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Let’s Catch Up: RNC & Donald Trump as Republican Nominee

The Republic National Convention came and went, but we still feel the repercussions. The protests, drama, strategy, and memes, what actually happened at the RNC? Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump promised to bring “showbiz” to the convention and, whether it was his intention or not, provided a historically entertaining National Convention.
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First, what exactly is the Republican National Convention anyway? The Republican National Convention, run by perhaps unsurprisingly the Republican National Committee, is a political convention. It officially nominates the Republican Presidential and Vice Presidential nominee and adopts their party platform and rules for the following four years. Within the last few decades or so it has lost some of that purpose due to the nominee becoming known well in advance. This year we all witnessed the remaining two candidates, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, drop out of the race which essentially named Donald Trump the Republican Presidential Nominee. Following Cruz’s withdrawal speech, RNC Chair (National Committee not Convention, totally different chairs) Reince Priebus tweeted:

“. will be presumptive nominee, we all need to unite and focus on defeating “.

Funny piece of information, this was tweeted a day before Kasich had actually dropped out. Poor guy. In both speeches and the tweet, however, we saw a similar theme of unifying the party and shifting focus on winning the White House.

This theme is consistent with what the RNC has become, a form of unifying the party and presenting solidarity. As we explained earlier, nominating the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominee has become more symbolic in nature. Most votes have been unanimous as candidates withdraw and urge their delegates to vote for remaining candidate. You know, to promote unity. The party platform, unlike many European countries, is actually not legally enforceable. This means that the party platform can be polemic (or more polemic as with our current state of politics) without too much controversy. This is useful for the average voter as they can expect general consistency among the Republican party and vote easily by party and not by candidate.

This year the party platform touched on a variety of issues but perhaps its most controversial stance was about social issues. Social issues like the LGBT community and Internet pornography. Besides the usual focus of traditional marriage and transgender rights (or lack thereof), there was a humorous focus on the dangers of Internet pornography. It read “Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions.” Again, this is not legally enforceable of any candidate but judging from the relatively little debate we can expect this to be one of the many stances taken by other Republican candidates.

Going back to the LGBT issues, Rhode Island delegate Giovanni Cicione had actually led a petition to replace much of the language used. By much, I meant practically all of it. Of the original 60 pages, Cicione sought instead to shrink it to 2 pages while avoiding divisive issues and avoiding strong polemic language. Again, for unity reasons as this will be seen as the general platform for all Republican candidates. Unfortunately, initial support was withdrawn and his push for a debate was denied. Cicione claimed that “The RNC is not interested in having floor debates on anything this year. It’s particularly tough given the fights over the rules and the nominee. This is not the year they want to be doing this.” This has been another consistent theme of frustration. Another protest held was by the group of delegates refusing to vote for Donald Trump.

What is a delegate exactly? A delegate is your representative at the Republican National Convention (assuming you voted Republican). A common misconception is that we vote for our nominees directly, instead we vote to tell our delegate how we want them to represent us. This is different from the Electoral College who essentially does the same job but instead during the formal Presidential election. Now the delegates have to represent you but because the party has been fractured and Donald Trump has been intensely controversial there was a protest. The protest essentially called for a roll call on the convention rules which sought to allow the delegates to drop their pledge and vote freely. Now while this most likely would not have succeeded, their goal was to publicly display their dismay with Donald Trump. And they did. On public television we were treated to what was little more than a shouting match between the Never Trump movement, joined by smaller movements of frustrated conservatives, against the Trump campaign and the RNC. Once order was restored and the formalities had been completed, we can begin talking about the speakers.

Aside from the protests and general frustration, I would like to remind our readers that the National Convention normally works to bring a sense of unity and pride to the Republican party as a whole and its voter base. Yes, really. As noted earlier, however, Donald Trump sought to revamp the general layout to be much more exciting. There was talk about Trump speaking at all four nights but they decided to maintain the traditional fourth night acceptance speech. What did end up happening was many major Republican players (by many I mean pretty much everyone) sought to distance themselves from the event entirely and we were treated to an eccentric cast of celebrities such as Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, Televangelist Mark Burns, Scott Baio of Happy Days, Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, and more. Compare this to Clint Eastwood speaking to a chair being the only major celebrity who spoke a the 2012 National Convention and you can begin to grasp how unique this is. Aside from the celebrities, we heard from various veterans and relatives of veterans, business individuals with varying degrees of obscurity, and the Republican politicians who remained.

Perhaps the most infamous speech was delivered by Melania Trump, due to the allegations of plagiarism. Aside from an inspirational and humanizing speech, Melania Trump was accused of plagiarizing content from First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. Initial responses suggested that the two women shared “very similar sentiments” or that the phrases were common enough to be found in a wide range of media, including My Little Pony. This claim didn’t come from a fringe source, it came from Republican National Committee Director of Communications Sean Spicer, who truly lives up to his last name. Eventually speechwriter Meredith McIver stepped forward to explain the mishap of Melania Trump sharing quotes from First Lady Michelle Obama and Meredith McIver mistakenly recording them as Melania’s own words. Of course, this is all assuming she even exists.

