One of the handy things about being president of the United States is that if you decide to run for a second term, you pretty much control your party’s machinery, particularly if (as is emphatically the case with Donald Trump) you still have a good grip on both elected officials and rank-and-file. That makes the quadrennial informercial of the national party convention a particularly rich opportunity for orchestrated sycophancy.
Given the 45th president’s background in showbiz, and his resplendently high opinion of his place in history, it’s not surprising that even at this very early date his people are planning a coronation like no other at the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. There’s another factor as well: a desire in Trumpland to obliterate memories of the discordant 2016 convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in which the identity of the nominee was not in doubt but the dynamics of the event — highlighted by a defiantly noncompliant speech from primary runner-up Ted Cruz — often veered far off message. As Politico explains, nothing like that will be allowed in Charlotte:
President Donald Trump is tightening his iron grip on the Republican Party, launching an elaborate effort to stamp out any vestiges of GOP opposition that might embarrass him at the 2020 Republican convention…
Shortly before the holidays, Trump political aides Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, the organizers of the project, held a national conference call with Republican state party chairs, who traditionally play an outsize role in picking delegates. Last week, the two advisers began having one-on-one calls with the state chairs to describe the campaign’s mission and discuss various circumstances in each state.
“The goal is to have the convention be an advertisement of who we are as a party, as a unified party, to 300-plus million Americans, not an internal battle of the 15,000 people in the arena,” Stepien said.
This early outreach and planning initiative is apparently an alternative to the more radical idea broached by some zealous MAGA fans of canceling primaries and declaring Trump the nominee by party-wide assent. But in either event, it’s clear the president’s supporters want to stamp out any vestige of #NeverTrump influence — or indeed, the notion that there is a Republican Party separate from him that will endure when he has passed from the scene. So you can expect Charlotte to be a marvel of tightly controlled precision, or to put it another way, everything the Trump presidency itself has emphatically failed to achieve in the way of organized purposefulness.
The enterprise is part of a broader takeover of the party machinery heading into 2020. Among the Trump team’s other steps is incorporating the reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee into a single, streamlined entity — an unprecedented arrangement.
So no one will be allowed within miles of the podium in Charlotte who is not willing to sign hymns of praise to The Boss. That also presumably means the sort of uniform convention-message template that might as well be tattooed on every speaker, officiant, delegate, and Fox News representative. Any spontaneity will be reserved for Trump himself, and possibly his convention-week Twitter account.
With this sort of lead time, the convention planners will also have abundant opportunities to paint the false picture of a party that is as diverse as the country it seeks to rule — a major organizing principle in past Republican conventions, where black and brown and female speakers followed each other to the podium to regale an overwhelmingly white male audience with their 100 percent scripted thoughts. It will be interesting to see if Trump’s wire-pullers bother to do that, or will instead glory in the monochromatic nature of a party where the people who made America great still walk tall.
One other advantage for the president’s party is that by tradition it can choose the date of its convention first. And as is generally the case, it chose to go later than the opposition. Democrats will hold their convention on July 13–16 (the site has yet to be determined, though finalists are Houston, Miami, and Milwaukee). The Republican Convention will be held on August 24–27, after the distraction of the Olympic Games but before Labor Day.
Even as Republicans plan a convention where not a sparrow will fall to the ground unless it’s in the script, Democrats could have a very disorganized affair. Indeed, given the immense Democratic presidential field that seems to be forming, and Democrats’ insistence on strictly proportional delegate awards in primaries and caucuses, alongside a reduced role for the unelected superdelegates who might otherwise seal the deal, it’s possible the Donkey Party could finally produce the contested convention pundits fantasize about every four years. Even if someone has all but nailed down the nomination by Memorial Day, Democrats won’t be inclined to (even if they can) stamp out free speech entirely at their convention. So it’s likely that Team Trump will work overtime to draw contrasts between their smooth unity — again, so out of character with the atmosphere in the White House —and the sloppiness of the opposition. Given the president’s persistent unpopularity, they will need all the angles they can find.