The Cleveland Congress of the Grand Old Party in Ohio will make the history books. Not only because Donald J. Trump, the alleged outsider, real estate mogul and reality TV star, was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate – it was also a Congress of internal disunity, blunders and anger. A demonstration of the support for Trump granted by his Family & Co. Finally, it was also an example of how the party is drifting further away from the traditional Republican principles.
It could have been the convention of unity and motivation. However, already at the beginning it became apparent that the primaries and in particular Donald Trump’s legendary insults and abuse have left some deep wounds. John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, had announced that while he recognizes the convention to be in held in his county, he would not appear at the stage. As a result, the Ohio delegates were displaced to the seats at the very back. Trump’s opponents among the delegates were booed out during the disputes about the convention proceedings.
On the stage, there were very few prominent Republicans: Scott Walker, Wisconsin Governor, delivered direct addresses to the delegates. Marco Rubio (the Florida Senator) was, however, present only via a live video. Remarkably, the name of Donald Trump was mentioned only once in both speeches.
The turmoil was nothing less but a split the GOP broadcasted in the prime time to the homes of US voters. While Ted Cruz was greeted with a huge, even frenetic applause at the beginning, the last words of the Texas senator were hardly audible in the storm of boos as he refused to support Donald Trump for president. The next day, Ted Cruz was even more explicit: he could not support anyone who had insulted his wife and his father. Whether this was a bold move by Cruz to position himself as a guardian of the conservative principles and hence secure a better position for the 2020 elections, remains a speculation. Respected as a conservative hardliner, but personally widely unpopular, Cruz is now perceived by large part of the party as a traitor.
Already at the very beginning, Donald Trump broke the old traditions by appearing on the stage and presented his wife Melania in a James-Bond-style. Otherwise, he was true to himself as a demagogue: Obama and especially Hillary Clinton, have led the US to its deepest crisis. He blamed “illegal outsiders” who imported crime and drugs and took jobs away from the true Americans. The next to be blamed was free trade since it allegedly destroys jobs or drives them away from the country. He would stop all of that by building a wall and punishing companies outsourcing jobs outside of the United States.
He also repeated his remarks on NATO, which previously caused a sensation in Europe: the US would help only those who contribute with its own fair share as an ally. And as for the Islamic state – according to Trump, the consequence of the false Clinton’s foreign policy – he will defeat it soon after taking office in January 2017. His recipe for strengthening the US was short and easy, and hit the cord with the mood of the delegates and spectators in Cleveland: “We just have to believe in ourselves, then we can do it. I am your (people’s) voice”. And: “I can fix it”.
It is not for the first time that a Republican presidential candidate had promised “to make America great again” – Ronald Reagan has already made this promise back in 1980 in Detroit. But the contrast to Donald Trump in Cleveland in 2016 could not be greater. Where Reagan drew an optimistic picture, the vision of an open internal and external company, Donald Trump was playing with fears, promising to foreclose the country. Trump breaks away from much of what once characterized the Republican Party.
It remains to be seen at the beginning of November if his strategy of fearmongering, stigmatization of scapegoats, and scolding of the so-called Establishment will be appealing enough to the enraged voters. For the future and the unity of the Republican party and, for that matter, the future of the whole nation, this could prove highly problematic, to say the least.