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The Unconventional Convention

Over four days, Americans witnessed a Republican convention like no other in history. Takeaways, analysis, and impressions from the convention floor

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Former Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe on Trump’s prospects in November: “Trump could still win with zero votes among minorities as long as he gets 70% of whites” (Photos: AFP/Imagebank)

Part I: Takeaways 
“Let’s Defeat Her”

For those who watched hours of GOP convention coverage and walked away with the impression that it was a grim, morbid affair, replete with scare tactics that ISIS is coming and other such warmongering, Donald Trump had this to say: “If you want to hear corporate spin, the carefully crafted lies, and the media myths — the Democrats are holding their convention next week. But here at our convention there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else.” 

During his acceptance speech, Trump kept the hamming it up to a minimum, but Trump is Trump, and in an address that lasted more than an hour, he turned profile a few times after applause and ovation lines, joined in with chants of “USA, USA,” flashed a few thumbs-up signs, and clearly relished the moment he’s been waiting for since he announced his candidacy last June. 

Taking a more nuanced approach on immigration, Trump said he would bar migrants from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until a new vetting mechanism has been put in place. Until then, he said: “We don’t want them in our country.” 

In his one and only reference to Israel, Trump said, to protect the US from terrorism, it must have the best intelligence-gathering system in the world. “We must abandon the failed policy of state building and regime change. Instead we must work with all of our allies who share our goals. This includes working with our greatest ally in the region, the State of Israel.” 

In a full frontal attack on Hillary Clinton, Trump asked Americans to review her record, which he called “a legacy of death, terror, destruction, and weakness. But Hillary Clinton’s legacy doesn’t have to be America’s legacy.” 

Trump’s best moment came when delegates started chanting, “Lock her up.” In deadpan fashion, Trump looked at the crowd and said: 

“Let’s defeat her in November."



But Can They?

Republicans who spent the week banging the table on the Anyone but Hillary bandwagon will find those tables turned on them in the fall election, says Katie Packer, Mitt Romney’s deputy campaign manager in 2012.

“I don’t think that’s a winning message in a national election,” Packer said at a Politico Hub gathering at downtownCleveland’s City Club. “Except for rabid Republicans, the rest of the country doesn’t hate Hillary.”

Trump often ridiculed Romney during the primary campaign, calling him a “loser,” but Packer says Trump would be better served internalizing the conclusions from the “2012 autopsy” the Republican National Committee conducted after Romney’s defeat. That report called on Republicans to become more inclusive and cultivate female, black, and Hispanic voters. “This is not a party that people beyond our base want to join,” Packer said.

However, the geopolitical earthquakes of the last four years, especially the tidal wave of global Islamic jihad, have rendered some sections of the autopsy dead on arrival.

The section recommending a kinder and gentler immigration policy is certainly a nonstarter, said Jeff Roe, who managed Ted Cruz’s primary campaign.

Roe contends Trump can win in November by increasing his share of the white male turnout by 3.1% from Romney’s 59% showing in 2012, as long he holds Romney’s numbers among minorities.

And if not? “Trump could still win with zero votes among minorities as long as he gets 70% of whites.”

Topping Romney’s numbers would be a major achievement for the Trump campaign, especially considering its get-out-the-vote infrastructure is still lacking. Plus, Trump is challenged by Hillary’s strength among white college-educated voters: some 60% of college-educated whites consider the Donald unqualified to be president. Roe says Hillary Clinton’s messaging to this battleground group has sunk in.

“The Democrats’ whole campaign is about making him look dangerous and unsteady,” Roe told me.

Asked how Trump can counterattack, Roe replied: “Mike Pence is a good start. Teleprompters are a good start. So is showing some flashes of constitutional rule of law and supporting basic freedoms.”

While Trump’s tough-guy messaging might entice some white Democrats to crossover, top Republicans who have been bankrolling the party for years aren’t writing checks for Trump; in fact, many have already written out checks for Hillary, says Rich Tafel, founder of Public Squared, a strategy company for social entrepreneurs and a senior fellow at the Institute for Cultural Evolution, based in Boulder, Colorado.

“I do a lot of work on the future of the political right, and in this election, Republicans are saying, ‘I’m homeless.’ ”

Tafel said he rejects the narrative that the party elites are out of touch with the average GOP voter. “It’s not just the elites,” Tafel said. “It’s Republicans who care about religious freedom and how minorities are treated. There’s an anxiety about the party becoming a white-nationalist party. Winning a race like that in a pluralistic country is very dangerous, no matter how this election turns out.”

Is the new face of the Republican Party under Donald Trump a disaster for the party, a passing fad, or the future of the GOP?

“Trump has come along and captured lightning in a bottle,” Katie Packer says. “We have to wait and see if he succeeds. If he doesn’t, there will be a real effort to decide if we’re a party of principles or a party of anger on a couple of issues.”

Unenthusiastic as she is about Trump’s chances in November, Packer pointed to one ray of light. “Hillary should be killing us. She should be up by 20 points. Her problem is, she’s unworthy, untrustworthy, and paranoid."

On the Bright Side

If the Republican Party is to overcome its reputation as the party for the country-clubbers,Arkansassenator Tom Cotton may be its new standard-bearer.

Taking a shot at Bernie Sanders for supporting a minimum wage hike to “15 bucks an hour” as Sanders would put it, Cotton said: “If we were a nation of economic opportunity, we wouldn’t have to worry about raising the minimum wage, because if a boss won’t give someone a raise, he can just walk across the street and get a better-paying job.”

Cotton made his statements at a breakfast address to theOhiostate delegation. The freshman senator took issue with some Republicans inWashingtonwho say that the party needs to win the confidence of the nation. Citing GOP control of Congress and the fact that 31 out of the nation’s 50 governors are Republican, Cotton said: “We don’t have to show we can govern. We areAmerica’s governing party. Why? Because we address the very real and practical anxieties of everyday working Americans, and not the fantasy anxieties of liberals.”

But not every Republican senator has a safe seat like Cotton, who was elected just last year. Several incumbents are in trouble, among them Ohio Republican senator Rob Portman, who is locked in a tight reelection battle with formerOhiogovernor Ted Strickland. Portman needs his home-state governor John Kasich, a popular and skilled campaigner at his side, yet Kasich boycotted the convention and is still in the anti-Trump camp. Portman too has kept Trump at arm’s length, but may no longer be able to alienate the top of his party’s ticket.

Look for the same problems to surface in other Senate races, such as inArizona,Pennsylvania, andIllinois, where John McCain, and Pat Toomey, and Mark Kirk — none Trump fans — are fighting to retain their seats.

Mike Pence and Israel

The night before Mike Pence’s acceptance speech, I sat with Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, who remembers Pence fondly from the decade they served in Congress together. King says Jewish voters with strong conservative bona fides will find Pence to be a comrade in arms. “He has established a strong fidelity toIsraeland is one of the best friends toIsraelanywhere on the planet,” King says. “He’s a constitutionalist, an evangelical, he’s pro-life, he’s pro-marriage, and he’s a fiscal hawk.”

Pence may have been a fly on the wall during our interview, because one of his first lines to delegates echoed King’s endorsement: “I’m a Christian, I’m a conservative, and I’m a Republican, in that order.”

Pence, 57, is governor ofIndiana, and served 12 years in the US House of Representatives. He also spent five years in talk radio, where he dubbed himself “Rush Limbaugh on decaf”; and his presentation skills are polished and his voice well modulated.

But Pence told delegates his most important job is spelled “D-a-d.” And that’s one thing Pence says he has come to admire about Trump after meeting his family. “You can’t fake good kids.”

He didn’t disappoint theIsraelsupporters in the crowd, getting rousing cheers by saying: “If Americans should know one thing, it’s thatAmericastands behindIsrael.”

His next line was to note that Barack Obama’s presidency ends in six months, a date Prime Minister Netanyahu has no doubt marked prominently on his calendar.

Trump and Trade

Tom Marino, a third-term congressman and Donald Trump’sPennsylvaniacampaign chairman, listened politely as the EU’s ambassador to theUS, David O’Sullivan, defended a litany of international trade agreements that pro-Trump forces abhor.

“No country has ever made a success out of protectionism,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s an absolute illusion to think you can turn back the clock. It makes more sense to manufacture only what you need — and can produce efficiently — and trade for the rest.”

When Marino’s turn came to speak at this American Jewish Committee panel discussion, he lowered the boom, but in dulcet tones.

“Walk throughMain StreetAmerica. Get out of the ivory towers where you theorize on what should be happening. Why do you think there’s a revolution going on inAmerica?” Marino asked.

He has cause to gripe.Pennsylvaniahas lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs over the past 20 years. In President Obama’s first term alone, 10% of the state’s manufacturers closed or moved.

Mishpacha’s Binyamin Rose speaking to Iowa Rep. Steve King, who says Jewish voters will find a comrade in arms in VP pick Mike Pence

Trump says he will make “Made in theUSA” great again. Most economists say that’s a pipe dream. Marino says theUSjust needs an administration that makes keeping jobs at home a priority. “We put men on the moon and did heart transplants,” Marino said. “It’s about time we had an administration that steps up and says respectfully to the rest of the world that you have to work with the United States. You can’t just be our friend when it’s convenient for you.”

Despite Marino’s pronouncements, look for some of the hard edge on trade to soften during the course of the campaign.

The view from here isn’t always the view from there, so if Donald Trump wins in November, he will be pressured to soften some of his more sweeping positions. And some of that pressure will come from insiders.

At a Politico event, Stephen Moore, one of Trump’s chief economic advisors, suggested that Trump is being nudged in the direction of more open trade. “I think you’ll see some movement in that direction during the course of the campaign.”

With US economic growth stuck at an anemic 1.5%, many economists say reopening trade deals — as Trump proposes — will spinAmericainto recession.Mooresays, on the contrary, Trump will ramp up economic growth to 4%.

“It’s not too hard. We can get a 1% increase in growth just by expanding energy. American oil, gas, and coal can add $200 billion to the economy. Cut the business tax rate down to 15% and get rid of the double tax on savings, and you can add another percentage point there.”


20-20 Vision

The working assumption among most political analysts — who missed the Trump boat throughout the primary season — is that Donald Trump will lose big in November 2016, the Republican Party will be torn asunder, and a new savior will emerge from the scrap heap.

With that backdrop, delegates were looking for cues as to whether speakers Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, primary opponents whom Trump defeated handily, would position themselves for 2020, or bury the hatchet and endorse Trump.

Walker’s speech was short and themed “we deserve better.” Most of his speech was a Hillary bash. The best he said about Trump was to repeat the mantra that if you don’t vote for the Republican nominee, you’re voting for Hillary.

Rubio made a two-minute appearance on a video screen that seemed almost as short as the campaign he ended so abruptly. It was a disappointment for fans of Rubio, who due to his tardiness in deciding whether he would run for reelection for his Senate seat, is now locked in a tight battle inFlorida’s August 30 primary. Until he gets past that, there is little sense in discussing 2020.

Cruz entered to a warm ovation but the warmth soon evaporated. He delivered his standard stump address without issuing an endorsement.

If anyone has 20-20 vision, it’s Ted Cruz. But by blindly ignoring the will of the delegates who nominated Donald Trump, Cruz took the political gamble of his career.

Jeff Roe says theTexassenator’s address was “a rare occurrence of a politician actually speaking his mind.”

That said, Roe admitted the episode will haunt Cruz for some time to come. “As a political calculation, it was borderline reckless. There’s no upside.”

However, that doesn’t mean it was an impulsive decision. Roe said Cruz spent four days going over his speech and taking counsel from a wide range of conservative Republicans and supporters. “It was never a consideration for him to endorse [Trump].”

“But now he’s perceived as a Hillary Clinton enabler,” Roe said. “It’s a raw political moment in our party between two candidates who’ve been duking it out for months.”

Part II: Impressions 
Making America Great Again, Cajun Style

When Abhay Patel was a boy, his parents, immigrants fromIndia, owned and operated a small hotel inMississippi. Everyone in the family pitched in.

“My parents told me unless you want to clean hotel bathrooms the rest of your life, you better get an education,” Patel related on the sidelines of the GOP convention.

He took their advice and today, the 40-year-old Patel, a former investment banker for Deutsche Bank, is one of 11 candidates bidding to fill a vacant US Senate seat inLouisiana.

He has vintage GOP credentials. For the past five years, Patel spearheaded implementation of a strategic growth plan transformingNew Orleans — virtually washed away by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — into a boom town for entrepreneurs and start-ups.

“Katrina broke the city. The entire governmental system failed, but that gave an opportunity for individuals to step up and say let’s try it our way. To me that’s Republicanism and that’s conservatism,” Patel said.

Washingtoncan learn a big lesson fromNew Orleansin that regard, and Patel says that’s where he and Donald Trump fit right in.

“If we keep sending the career political classes toWashingtonand allow them to stay there, we’ll get the same poor results. We need disruptive next-generation leadership to reform a broken entitlement system and put a tax code in place that spurs entrepreneurship.”

The Secret to Longevity People seeking political office for the first time would do well to consult withIowagovernor Terry Branstad — who has served six terms in office.

He attributes his longevity to “hard work and keeping in touch with my constituents,” but his strong pro-Israel credentials haven’t hurt him with the state’s conservative and evangelical voter bases. The son of a Jewish mother and Norwegian father, Gov. Branstad signed a law two months ago that prohibits state funds from being directly invested in companies that boycottIsrael.

Jews comprise two-tenths of 1% ofIowa’s population, so for Gov. Branstad, it’s the principle, not the numbers that matter.

“We need to do the right thing. We need to make it clear that these kinds of boycotts, especially against a friend and our only democratic ally in the Middle East, are counterproductive to what’s right for America,” Gov. Branstad told Mishpacha in an interview at a gathering honoring pro-Israel state legislators sponsored by the Israel Project and the Israel Action Network. “Israel is also a great trading partner, and from the perspective of our national defense, we need to maintain a strong relationship.”

If there’s anything Jews can do to show their gratitude in return, it’s to pray forIowafarmers. “We have great crops right now,” Gov. Branstad said. “All we need is better corn and soybean prices.”

Playing Both Sides

The first time we wrote about Ron Dermer was exactly three years ago, when he had two occasions to celebrate. Prime Minister Netanyahu named himIsrael’s ambassador to theUSand Dermer had just named his newborn daughter Goldie.

We caught up with Ambassador Dermer again in Cleveland, a day before he was set to take off for Israelfor another simchah. This time it was for the bar mitzvah of his son, Meir, who was named in honor of Dermer’s father, the former mayor ofMiami Beach.

Ambassador Dermer was due to return to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, where he planned to make the rounds at party parleys while adhering to a strictly nonpartisan stance — even though it’s no state secret that his boss is looking forward to dealing with America’s next president, whoever he or she may be.

“We can never take anything for granted,” Dermer said. “We want to make sure we have strong bipartisan support for Israel and look forward to just engaging with leaders and ensuring that support continues for decades to come.”

Calling All Orthodox Republicans Nachman Caller, district leader of the New York State Republican Committee’s 48th assembly district inBrooklyn, was one of Donald Trump’s early supporters. “I felt early on that he was the person who could turn around theUS.”

But that doesn’t mean he’s having an easy time convincing others in his heavily Jewish district, one that voted 75% to 25% for Republicans McCain and Romney in 2008 and 2012.

“Yes, I do have trouble convincing people,” Caller says. “The main objection is he’s not a polished politician. He says what comes to his mind and as a result says things people don’t like. But at heart, I know he loves Jews and lovesIsrael.”

What about the fact that Trump lacks political and diplomatic experience?

“He’s going to listen to other people in areas he doesn’t know,” Caller says. “You’re already starting to see that.”


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