””

US Elections 2016: News analysis

Republicans fail to fulfil key goals at convention

They fail to broaden tent of party and unify it, ending up with cracks laid bare for all to see

After all the fears about the possibility of clashes among protesters outside the arena, the real tension and drama ended up unfolding right on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The four-day Republican confab turned out to be an approximate reflection of Mr Donald Trump's campaign - it was boisterous, angry and unpredictable, but also seemingly unflappable in the face of controversy.

Despite days of chaos and controversy, the convention barrelled through to its historic destination - the first time a political outsider has been nominated by a major party in over 75 years.

The four-day Republican confab turned out to be an approximate reflection of Mr Donald Trump's campaign - it was boisterous, angry and unpredictable, but also seemingly unflappable in the face of controversy.
The four-day Republican confab turned out to be an approximate reflection of Mr Donald Trump's campaign - it was boisterous, angry and unpredictable, but also seemingly unflappable in the face of controversy. PHOTO: REUTERS

Yet, observers say Republican leaders will likely look upon their big party with some regret.

They had two key goals going into last week - to broaden the tent of the party and and unify a splintered party. The party leaves Cleveland with both woefully unfulfilled.

 

The Republican Party has come out of what was supposed to be its grand show of unity with its cracks laid bare for all to see, while Mr Trump did little to allay fears that he does not have the discipline or organisational capacity to run a nationwide general election campaign.

 

And to the extent the convention serves as a preview of the general election, observers say what they learnt about Mr Trump's approach to the poll is that it will simply be a continuation of the free-wheeling approach to the primary.

 

"I think we've learnt that probably nothing will change," said Dr Barbara Perry, director of Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Centre. "We learnt that they are not organised and they, therefore, had a real problem pulling off this convention. So many things we know have gone awry."

In terms of party unity, cracks started to appear even before a single banner was hung or balloon inflated. A parade of top-level Republicans - including Mr John Kasich, the governor of the host state - announced they would be snubbing Mr Trump's big party.

And things only got worse from there. The first two days were dominated by unrest on the convention floor as the #NeverTrump movement made its last stand against the party nominee.

Pro- and anti-Trump delegates yelled at one another as those opposing the candidate did their best to try and derail the voting process that would confirm Mr Trump as the nominee.

But even on the third day, after the rebellion was successfully quelled, pandemonium erupted again as Senator Ted Cruz failed to endorse Mr Trump during his televised prime-time address.

"We haven't seen that kind of negativity for years on a convention floor," said Dr Melissa Miller from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. "It projected disunity to millions of viewers at home and around the world. This is a big problem for the Trump campaign and the Republican party more generally."

There were also basic technical and logistical failures - screens broke down, speeches were leaked and poor scheduling meant some speakers addressed near empty arenas.

Worse still was that through it all, the campaign had to contend with an embarrassing plagiarism scandal involving Mrs Melania Trump's speech.

All that meant that it was up to Mr Trump himself to salvage the convention with his closing speech. But a marathon address - one of the longest in the modern political era - meant it may not have had the desired impact.

"The build-up to Donald Trump's acceptance speech tonight was intense, but the final product ended up being pretty anti-climactic," said Mr Aaron Kall, the director of debate at the University of Michigan. "The Republican presidential nominee was upstaged by his own daughter, who provided a sunny and optimistic vision of America's future potential."

The convention was not without its moments. Mr Trump's children each delivered composed performances and speeches that balanced personal accounts of their father with their own political views. Indiana governor Mike Pence, Mr Trump's running mate, also proved himself to be a steady hand and someone who may be able to draw moderate Republicans back to the party.

The party did also find a rallying cry in its attacks against Mrs Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state was subjected to relentless attacks this past week from convention speakers in a clear indication of the direction the Trump campaign intends to take.

Some speakers, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, went so far as to devote their entire speeches to prosecuting the Democratic presidential candidate. And the favourite cheer of the convention crowd was "Lock her up!".

But here, too, there were questions of whether they may have overdone it.

Said Dr Miller: "An important goal of the campaign is to reach beyond the GOP base to appeal to moderates, independents and women. Such controversial chants may actually have projected anger and served only to galvanise the opposition."

Perhaps what is most worrying for the Republican party is that divisive conventions have tended to end in electoral defeat. Each time there has been a chaotic convention, the warring parties have ended up on the losing side in the general election.

The one thing Republicans may take heart in, of course, is that nothing about Mr Trump's campaign so far has stuck to the historical script.

As Dr Perry put it: "This campaign is not being run like a normal campaign, he is not a normal candidate and he is totally unprecedented and yet, he is leaving Cleveland with the nomination of the Republican Party when nobody thought he would be able to do it one year ago."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Republicans fail to fulfil key goals at convention'. Print Edition | Subscribe