It’s easy to dismiss Donald Trump’s plans for the Republican convention as a joke. With former presidents and current congressmen refusing to go, Trump is reportedly planning to fill the vacuum with Bobby Knight, Don King, and a host of sports stars, has-beens, misfits and B-to-C list celebrities.
Trump has said we should also expect speeches from four of his five children and his third wife, Melania. And, if his Trump Tower penthouse is any indication of his taste level, we should probably brace ourselves for a truly obscene display of razzle-dazzle.
When the official program is revealed, the unconventional lineup will probably be spun as an act of desperation, Trump’s last resort amid a sea of regrets from otherwise respected Republican officials. And it’s true that some of the excuses for skipping out on Cleveland are starting to sound like a teenage girl turning down a bad prom date. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says he wants to watch the convention on TV. Sen. Jeff Flake said he already has plans to mow his lawn — in Arizona.
But by forcing Trump to reimagine the GOP convention, Republican insiders may also be doing him a favor by proving what he’s been saying all along — that he really is an outsider to the system that wants nothing to do with him.
Also, by staying away from the party, they will most certainly make sure that Trump will be able to liven up the show. If anything is more boring than dozens of politicians talking for four days in a row at a party convention, I haven’t seen it. But Don King talking about his friend Donald Trump? That I’ll watch, and so will America.
Compare all of this to the convention Hillary Clinton will likely put on, with rounds of speeches from popular Democrats like President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and of course, former President Bill Clinton. But nothing says old and tired like a bunch of speeches from politicians who, I'm sorry to report, are old and tired. And nothing says more of the same like the convention Clinton appears to have in the works.
None of this is to suggest that Trump's convention is guaranteed to succeed. There's the small matter of “Never Trump” crusaders actively working to change the convention rules and deny him the party's nomination. It's unlikely to happen, but a potential mutiny illustrates just how far Trump still has to go to unify the party around his candidacy, let alone to build a winning coalition in November.
Also, Clint Eastwood’s bizarre conversation with an empty chair at the 2012 GOP convention should serve as a reminder to the Trump campaign that celebrities and political commentary aren’t always a great mix. Even Donald Trump and political commentary are a messy combination, depending on the day and his access to his Twitter feed.
But the mere fact that so many Republicans are bailing on the Trump show should not be taken as a sign in itself that Trump’s chances for winning the White House are doomed. In any other year, being ostracized by the likes of Mitt Romney, the Bush family and dozens of members of Congress would have doomed a candidate’s chances to win the GOP nomination. But 2016 isn’t any other year. The latest NBC News poll showed a deeply dissatisfied electorate — with 71 percent of voters saying the country is on the wrong track.
And while Trump may be a historically disliked candidate, the GOP itself isn’t doing so great either. The party as a whole had a 32 percent approval in the latest Bloomberg poll, while congressional Republicans (like the ones skipping Trump’s convention) scored a dismal 13 percent approval rating in Gallup’s latest. Republican leaders may not like Donald Trump, but America doesn’t seem too impressed by Republican leaders.
For voters hungry for real change, Trump’s status as a communicable disease among official Washington is proof that Donald Trump is the genuine article, a man so despised by party and government insiders that they literally will not be seen with him. Ironically, the people staying away from Trump’s convention out of protest and self-preservation may end up strengthening him in the process.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy .