. Will voters be swayed or turned off?
Several speakers stood out.
Delegates cheer at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Benghazi Affair—Four Americans, including the US ambassador, were murdered by terrorists in Libya. Clinton as secretary of state lied about the attacks and incompetently managed it. An emotional mother of a murdered security agent told the delegates that Clinton had personally lied to her about the attack. A Navy commando and war hero “called out” Clinton for not preventing the death of Americans.
Recent terrorist attacks—Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and 2008 presidential candidate, gave one of the most animated, blistering attacks against Clinton ever aired on television. Giuliani is credited with effectively managing the aftermath of terrorist attacks in New York during September 11.
Police shootings—David Clarke, Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, is a highly respected African American law enforcement professional with a huge following in conservative media. He gave a rousing speech on the need to support police, not attack them as is being done in many cities.
One glaring omission by the Trump campaign was the absence of a Hispanic speaker to open the convention. Trump needs to win a large portion of the Hispanic vote to become president. At present, he lacks their support. What’s he up to?
Following the convention speakers, CNN which was comprehensively covering the convention, presented a segment in which a commentator tried to debunk criticisms of Clinton. Rather than label this as commentary, CNN presented it as a “fact check,” making it seem like an unbiased assessment. The Trump campaign had to contend with this type of media assault throughout the four day convention. It will be interesting to see whether CNN takes this critical approach to Clinton during her convention.
Melania Trump triumphs [for awhile]
A president’s wife is important for any president. It was with great anticipation and apprehension that convention delegates heard Melania Trump speak on behalf of Donald Trump. Melania is a legal immigrant to the U.S. from Slovenia with English as her fourth language. She was a highly successful fashion model, jewelry and fashion designer. She has been married to Trump for eight years.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump applauds as his wife Melania and son Barron watch at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Television commentators, social media, and online media nearly unanimously gave Melania high marks for her presentation in “real time.” She succeeded in softening many of Trump’s “negatives.”
But Melania’s triumph was short-lived. CNN concluded their convention coverage with a comparison between First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech and Melania’s. CNN commentators concluded that Trump’s speechwriter plagiarized Michelle’s speech after viewing the speeches side by side. Soon after, the social media and cable news exploded in negative commentary in a public relations disaster. Negative media coverage has been ongoing ever since the revelation.
Will commentators blame Melania or the speechwriter responsible? Will this reflect badly on Trump himself? How will Trump respond: admission of guilt or cover-up? Trump’s handling of the debacle will provide insights into how he will manage as president.
Future presidential candidates
Two speakers represented future stars of the Republican Party, very likely presidential material. Joni Ernst and Tom Cotton, both were officers serving in the Iraq and Afghan Wars and now first-term senators in the U.S. Congress. Both are well educated. Both are excellent speakers. Clearly, Republicans intend to make national security and the necessity of having military experience for the U.S. presidency a priority. Recall that neither Bill Clinton, Obama, Hillary nor Trump has served in the military.
How the delegate system works
Republican and Democrat delegates at national conventions are selected according to a complex formula little understood except by a few. Numbers of delegates are determined by the number of “electoral votes” a state has based on population, the number of party members in a congressional district, and other factors.
Some delegates (i.e. “pledged”) will be elected and must vote for the candidate they represent at the party convention. Others are unelected and “unpledged.” Parties select delegates somewhat differently.
Republicans have 2,470 delegates. Some 1,305 are chosen by congressional districts and another 560 statewide. Another 168 are party leaders and elected delegates. Finally there are 437 “bonus” delegates who are awarded based on their past contributions to the party.
Democrats have many more delegates than Republicans at 4,483. Some 2,436 represent congressional districts, while another 847 are chosen statewide. Another 486 are party leaders and elected delegates. Democrats have no bonus delegates. Unlike Republicans, Democrats have 714 “super” delegates who are not elected and may vote for whichever candidate they chose. Supers are controversial in that most of them declared that they would vote for Hillary Clinton even before the presidential primaries even began.