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The Potemkin Campaign Comes To The Potemkin Convention


Donald Trump loves a good façade. It is one of his favorite things. He has taken Sun Tzu’s advice that all war is based upon deception to heart, and he is personally well practiced in this art, down to flagrantly acting as his own public relations officer. Political conventions in the modern era are all about façade – they have none of the purpose of conventions in the past, when platforms mattered and outcomes were uncertain.

In Cleveland, Trump has arrived to something that looks a lot like one of those modern conventions – there are delegates, there are speakers, there are protesters, there are cops, there is a crushing amount of media – but the overall sense of the place is that this thing only looks like a convention, and that beyond this temporary façade lies something menacing and dark. Underneath the fresh paint and thin temporary walls, beneath the bland concrete of a media center constructed haphazardly out of a parking garage, behind the fast-blinking eyes of the desperate RNC flack who insists that the rules have been followed and unity will surely come on the morrow, there is a palpable sense of rising unease about what comes next.

It is sad that Melania Trump, who delivered her speech last night impressively for someone who has spoken so little to this date, should become the most prominent victim to date of a Potemkin campaign organization. Oops.  “Side-by-side comparisons of the transcripts show the text in [Melania] Trump’s address following, nearly to the word, the would-be future first lady’s own from the first night of the Democratic convention in Denver nearly eight years ago.” Mollie Hemingway has more

Paul Manafort is already out denying that this is a thing – but just watch the side by side here, and cringe. Behind the façade of a well-delivered speech, there was the laziness of a campaign without basic professional due diligence to serve the wife of the candidate well.

Trump is at least much better personally at the construction of a façade than the Republican Party, which is just terrible at it. Yesterday afternoon, even as three protests sweat in the heat outside the convention hall, the real action was inside, where the refusal of the RNC to allow a roll call vote on the controversial rules package resulted in Sen. Mike Lee yelling point of order from the floor and Ken Cuccinelli flinging his credentials down in disgust.

David Harsanyi writes:

As it went down, a majority of delegates from nine delegations — Iowa, Washington, Minnesota, Colorado, Maine, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington DC — had petitioned the secretary of the convention for a roll call vote on the rules. After a long, unexplained break, Steve Womack of Arkansas, acting as the presiding officer, finally allowed a Utah delegate to request the vote so he could shut it down. Womack maintained that delegates had removed their names from the petition, bringing the number under the requisite amount needed to proceed… It was “the most disgusting display of parliamentary abuse that I’ve ever seen in the 14 conventions that I have attended starting in 1964,” longtime Virginia conservative activist Morton Blackwell told NBC.

The absurd part: Blackwell is no Trump foe, he just cares about the rules that will govern future presidential primaries.

The Republican Party’s leadership really only has one claim to authority: competence. They do not have their jobs because they are inspiring or heroic or dynamic. Their claim is that these colorful outsiders may attract the support of the base, but it is they, the professionals, who know how to get things done. So what happens when a party establishment utterly loses its reputation and credibility for basic competence?

Things like yesterday afternoon, when they allowed a massive public display of the brokenness of their coalition right before the evening news on the first day of their convention simply to avoid a 45 minute roll call vote no one outside the RNC would have cared about. Reince Priebus is apparently as good at running a convention as Sean Spicer is at running debates. It is bad for the GOP that this is a brittle party – it is worse that the leadership seems thoroughly invested in doing whatever it takes to pretend these cracks don’t exist.

Outside, the protests were lackluster and dull. At the pro-Trump rally sponsored by InfoWars and featuring Alex Jones, Roger Stone, Kelli Ward, and Milo, Trump’s more conspiracist supporters gathered in tiny numbers compared to the number of journalists – I’d estimate a ratio of 3:1.

The Trump rally included many members of the Alex Jones faction of Trump supporters, who are worried about the globalism conspiracy and want someone to get to the bottom of what really happened on 9/11. They like Trump because he’s putting issues like these on the map, issues that up until now have been left out of the mainstream. According to some young men I spoke with, Trump has the power to control the narrative in American politics in a way not possible before.

That view was shared at the socialist and anarchist rallies I attended, who expressed the fear of a racist Trump police state. The protests were scattershot with signs reading “America Was Never Great” “Eat The Rich, Arm The Homeless” “Stop Police Murder” and “I Bathe In Republican Tears” – the odor of the person holding the last prompting me to doubt words one and two.

They marched with Tom Morello and the Prophets of Rage, protected peacefully along the pre-planned way by a host of Midwestern cops, all without a bit of trouble. Even this fine fellow walked through a parade of socialists and anarchists without incident.

Just one arrest was made yesterday, and the mood here is more subdued than at most of the conventions I’ve attended. There is a sense of dread – that there are worse things going on in the world than what is happening here in Cleveland, and that this crumbling façade is just a prelude to coming years that will make the chaos of the moment seem like days of peace and light.