How Trump Created the Anti-Convention

Donald Trump Republican National Convention, Cleveland, USA - 18 Jul 2016 (Rex Features via AP Images)
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There have been so many times through the on-going Trump spectacle where any observer could credibly say, ‘This would never be credible in fiction.’ Undoubtedly true and there will certainly be more of those times – probably more than we can imagine. But there is a particular way that is true about this convention that may not be entirely obvious. Good, credible storytelling is seldom so obviously, even woodenly didactic. Just as the paradigmatic American political convention devotes one night each to four of the candidate’s essential campaign themes or personal traits, each night of Trump’s debacle has been dedicated to graphically exploding one of his myths about himself.

Trump hires the best people!

The Melania plagiarism blow up is close to meaningless in itself. Politicians don’t write their own speeches and certainly not family members – especially not ones who are not native speakers of the language. But the eye-popping unforced error functioned as a set piece or mini-drama illustrating how Trump’s ‘best people’ myth was yet another fraud.

Everything we’ve seen about Trump suggests that what characterizes the people who work for him isn’t talent but sycophancy. Certainly there must be many people who work for Trump who have real talent. But even they seem routinely undermined by the chronic tension and disorganization which surrounds Trump and which appears to grow from his own intuitive/impulsive personality.

Let’s walk through the Melania drama.

Jared Kusher, Trump’s son-in-law, who seems half part of the Trumpian world, sought out two high reputation Republican speechwriters to craft a top notch speech for his mother-in-law. Melania Trump saw it and rejected it – apparently without ever telling the two Bush era speechwriters what had happened. According to published reports, they only learned that most or all of their work had been tossed aside when they heard her present the speech on live television.

After ditching the original draft, Melania then brought in a Trump Organization staffer who helps write Trump’s now numerous shlock memoirs. The Art of the Deal may not be your taste in literature. But it was hugely successful. For the genre it must have been well-authored. I’ve looked at some of the recent titles. It’s sad. They are the Trump Steaks to Trump Tower. So Melania and Meredith McIver went to work writing the speech – one who speaks English as a second language and another who may never have written a speech before, certainly not at the level of a prime time address at a presidential nominating convention. (Note that at least once before Trump has used McIver as a fallgal to justify one of his own deceits.) Somehow in the process they managed to plagiarize a significant chunk of a speech by not just anyone but by the last women to ascend to the First Ladyship eight years ago. Was it Melania for whatever reason and McIver didn’t have her back? Or was it McIver because she’s out of her depth, an amateur or has some damaged personality of her own that led her to do it? Who knows? Both storylines tell any equally devastating tale.

Somehow on top of this, the work of these two people, neither of whom had any experience with the task at hand went straight to the teleprompter as the featured address at a national party political convention. This is not remotely how it works. The headline speeches are poured over by numerous people, research-checked, proofed, checked for even the hint of inappropriate duplication. That may be overkill. It ain’t like the old days when Abraham Lincoln wrote out the lapidary Gettysburg Address longhand. But it’s why you’ve never before seen the kind of epic embarrassment we witnessed Monday night.

I cannot pretend that this single story encapsulates everything about the Trump Organization and Trump’s management ability. But if you wanted to craft a story that painted both in the worst possible light this would certainly be it. Established talent casually tossed aside, a critical task left to two totally inexperienced people and then somehow a complete lack of organizational oversight or management that failed to catch the runaway train before impact.

If we go by the lessons of this spectacle which was broadcast to millions, Trump doesn’t ‘hire the best people.’ The best people get tossed aside in favor of people of indifferent talent who are retained because of loyalty and sycophancy. These shortcomings are compounded by a lack of organization or management which is always the safeguard for the errors or individual shortcomings of even the most talented and professional people. All of it leads to needless public humiliations on the largest of stages.

Trump Makes the Best Deals!

Every high-profile speech at a presidential convention – certainly with high profile political actors – is tightly negotiated. That is even more the case with a one-time political foe. Trump had very little need for Ted Cruz to speak. Being shut out by almost everyone else is a big problem. But Cruz not appearing would have been no worse than Rubio or Bush or Kasich or others.

We can only speculate what the ‘deal’ was or just what was promised. But the end result is very, very clear. Trump somehow allowed a man who is not at all well-liked among party regulars and had virtually no chips in his hand to get on the stage in prime time and humiliate him before millions of people and more or less blow up the whole convention.

This is the man who constantly rails against the “stupid” people in our government who let the Chinese and other “crafty” foreigners steal our lunch and humiliate us in front of the world. They are, you’ll remember, laughing at us. We don’t win any more so we can’t be great. But Trump will fix that. Yet here we have Trump, the self-professed ballbreaker, the master of cutting the best deal, get – only the vulgarity will do Trump justice – just fucked by Ted Cruz in front of millions, or schlonged as Trump memorably put it. And all this when Trump had all the cards and Cruz had none.

Again, is this emblematic of every Trump negotiation? I can’t know that. But if you were writing this screenplay and you wanted a storyline that exploded the ‘dealmaker’ myth almost beyond imagining, this would be it. And that was night three.

What can we possibly expect from tonight? I’ve learned my lesson trying to anticipate the level of nonsense and chaos Trump can produce. But part of it I think we can already see. Trump insisted last night that Cruz’s stunt was “No Big Deal!” But the fact that he’s spent the 24 hours before what will likely be the biggest speech of his life ranting against someone who came in a distant second in the primaries rather than making the case for himself or against his actual opponent pretty clearly gives the lie to that claim.

As we’ve discussed before, Trump’s brand is dominance. He knows that Cruz dominated him last night. That not only eviscerates the brand it just as clearly unleashes a fearsome and destabilizing emotional turmoil within the man.

It’s hard to believe that Trump won’t spend a good deal of his time or at least much of his emotional energy tonight making the case not against Hillary Clinton but lashing out at Ted Cruz, a man who is irrelevant to Trump politically but hurt him in a devastating way. As I write this, I hesitate because it is impossible to imagine that tonight of all night’s Trump and his handlers can’t keep him literally and figuratively on script. After all, a convention speech is literally reading a script. And yet Trump’s Razor confronts us: the stupidest possible outcome must be the one to bet on.

We can’t know how tonight will turn out. Perhaps it will be another teleprompter speech – mild and predictable in contrast to the pageant of ferocious and unbridled. But in one way or another it seems quite likely that Trump will close by exploding the ultimate Trump myth, that of the permanent winner, the guy who always dominates and is never dominated, who demands submission and gets it. He has managed to create something entirely new, the anti-convention, a thematically organized four day dismemberment of his own personal narrative and most elemental campaign promises. Tonight he will most likely dismember himself, undo the core story he tells everyone endlessly but most especially himself. And all that because at heart he is weak and insecure. Cruz hurt him more than he’ll ever be able to admit.

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