It’s bizarre watching the Republican National Convention on TV and rooting for the podium to break free of its moorings or for the lights to go out or — can you imagine? — for a speaker to get caught plagiarizing in an address.
Typically in a presidential year, I’d be on the convention floor working. I’d be the guy knuckling back tears at the veterans’ speeches, nodding at talk of “one America.”
Thursday, I’ll be praying for Donald Trump to go off TelePrompTer, to start talking about his hands again to remind Americans how unfit he is to be president. It won’t happen. Trump will give an expertly crafted populist speech that will likely put him ahead in the battleground states. The speech writes itself: Islamic terrorism, Hillary Clinton’s email scandals, defense of police officers and the forgotten working-class American.
Unless Trump breaks character, there will be no humility and no contrition. Not even for his belittling of Sen. John McCain being shot down over Hanoi.
It stings to see faces at the convention who should know better than to be there. But there is solace in the rows of empty chairs. In them lies hope for eventual Republican Party renewal and survival. I see a future leader in every vacant seat.
This GOP doesn’t see it that way. There are murmurs of a party purge. Ivanka Trump told ABC News that no-shows “don’t want to be part of the future.” She couldn’t vote for her father in April’s New York primary. She wasn’t a registered Republican.
It’s excruciating to listen to the intermingling in Cleveland of sound conservative principles with the shifting sands of populism. They are being carelessly mixed in a bucket as the foundation of a new party that cannot last.
A party founded on the principle of equal rights under the law cannot bind with a nativist movement and survive. A party that believes in economic freedom, personal responsibility and constitutional limits on power cannot long sustain a standard-bearer who thinks nothing of walking away from debts and who boasts that he’ll make U.S. military leaders commit crimes.
That’s what I’ll be reminding myself of during tonight’s balloon drop. It’s why I won’t be taking home a balloon for my youngest daughter this year.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.