CLEVELAND — Like partners in a shotgun marriage, Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s establishment have been preaching unity this week in hopes of enabling their uneasy new partnership to thrive.
But many well-known members of the “family” stayed away from the party and remain un-reconciled to the union. And not all celebrants seem focused on its principal goal, producing the next president.
Both House Speaker Paul Ryan — who acknowledged just Monday that Trump is “not my kind of conservative” — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell concentrated Tuesday night speeches on their legislative agendas before declaring that Trump’s presidency would speed their enactment.
“None of this will happen under Hillary Clinton,” said Ryan. “Only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence will we have a chance to get ‘A Better Way,’” referring to his recently unveiled program.
“With Donald Trump in the White House, we’ll build on the work we’ve done,” echoed McConnell, who, unlike Ryan, mostly denounced Clinton.
In fact, the evening took on a fiercely anti-Clinton tone that seemed to acknowledge that opposing Clinton drives GOP unity more than supporting Trump. It was exemplified by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s fiery speech “prosecuting” her for alleged personal and political misdeeds, sparking chants of “guilty” and “lock her up” throughout Quicken Loans Arena.
And it underscored the official Republican line — that the election is, as Ryan says, a “binary choice,” and Trump needs to be elected. Still, the convention has repeatedly displayed the discord that plagued the GOP throughout its acrimonious nominating battle — and since.
One of its few totally positive presentations — Monday night’s well-received speech by Trump’s wife, Melania — was overshadowed by controversy over inclusion of two paragraphs from a similar 2008 speech by Michelle Obama.
Displays of disunity surfaced even before the first gavel fell, as Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort trashed the host governor, Ohio’sJohn Kasich, as an “embarrassment” for refusing to back Trump or appear at the convention. Kasich’s response? “I laughed,” the popular governor told NBC News’Lester Holt.
Manafort also labeled the most prominent absent family members “part of the past,” presumably its two living ex-presidents, George H. W. Bush and son George W. Bush, and most recent presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain.
But absentees also included many governors besides Kasich, and most GOP senators facing tough re-election races. Most prominent Republican minority office-holders — Govs. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Susanna Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — are not speaking at the convention, though Wednesday night’s program included Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the latter by video.
Discord flared 15 minutes into Monday’s opening session, when many delegates shouted “no” on a vote confirming McConnell as temporary chairman; a day later, he was welcomed with audible boos.
Then, party leaders bungled their quashing of a revolt by conservative Trump critics on the rules, angering the insurgents, mostly conservatives who backed Cruz. Former North Dakota Republican Chairman Gary Emineth of North Dakota quit Trump’s National Finance Committee. Colorado’sKendal Unruh, chief advocate of a move to let delegates vote their conscience, said she would boycott both nominees and vote for Ronald Reagan.
Later, poor schedule management pushed Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s speech out of prime television time.
On Tuesday, things went more smoothly. Tiffany Trump and Donald Trump Jr. made strong cases for their father. But a subdued reaction greeted Trump’s formal nomination, and the roll-call vote illustrated the extent of division: 721 delegates voted for Cruz, Kasich and four other former Trump rivals.
Also, party leaders angered Alaska, Utah and District of Columbia delegates by ruling that their votes must be cast for Trump, even though their Republican voters opposed him.
Besides anti-Clinton sentiment, the most evident unifying factor is Trump’s seemingly reluctant choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, confirmed Tuesday without dissent. Ryan said he “helps tremendously” in solidifying support from social conservatives.
But there has been no effort to reach out beyond the party’s base, especially given a platform reiterating traditionally conservative positions opposing abortion rights and same-sex marriage while adding support for some Trump stances like building a wall to block illegal immigration.
As a result, despite the positive internal impact of Pence and the visceral opposition to Clinton, even a great Trump acceptance speech probably won’t prevent him from leaving Cleveland with a still shakily united family and a lost opportunity to expand it.
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Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: [email protected]