Republican Convention Roundup, Part 1

Jonathan Last makes a good case that the national political conventions this year won’t matter, that they won’t be a turning point in the election. They usually aren’t. To the extent people look at the events and speeches from the conventions, it’s mostly just to rationalize the decision they were always leaning toward. And in this election, there’s evidence that there are fewer undecided voters than usual.

But conventions still provide some interesting evidence about the direction of each party, because they show us how each ideological coalition us currently balanced and what part of its agenda the party’s leadership wants to emphasize. Last week, we learned that the Democratic Party wants to be seen as moderate and inoffensive, as a return to normal—though as we will see, somebody forgot to tell that to the rank-and-file of the left.

How about the Republicans? We’re two days into the Republican convention, but the most important thing that has happened so far happened before the convention even began.

Republicans De-Platform Themselves

What does the Republican Party stand for in the era of Trump? I think we just got our answer.

The day before the convention began, the Republican National Committee made a startling announcement about the party’s official 2020 platform: They’re not going to have one.

The official excuse is that the pandemic and the inability to hold large meeting made it impossible to draft a platform. Yet somehow the Democrats managed to do so. More interesting is the admission that the platform is meaningless and all for show anyway: “All platforms are snapshots of the historical contexts in which they are born, and parties abide by their policy priorities, rather than their political rhetoric.” They then attach the party’s 2016 platform, which makes no mention of the coronavirus pandemic, policing, violent protests, or any of the other issues of the 2020 election.

The only substance that remains in the announcement is this: “The RNC, had the Platform Committee been able to convene in 2020, would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party’s strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration.” So the de facto 2020 platform is to embrace Trump’s second-term agenda, whatever that might happen to be.

Trump himself has been rather notoriously unable to articulate a second-term agenda, though it seems his aides have hastily cobbled one together. But let’s face it. Donald Trump’s second-term agenda is to continue to be Donald Trump.

More to the point, the Republican Party’s 2020 platform is to continue to defend whatever it is Donald Trump chooses to say or do. We’ve been warning for a while that Trump has been turning the Republican Party into nothing more than a vehicle for his vanity and ambition. This makes it official.

Check out an overview by Tim Alberta—one of the better journalists who covers the conservative movement–on the ideological disarray of the Republican coalition.

Earlier this month, while speaking via Zoom to a promising group of politically inclined high school students, I was met with an abrupt line of inquiry. “I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand,” said one young man, his pitch a blend of curiosity and exasperation. “What do Republicans believe? What does it mean to be a Republican?”

You could forgive a 17-year-old, who has come of age during Donald Trump’s reign, for failing to recognize a cohesive doctrine that guides the president’s party. The supposed canons of GOP orthodoxy—limited government, free enterprise, institutional conservation, moral rectitude, fiscal restraint, global leadership—have in recent years gone from elastic to expendable. Identifying this intellectual vacuum is easy enough. Far more difficult is answering the question of what, quite specifically, has filled it….

When I pressed, [Frank] Luntz sounded as exasperated as the student whose question I was relaying. “Look, I’m the one guy who’s going to give you a straight answer. I don’t give a sh–. I had a stroke in January, so there’s nothing anyone can do to me to make my life suck,” he said. “I’ve tried to give you an answer and I can’t do it. You can ask it any different way. But I don’t know the answer. For the first time in my life, I don’t know the answer.”…

“Owning the libs and pissing off the media,” shrugs Brendan Buck, a longtime senior congressional aide and imperturbable party veteran if ever there was one. “That’s what we believe in now. There’s really not much more to it.”…

“Healthy parties need to build coalitions around a shared vision that speaks to all Americans,” [Senator Ben] Sasse told me. “Our current course is unsustainable. We’ve got a hell of a rebuilding ahead of us, whatever happens in November.”

Sasse spent the last year or so in hiding when it comes to his opinion on Donald Trump, in order to survive his party’s primary, and now he’s positioning himself as one of the leading lights who will rebuild the party “whatever happens in November.” I’ve talked to Sasse, and I like him. He’s about as close as you get to a thinker by the standards of politicians, and we could do a lot worse. But it’s usually a mistake to look for profiles in courage in the field of politics.

The Kenosha Convention

Day one of the Republican convention—and a good portion of Wednesday night—came to us live from Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Not literally, of course. Literally, most of it is being broadcast from what looks like the interior of a cavernous mausoleum—Neoclassical, of course—Washington, DC. But they were in Kenosha in spirit, because that is what they see as the state of the entire country.

The dominant theme of the first night of the convention was to warn us of what one article aptly sums up as the “Marxist hellscape” that Joe Biden and the Democratic Party will supposedly impose on the country.

The rest of this edition is available only by e-mail to paid subscribers.