While New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did lead an exciting mock trial that led to a “Lock Her Up!” chant, which was repeated in protest at the Democratic National Convention, there was little surprise coming from a man who’s own state titled him a “bully“. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, however, did surprise us. Whereas Trump had initially sought to bar any speaker who did not endorse him, Ted Cruz actually ended up speaking and refused to endorse Trump. Instead, he made a plea for voters to “stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.” Which was predictably met with immediate protest from the crowd and harsh words from his fellow Republicans over the lack of party unity, which by now you should understand is a big deal.

Cue the dim lights, cue We Are the Champions by Queen, cue the roaring applause, cue Donald Trump. In an entrance that calls back his time with the WWE, we see Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump enter and take the stage. In one of the longest acceptance speeches of any major convention, lasting 75 minutes, we hear familiar themes and explosive rhetoric that will set the tone for his official Presidential run.

Exploring what he felt as the current American crisis, which even prompted President Barack Obama to respond, now official Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump expressed concern for American safety. Referencing the recent targeted police killings, Donald Trump appealed to respect for authority and the necessary use of force to maintain it. He continued by explaining how the current administration had failed the inner city and contributed to the numerous riots. Further exploring this crisis, Donald Trump blamed President Barack Obama for dividing the country and creating animosity towards the police force. He extended this argument towards our international presence and addressed immigration and Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s perceived failure as Secretary of State.

An interesting position, Donald Trump essentially argued that many of the issues transcend the current administration and are perpetuated by the status quo. Referencing former Democratic Presidential nominee Bernie Sanders, perhaps even referencing himself, Donald Trump explained that he “never had a chance” because the system was rigged in favor of maintaining the status quo. Highlighting his status as an outsider; Donald Trump painted himself as a change from the current system and free of the proverbial strings that control the other political puppets, primarily his opponent Hillary Clinton. This was a powerful position to defend as he spins the criticism of his lack of experience into a positive trait and appeals to the supporters of Bernie Sanders, some of which have actually been considering Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. It is important to remember that a lot of the appeal of Bernie Sanders came from his status as an outsider and this further developed during his campaign in the contrast between him and Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump sought to capitalize on this resentment and anger towards the Hillary Clinton and the status quo as a whole by highlighting his similarities with Bernie Sanders and reiterating his criticism towards her.

Donald Trump delivered a powerful and tactfully ingenious speech, which unfortunately failed. In a follow up Gallup poll, of those polled it was found that 51% were less likely to vote for Donald Trump following his acceptance speech which is the lowest ranking for a Republican Presidential nominee since 1984 when Gallup poll began asking the question. Though, when averaged, it was found that Donald Trump actually had a “net gain of 3 to 4 percentage points for Trump.” Which is still not impressive historically. Currently there is yet another protest, though again more symbolic in nature, seeking to strip Donald Trump of his official status as the Republican Presidential nominee. Even though a majority of the Republican base supports Donald Trump he is still far behind Hillary Clinton, by double digits in the most recent national poll. If the party remains fractured this could seriously undermine his campaign as he will have to deal with attacks from all sides.

I spoke a lot about unity, stressed its importance, but gave various examples of a lack of unity within the Republican party. Why is unity so important? Addressing similar fears within the Democratic party, the now infamous election of 2000 saw the rise of a the third party candidate Ralph Nader. Seen as a left wing candidate, Green party Presidential nominee Ralph Nader had effectively split the vote between himself and Democratic Presidential Nominee Al Gore. This lack of unity had caused the votes to be separated and Republican Presidential nominee George W. Bush to capitalize and win. Unity is important because a Presidential candidate needs more votes than their opponent to win, and any kind of loss or divide can result in a loss. While this is a simplified nightmare scenario, we can see very clearly a growing interest in third parties. Libertarian Presidential nominee Gary Johnson has enjoyed a recent surge in polls and Green party Presidential nominee Jill Stein has started gaining support from the former Bernie Sanders crowd and is increasingly being seen as an alternative to Hillary Clinton.

With this nightmare scenario becoming more likely one can begin to understand why various Republican officials are calling for unity and supporting Donald Trump when they initially felt animosity towards him. Though endorsements are complicated and strategic, they do serve to promote party loyalty and unity. The same way celebrity endorsements work, if you enjoy a politicians work you will begin to trust them and consider their endorsements more seriously. In the same vein, many Republicans who continue to symbolically protest Donald Trump are trying to portray themselves as the brave individuals who stood against Donald Trump when the rest of their party sold out. It is all one giant strategy game and individuals, like Ted Cruz not endorsing Donald Trump during his RNC speech, are seen as promoting self interest over party loyalty and unity. Their continued protest only works to further fracture the party and creating a nightmare scenario.

Returning to his acceptance speech, this was to be expected and might even energize his campaign. Painting himself as an outsider he is able to group all his criticism into a single entity for the status quo. Whether it be from his own party or his opponent’s, he can defend himself by explaining his opponent’s fear of change which will lend  Donald Trump credibility. Seeing as many voters are frustrated with the status quo, this is a gamble with a potentially Yuuuge payoff. As of now, it does not seem to be paying off. We now have the Presidential race to look forward to, and you are now caught up on the protests, drama, strategy, and memes from the Republican National Convention.

Victor Gatica

Victor Gatica is currently a graduate student at Stony Brook University pursuing his Master's in Political Science with a focus on Voter Behavior. With an added background in Psychology and Philosophy, Victor seeks to explain various topics in ways he wished they were explained to him.

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