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U.S. ELECTION 2016

Cleveland confidential: Six things I learned at the bonfire of the GOP

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles as he addresses delegates on Thursday.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles as he addresses delegates on Thursday.

PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

If there is any big takeaway from this week's GOP convention in Cleveland, it's that the Trump campaign can't do anything right, but at the same time, can do no wrong. A party insurrection tried to overthrow its front-runner before his nomination, but could not withstand the steamroller simplicity of Donald Trump's message.

While his wife, Melania, could have done him in with words cribbed from Michelle Obama (and, by some account, 80s crooner Rick Astley), she is a political fixer-upper anyway. Gallup determined that the Slovenian supermodel had the least favourable ratings of any possible First Lady since 1992 (Hint: a well-known politician with a Gmail account). Archrival Ted Cruz is still concerned only with the Constitution, the rights of the unborn and his moribund political future and came off as a boor by not endorsing the nominee. Mr. Trump's arrival to Cleveland was supposed to spark violence but the only thing that burned was a protester who tried to light an American Flag and wound up with minor burns.

The same could not be said of the GOP, which was in major flames. The party of Lincoln is hurting, and where there is suffering, there is knowledge.

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Here are the six things I learned about Trumpalooza.


1. Trump Strong! GOP Weak!

Watch the highlights from Trump’s 75-minute speech in under four minutes

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Conventions are meant to unite parties, not to blow them up, but there is no more pretense of party discipline, certainly after the Ted Wedding, the Cruz Boos or whatever you call Mr. Cruz's non-endorsement of Mr. Trump. Reinhold Richard (Reince) Priebus is Republican Party Chairman and circus master of an imploding party tent, and whether you feel sorry for him or blame him, he has the unenviable task of corralling a lot of feral anger. Old hands such as the Bushes stayed well away. Even Ohio's own governor and former candidate, John Kasich, once considered the only "adult in the room," returned to his churlish ways and avoided what was the reinvigorated city of NBA champions. The gesture looked vindictive, even more so after it leaked that Mr. Trump offered his opponent a vice-presidential position that gave him a CEO role, with Mr. Trump as chairman. The establishment's blackballing of the convention only made Mr. Trump look more rogue, and therefore, bolstering his brand.


2. Trumpism may triumph in the end

Trump supporters carry a banner at the convention on Thursday.

Trump supporters carry a banner at the convention on Thursday.

MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS

No matter how messy Mr. Trump's organization can be, nothing sticks, even his puzzling avoidance of his own vice-presidential candidate during photo ops, While Mr. Trump's xenophobic messaging will continue to drive away minorities, there are still some encouraging signs of growth elsewhere. To begin with, he is tied with presumptive Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton in the popularity polls. In June The New York Times website, The Upshot, showed that millions more white, older working-class voters went to the polls in 2012 than was found by exit polls on Election Day. "This raises the prospect that Mr. Trump has a larger pool of potential voters than generally believed," Upshot concluded. "The wider path may help explain why Mr. Trump is competitive in early general-election surveys against Hillary Clinton." Recently, Times data also showed that Mr. Trump's ratings are already as high as 2012 nominee Mitt Romney at his very peak. There is a 38.3-per-cent chance that Mr. Trump will win. Or, as it explained on Tuesday, "Mrs. Clinton's chance of losing is about the same probability that an NBA player will miss a free throw."


3. Trumpism is a movement

Delegates stand and cheer at the end of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Delegates stand and cheer at the end of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

Checking out the delegates, you see the genteel, country-club types one would imagine, but they now appear as a rump within a larger tent. Cleveland is not a Brooks Brothers fashion show. The candidate's message of humiliation, resurgence and renegotiation appeals to a wider swath of voters than one would think, demonstrated by the number of visible minorities attending the convention. Despite fears of anti-Semitism in the Trump campaign, there are Orthodox Jews, too (including members of Mr. Trump's own family). Trumpers are supposed to resent journalists, but almost every delegate or public servant I approached was willing to talk about their leader. "There's an unexpected sense that a new GOP is being formed around an unabashed, unco-ordinated, inchoate individualism," said Jeff Ballabon, a GOP strategist and supporter of the party's ticket."This is clearly a U.S. iteration of Brexit," said Mr. Ballabon, CEO of B2 Strategic. (As Mr. Trump has boasted on several occasions, he called Brexit before anyone else did. Because, apparently, he gets it.)

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4. The demonizing of Hillary Clinton: gone too far?

A delegate wearing a mask of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as well as handcuffs and a prison jumpsuit, appears on the convention floor.

A delegate wearing a mask of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as well as handcuffs and a prison jumpsuit, appears on the convention floor.

JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

To this observer, the ubiquitous "Jail Hillary" slogan is smug. Terrible! Not as good as Make America Great Again! But as the self-proclaimed standard-bearers of law and order, Republicans should have also kept the convention streets clean. On Cleveland's main drag, Euclid Street, there are T-shirts that say "Life is a Bitch, Don't Vote for One" and "KFC Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts, Left Wing." And that was only the PG merchandise.


5. The revolution never came

A protester in Cleveland reclines on a set of stairs using a Donald Trump pig puppet as a footrest.

A protester in Cleveland reclines on a set of stairs using a Donald Trump pig puppet as a footrest.

ANDREW KELLY/REUTERS

Cleveland was predicted to be a powder keg. It's where officers killed teenager Tamir Rice for waving a toy gun, where its uniquely brutal police force is under a form of federal supervision. The convention was taking place in a city where guns could be openly carried while the nation mourned the deaths of five officers slain in Dallas. An angry country – left and right, anarchists and white supremacists – was set to descend and wreak havoc, But even after police officers were ambushed and killed in Baton Rouge, peace prevailed. At various sites, journalists outnumbered protesters, creating an odd zoo effect. According to the security advisory company Densus, anarchists using black bloc tactics should have posed the biggest threat, but in the end, the masked marauders didn't deliver. Adam Leggat, the company's expert on protest and crowd control, said that at previous events such as Toronto's G20 in 2010 and the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minn, two years earlier, the anarchists announced their intentions months in advance. (What did happen there, Toronto?) In Cleveland, however, there was no such organization, In one instance, an anarchist sent out a tweet on Wednesday for 3 p.m. "Anti-Capitalist/Anti-Fascist in Public Square at 3 PM. Look for and Follow the Heart." So, Mr. Leggat, a veteran of the British military, did just that. An anarchist unfurled a black flag with a heart on it, but in the end drew only about a dozen people and nothing apparently came of the call to action.


6. You don't need to be a Trump supporter to visit Cleveland

Donna Metz has her photo taken by husband Martin with the Cleveland skyline in the background on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention on July 17, 2016.

Donna Metz has her photo taken by husband Martin with the Cleveland skyline in the background on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention on July 17, 2016.

AARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS

The reinvigorated downtown area has some great, inexpensive food and cool bars, and for the high-browed, it has one of the best orchestras in the world, two renowned art museums and a science centre. I stayed in an area called Tremont, a funky neighbourhood that's like the Plateau in Montreal, with restaurants, boutiques and coffee shops. Near there, in an industrial valley, is an indie watering hole called Pats in the Flats that has a honky-tonk, Tom Waits feel. "Working-man bar by day, blue-collar rock-club at night," is the slogan. Or, perhaps, a future Trumpian hot spot?

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Follow Craig Offman on Twitter: @Craigoffman


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