Posted July 18, 2016 at 8:37pm
CLEVELAND — The end of the last organized resistance to Donald Trump came late Monday afternoon with a heavy-handed gavel, angry cries of “Roll call vote” and a walkout by the Colorado delegation.
But, in truth, the end came earlier when the sighs had it. Those were the sighs of resignation at the thought of the Republican Party nominating a presidential candidate with no convictions, no ideas other than resentments, and no internal checks on his emotions.
When I asked South Carolina delegate Karen Wyld what she thought of Donald Trump, her long sigh as she considered her answer gave her away. “I think it would blow this party up not to nominate him,” the retired assistant teacher, now living in Sun City, said in a voice tinged with sadness. “So I have to trust that he has the sense to appoint good conservative advisers.”
That’s what conservatives like Wyld are reduced to. Playing the long odds that somehow Trump — who has never listened to anyone in his 70 years on this planet — would choose the right advisers and then accept their counsel.
The South Carolina delegation breakfast Monday could serve as a microcosm of this sad-eyed convention. Even though Trump won the South Carolina primary (32 percent) and all of its 50 convention votes, many of the actual delegates (like Wyld) favored Ted Cruz. With Gov. Nikki Haley only offering tepid support for the nominee and senior Sen. Lindsey Graham boycotting the convention, the central figure in the delegation is Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster.
As the only major South Carolina office holder to endorse the gold-plated real estate mogul before the primary, McMaster has been rewarded with a Tuesday night speaking slot as a Trump nominator. Chatting before the breakfast, McMaster said several times, “This is a seminal moment.”
McMaster is right. This convention is a seminal moment in the history of the Republican Party. By nominating a bilious billionaire with a fondness for isolationist campaign slogans, the Republicans are poised to retreat from alliances like NATO that have shaped post-World War II national security.
Trump’s incoherent foreign policy pronouncements present a problem for a traditional GOP hawk like 39-year-old Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. A young man in a hurry, already dreaming of inheriting the party in 2020 after a Trump defeat, Cotton was a peripatetic figure Monday racing from the Ohio delegation to the South Carolina breakfast to a panel discussion sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly.
Cotton’s speech to the South Carolina delegates cleverly skirted the Trump problem by never mentioning the GOP nominee. Instead Cotton trotted out easy applause lines: “The Democrats had a choice between two socialists — and they picked the one under FBI investigation.”
Embracing a new Trump theme (this one lifted from Richard Nixon), Cotton proudly declared, “We are the party of law-and-order in this country.” But Cotton also inadvertently identified the Republicans as what they really have become under Trump — the Party of Fear.
To illustrate American weakness under Barack Obama, the Harvard-educated Cotton told a story about his father, who had worked for a small-town health department. The elder Cotton recently purchased a gun for the first time in his life because, as he told his son, “Somebody has to protect us if the Islamic State comes over here and starts cutting off heads.”
Think about that for a moment: The father of a respected United States senator actually believes that ISIS is headed for Dardanelle, Arkansas. And his son, the senator, thinks that this is a reasonable enough proposition that he highlighted it during his ready-for-2020 delegation tour.
Yes, this has been a heart-rending year in America and around the world. And, yes, a certain collective nervousness is understandable after a governmental office building in San Bernardino and a dance club in Orlando became terrorist targets.
But the Republican Party has lost its moorings by succumbing to the authoritarian vision of Trump as a Big Daddy who will keep us safe. Whether it is suggesting that American soldiers should commit war crimes (targeting the families of terrorists) or displaying his ignorance of nuclear strategy, Trump illustrates the danger of ill-informed bluster in a hair-trigger world.
As a result, Republicans who have convinced themselves that Trump represents the answer have moved to Bill Clinton’s hometown. That is, they now reside in a place called Hope.
Take South Carolina delegate Sandra Stroman, a retired high-school American history teacher from Chester. Originally a Marco Rubio supporter, Stroman has gradually grown comfortable with the GOP’s choice for president. “Once he got the nomination,” she said, “I was all in. I’m now on the Trump team.”
But she added — sounding as if she still was trying to convince herself — “I firmly believe that Donald Trump wants to do what’s right for America. And if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here.”
Of course, that also explains why so many prominent Republicans are boycotting this week’s triumph of Trump’s trumpery. As Cleveland itself displays its best face to the world, it is the GOP that is making the mistake by the lake.
Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. His book on his con-man great-uncle was just published: “Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Fuhrer.” Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro