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The ABCs of the RNC

Yisroel Besser, Cleveland, Ohio

Yisroel Besser shares the flavor of the RNC with an alphabetical diary

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


: (CLEVELAND,OHIO) Donald J. Trump formally accepts nomination for presidency of the United States of America at the Republican National Convention on Thursday, July 21, 2016 (Photos: AFP/Imagebank)

"A" IS FOR… 

ANGER Might well have been the fuel that drove this convention, perhaps the candidacy. Many of the speeches focused on Hillary, the failed policies of the current administration, and the challenges facingAmerica. The nominee himself chose to dedicate the most important speech of the week to the dispiritedness and bleakness of the people, presenting himself as the only response to more of the same.


BUSINESS Perhaps underscoring Trump’s promise to bring business back to the streets of America, business flourished in the downtown core around the Q. The conventional stores were largely closed, but vendors at makeshift tables hawked all sorts of novelties, from T-shirts (“Delete Hillary,” “Obama — You’re Fired”) to Trump bobbleheads and apocalypse-defying books (The End of the World and How YOU Can Be Safe), and anti-aging water. I even saw a hopeful vendor trying to pitch Trump-Christie pins. I wanted to buy one out of mercy, but he couldn’t make change for five dollars. Sorry, man!

CRUZ And either classless or courageous — make your choice. I entered an elevator with Senator Cruz moments before his career-defining speech, in which he urged the crowd to vote their conscience, and someone asked Cruz if he would endorse Trump. The senator’s smile was nervous and there was a flicker of defiance in his eyes: he squared his shoulders and said nothing. 

Cruz’s oratory was fine, his content exceptional, but as it became obvious that the endorsement wasn’t coming, the crowd grew restless. A veteran journalist seated near me pointed out that he’d just seen Trump standing in the hallway, and the nominee was clearly irritated: There was obvious turmoil in the section where the normally calm Trump children were seated.

“Watch Donald come in now and flatten the rest of Ted’s speech,” predicted the pundit. Moments later, Trump walked in to raucous cheering from the floor, drawing attention away from Cruz. Still, theTexassenator’s snub quickly became the story of the night, debated and analyzed for the better part of the next day.

DRINKS And another round. The bars around the Q were open all the time, the visiting delegates, politicos, and media keeping themselves hydrated. I spoke with several politicians and well-known journalists who were mildly drunk, as one told me, “We come to these conventions to do politics and get drunk, and honestly, you can’t do the first without the second.”

One evening, Reb Yaakov Wenger of Lakewoodhelped veteran New Jerseypolitical writer Jonathan D. Salant (a descendant of Rav Shmuel Salant) gather a minyan for Kaddish, in honor of his father’s yahrtzeit. The warm wishes for his father’s neshamah was the closest we got to a real l’chayim.

EMPTY There were many empty chairs inside the arena on the first and second nights of the convention. Many longtime convention attendees and delegates told me that it was a reflection of the Trump campaign’s lack of experience. “Look, we appreciate that they’re outsiders, but this is amateur hour,” a prominent Republican activist said. “The speeches are too long, the screens are wonky, it’s more fun out here.”

By night number three, organizers had it under control: the large plaza just outside the arena, where there had been music, food, and drink the night before, was suddenly closed during the main speeches. Vendors weren’t even allowed to sell drinks until the events inside had concluded, and RNC staffers circulated like schoolteachers on the playground as recess ends, calling out, “Everyone inside, the speeches are starting.”

FACTS Walking the floors of media row, speaking with representatives of the major newspapers and TV stations, as well as smaller local ones, I learned of a new reality in this campaign. Along with the traditional writers and photographers, several media outlets sent “fact-checkers” to this convention. One bright young man told me that his job involves researching each and every remark Trump makes on a truth barometer, but, “the thing is, no one seems to care anymore. Truth, lies — they either like him or hate him, regardless.”

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