Trump’s convention train wreck continues

Steven Biel: I’m a card-carrying, Prius-driving, tree-hugging, Ani DiFranco-listening liberal, but last night I felt a strange and disturbing feeling of affection come over me for a man I’ve loathed for years: Sen. Ted Cruz. As a hard-core #NeverTrump Republican, what did you think of his big middle finger to Donald Trump?

Lance Dutson: If Ted Cruz wasn’t the slimiest, most untrustworthy demagogue in recent American political history, it would be easier to cheer him on. That being said, I’m not sure what Trump expected to happen after spending months personally and viciously ridiculing Cruz and his family.

Steven: It’s amazing. Here we are on final day of the Republican National Convention, and so far they’ve squandered the entire week. First it took them three days to deal with Melania’s plagiarism debacle. Then last night Mike Pence’s big roll-out was completely overshadowed by Ted Cruz.

And it’s not like Cruz helped himself politically. It’s hard to imagine him recovering politically after getting booed off the stage at the Republican National Convention. Am I watching this through blue-colored glasses? Has this been as much of a disaster for the GOP as it seems to me?

Lance: It’s such a disaster it’s kind of hilarious. And if Trump wins, this will be American politics for the next four years. The Three Stooges proved long ago that incompetence can be awfully entertaining to watch, and I think the only sane way to process this is to view it as entertainment at this point. And maybe at the end of the day Trump accomplishes what Grover Norquist has fantasized about for decades–drowning our American government in a bathtub.

Steven: So it’s a disaster, but Trump could still win. I guess that’s just a testament to how politically damaged Hillary Clinton is at this point. It’s hard to imagine that a candidate like, say, Barack Obama wouldn’t be consistently polling 15-20 points ahead of this guy. Any generic Democrat should be at least 10 points up.

What’s your reaction to the intense Clinton hate from the floor? The constant chanting of “lock her up” feels very banana republic, and the raw hate can’t be attractive to swing voters.

Lance: It’s kind of creepy, but I don’t think it’s that out of the ordinary for a party convention. I think you could find quite a bit of ‘war criminal’ rhetoric about the Bush administration in past Democratic conventions. None of it is really heartwarming, but these are activists in a sea of like-minded people and that can get folks really off their rockers sometimes.

But you make a good point. This election will hinge on the undecided middle, and the Republican populists that have brought us the Trump fiasco seem especially numb to that point. I’m a Republican and I can barely stand to watch these folks. I can’t imagine what an independent or centrist Democrat must feel when they see this stuff on TV.

Steven: Funny. You and I are having the exact same experience but from opposite sides. You’re watching this convention thinking about how a candidate like Rubio would be using this week to put your party’s best foot forward and bury Clinton in the polls.

And I’m shaking my head about how somehow Democrats nominated the only person with negatives almost as bad as Trump’s. This is why I supported the “Draft Elizabeth Warren” campaign and wanted to see rising stars of the party like Cory Booker and Deval Patrick get in the race. We have half a dozen candidates who would crush Trump going away, and you have half a dozen who would pretty easily beat Clinton.

Of course Trump is speaking tonight, and if he hits it out of the park, he can still make people forget the earlier gaffes and make this a reasonably successful convention. Do you think he cam pull it off?

Lance: I think he can. For all his faults, this guy is a talented entertainer, and I’d be surprised with all the pre-scrutiny if he can’t hold it together for one hour. Hillary needs him to screw up tonight, and then she’s got to run a picture-perfect convention. If those two things happen, I imagine she’ll start to pull away.

Steven: I’m just waiting to see if the crowd moves on from “lock her up” to the more traditional “stone her!” or “burn her at the stake!” As for the DNC, I’m afraid we’re headed for something less than picture perfect if the rumors are correct and she’s about to pick either Tim Kaine or Tom Vilsack as her running mate. They might be the only two politicians in America less interesting than Mike Pence. Are we sure it’s not too late for a constitutional amendment to just let Obama run again?

Lance: Forget Obama. Hillary should take a note from House of Cards and put Bill on the ticket with her.

I’m joking of course, but one thing that really surprises me about Hillary’s struggles right now is how little she seems to be benefiting from the halcyon days of the first Clinton administration.  Bill’s presidency was full of things to hate–interns, selling nuclear technology to North Korea, and maybe most of all Al Gore. Nevertheless, history has cast those eight years as a golden era of prosperity, and I think most Americans would trade the last two administrations for that stretch of relative calm and economic growth.

Further, in dangerous times like this, people tend to choose the known versus the unknown. On paper, the Hillary/Bill machine has seen it all, from the presidency to the Senate to the State Department. They were there first for the rise and then for the fall of Osama bin Laden. They presided over a successful war in Kosovo and not-so-successful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were in charge during the tech boom in the late 90s and continued to be an important part of the debate after the economic collapse of 2008.

Donald Trump meanwhile has been spending his time harassing Miss America contestants or talking about his wife’s private parts on the Howard Stern show. Hillary’s made a lot of questionable decisions, but Trump is on-record endorsing most of them. There’s really no logical reason to think Trump would be a better president, either through judgment or experience. That being said, Hillary appears to be enjoying almost no bump from the first Clinton administration. It’s her most obvious positive selling point, but for some reason her campaign has failed to leverage it.

Steven: I’m sure we’ll be hearing plenty next week about how much better the country did under Clinton and Obama than under Bush. Whether that’s what a country hungry for change really wants–we shall see.

Left Brain Right Brain

About Left Brain Right Brain

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party. Steven Biel is a former campaign director for and president of the Portland-based political consulting firm Steven Biel Strategies, which provides digital campaign support to organizations including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Courage Campaign, and Environment America.