Donald Trump Is Right: The GOP Convention Needs More ‘Showbiz’

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Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Hartford, Connecticut
If Trump were not a candidate, he'd be a pretty good consultant to have on hand in convention-planning sessions.Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh/2016 Getty Images

As I predicted last month, the question of who will have a role in planning the 2016 Republican National Convention is beginning to hang fire, with Donald Trump laying claim to some influence based on his current lead in delegates, according to the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa:

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Compounding the challenges facing organizers are the expectations of Donald Trump, who asserted in an interview that he should have at least partial control over programming, stagecraft and other issues by virtue of his front-runner status — even if he does not have the delegates to secure the nomination beforehand.

While everyone else quoted by Rucker and Costa scoffed at the idea Trump should have any say over the convention, it is entirely true that the “putative nominee,” not the RNC, normally scripts the whole show, and the Donald and Ted Cruz presently have some standing to insist on looking over Reince Priebus’s shoulder as preliminary plans for the Cleveland confab are developed (a process that begins this week at the RNC’s spring meeting). And while Cruz is presumably aligned with anti-Trump elements of the RNC and the Republican Establishment generally in the matter of undermining Trump’s control of the delegates bound to him on the first ballot, the Texan may be as suspicious as Trump of RNC convention planning. We’ll soon see. 

But aside from the issue of control, Trump is raising entirely legitimate issues about the look and feel of the convention:

Trump blasted the GOP’s last convention, in Tampa four years ago, as “the single most boring convention I’ve ever seen.” The billionaire real estate mogul and reality-television star said it was imperative that this year’s gathering have a “showbiz” quality — and he cast doubt on the ability of the Republican National Committee, which oversees the convention, to deliver.

It’s very important to put some showbiz into a convention, otherwise people are going to fall asleep,” Trump said in a 45-minute interview here last week in his Trump Tower office. “We don’t have the people who know how to put showbiz into a convention.”

That comment may draw some rueful laughter from those who anticipate that Cleveland will be a bloodbath of intra-party warfare. But barring that, yes, conventions for both parties have become pretty boring, precisely because they are usually so tightly scripted. And yes, Trump’s right: The kind of people who normally do the scripting have never much raised the production values of the “show” above that of a four-day infomercial. 

Seriously, think about it. Conventions are currently organized around a couple hundred (and even more than a couple hundred for the Democrats) politicians trooping up to a podium and speaking from a teleprompter. Drama is discouraged in the pursuit of message discipline, which frequently drifts over the line into message bondage. The occasional "real people" given podium time are effective for the very simple reason that they break the monotony — though even in those cases (as I can attest as a convention rehearsal-room regular) any kind of spontaneity is off limits.  

If Donald Trump were not a candidate for the presidency, he would be a pretty good person to have around at convention-planning sessions. As his campaign rallies attest, he has an instinctive understanding of the inherently fascistic atmosphere of adoring crowds regaling the Maximum Leader, which is precisely what conventions are intended to convey. And in the unpredictable atmosphere of Cleveland, where every decision on a speaker could have candidate-specific consequences, it might be smart to plan on a much higher entertainment-t0-substance ratio in the buildup to the apotheosis of the nominee than is normally the case. Bring on the Christian rock and C&W acts! Put some NASCAR drivers and celebrity chefs and Kardashians at the podium! Parade live elephants around the stage! Send in the clowns! Perhaps a good lively show will distract attention from the infighting and sausage-making going on off-camera, which could otherwise become the show. Nobody but us political writers really wants that to happen.