CLEVELAND — What do you give to the man who has everything? Or in Donald Trump’s case at this convention — how do you praise a man who floats through life in the warm glow of sublime self-love? How do you glorify a man who is so boastful that merely calling him a “great leader” would sound like a parsimonious plaudit?
The challenge is daunting this week for Republican speechwriters. Some Republican leaders have tried minimalism as they barely acknowledge the existence of the GOP nominee. Paul Ryan on Tuesday night limited himself to just two mentions of the T-word with such exuberant lines as “Only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way.”
Note that the House speaker would only acknowledge “a chance” at “a better way.” Given Ryan’s unease with the Trumpian takeover of the GOP, it is plausible that he believes there is a greater or equal chance of a “worse way.”
Mitch McConnell limited himself Tuesday night to toting up all the Republican congressional legislation that someone named Trump would sign. From the repeal of Obamacare to defunding Planned Parenthood, the Senate majority leader’s refrain was “Trump would sign it.” It was almost as if McConnell were suggesting that America would be electing not a president but an auto-pen.
Even those who know Trump best are a little nervous about hitting the correct worshipful note. That may be why Melania Trump opted for un-Trumpian understatement in the non-plagiarized portion of her Monday night speech. It sounded almost as if Melania were reading aloud from a job reference letter when she declared, “Donald has a great and deep and unbounding determination and a never-give-up attitude. I have seen him fight for years to get a project done or even started, and he does not give up.”
All that was missing was the news that Donald always showed up at work on time and was a generous contributor to the Secret Santa gifts at Christmas.
At the other extreme, Rudy Giuliani gushed Monday night, “This is a man with a big heart who loves people, all people. From the top to the bottom, from the middle to the side.” Telltale omission: Giuliani said nothing about Trump loving people from front to back.
When he wasn’t shouting loud enough to be heard in Canarsie, the former New York mayor burbled that Trump has been “a friend to me, my wife Judith and my family for now almost 30 years.” Of course, during those three decades of family-first friendship, Trump and Giuliani have had five marriages between them.
Chris Christie on Tuesday night also was an exuberant character witness for Trump: “We are about to be led by not only a strong leader, but by a caring, genuine and decent person.”
The beleaguered New Jersey governor probably believes that. But it is safe bet that Christie never said, “What a caring, genuine and decent person” when he learned that he had been passed over for the vice presidency.
Christie’s fiery speech excoriating Hillary Clinton will be remembered for inspiring the chant on the convention floor, “Lock her up.” We are constantly reaching new guttersnipe levels in the 2016 campaign, but never before has a political party all but suggested that the presidential debates should be conducted on their rival’s home turf — at the Allenwood federal penitentiary.
Usually vice-presidential running mates tend to disappear from view around mid-October, but Mike Pence has already become the forgotten man at this convention. Yet more than anyone in this campaign, the Indiana governor will be the one required to portray Trump — the bilious billionaire and former reality-show host — as a cross between Gen. George Patton and Ronald Reagan.
Speaking Tuesday at an event sponsored by the American Conservative Union, Pence went out his way to stress that an important Trump body part was larger than the GOP’s nominee’s hands. As Pence put it, “I know that Donald Trump will be a great president of the United States of America because his heart beats with the heart of the American people.”
This is an appropriate city for Pence to make that boast since the Cleveland Clinic is a world-renowned center for heart research. If Trump wants his heart to beat on its own — instead of beating with the American people — he will not have to travel far for surgery.
What this erratic convention has demonstrated so far is that no one can meet the exacting standards that the candidate has set for himself. When it comes to slathering on the praise for a visionary leader who always tells the truth, America will have to wait for Donald J. Trump’s acceptance speech.