Having seized the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland, Donald Trump gestured, strutted, smirked and yelled at the nation for 75 minutes, and we pundits panned the performance, as we so often have.
If Trump wins in November – and he could – we would not be safer, more prosperous or more secure. But the wealthy son of a wealthy developer running his first political campaign is striking chords that Hillary Clinton and Democrats ignore at their peril.
From his rarefied and gilded world, Trump promises, with no details, to be our savior, give a hand up to laid-off workers and inner city dwellers, and protect us from hordes of criminal predators, illegal immigrants and radical Islamic terrorists.
“Beginning on January 20th of 2017, safety will be restored,” Trump declared, as if even the strongest of strongmen could possibly exert superhero powers.
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Trump assured the victims of the “rigged” system, otherwise known as the audience at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and millions more who watched in their living rooms, by telling them: “I am your voice.”
One who took it all in was Flint Dille. Like two-thirds of the Californians in Cleveland last week, he was attending his first Republican National Convention. Dille, 60, is a screenwriter and game designer from Westwood, who assumed Trump’s candidacy was a joke at first. But Dille soon saw that it wasn’t.
“In the Republican primaries, the guy played at a level that real people don’t play at,” he said.
Trump embraces the National Rifle Association’s endorsement. Dille doesn’t like guns. The 2016 Republican platform includes some of the most retrograde planks on gay rights and abortion, and Trump curries evangelicals’ favor. Dille has no interest in other people’s private lives. But Dille is convinced that if Trump is elected, he will kick over tables.
Trump plays to voters’ anger, but there’s more to his appeal. Trump is a showman who talks about the size of his hands, mocks political correctness, and uses free media and tweets while his opponents spent tens of millions of dollars on television ads that resonated with few voters.
No expert thought Trump had a chance of winning six months ago. But think of what else Trump has accomplished, not the least of which is producing a long-running hit television show.
“Imagine the complexity of building a building in Manhattan,” Dille said. He would have dealt with a huge number of permits, unions, maybe criminal elements, NIMBYs and Democratic politicians.
To understand part of Donald Trump’s appeal, Dille urged that I rewatch the convention speech by Willie Robertson, the “Duck Dynasty” executive who wore a red, white and blue bandanna and derided “media experts” who have been “so wrong about so much for so long.”
His explanation: “They don’t hang out with regular folks like us who like to hunt and fish and pray and actually work for a living,” as if shooting ducks is work for anyone other than the dog. The multimillionaire Duck mogul said the billionaire showman understands the plight of downtrodden Americans.
“If you’re an average American who feels like you’ve been forgotten, neglected by faraway leaders, that the deck is stacked against you and you just can’t win, Donald Trump will have your back,” Robertson said.
Trump invited Robertson to the convention for a reason, just as he invited his friend, Dana White, of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and his liaison to African American voters, Omarosa Manigault, she of “Apprentice” fame.
I have never watched “The Apprentice” or “Duck Dynasty,” and UFC is lost on me. But Trump has an understanding of people who are fans. He “fired” Manigault but would invite her back because, as she recalled, the showman would say: “We make great television together.”
To the eyes of veterans of national conventions, Trump’s convention was chaotic, mismanaged and notable for the no-shows: the Bushes, Mitt Romney, John McCain, John Kasich, among others.
The Republican National Convention of Donald Trump was not the sort of infomercial-convention to which we’ve grown accustomed, the type we will witness in Philadelphia this week. Trump’s convention was slick like a reality show. It was no accident that delegates chanted “lock her up” and booed Sen. Ted Cruz.
“The Republican Party is not going to be what it was before,” Dille said.
Nor will the November campaign. Trump is trying to reach voters beyond the base. He is a demagogue on immigration issues and his latest threat to turn his back on NATO allies will embolden Vladimir Putin. But Democrats who dismiss his backers as racists and know-nothings insult thoughtful Trump supporters like Dille and others who, as yet, are undecided.
Trump, the billionaire who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates, portrays himself as the outsider and Clinton, the first woman to capture a major party nomination, as the defender of the establishment.
Clinton has been involved in politics for her entire adult life. She and her advisers are the best in the business of campaigns, as we have known them. She is disciplined and scripted and spends tens of millions of dollars on television ads and yet is mired in a statistical tie with Trump.
Trump’s script seems to change as he goes along. It looks to be chaotic and a little crazy. And people are having a hard time not watching. It is, as he would say, good television.