The semi-organized chaos of the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland may give some hint of what a Trump administration would look like.
The rift between establishment conservatives and Tea Party insurgents was on full display. The billionaire dilettante and presumptive nominee was attempting to pivot from rabble-rouser to peacemaker. It wasn’t going to be easy.
Monday morning’s RNC press conference was scheduled to begin at 9:30 but the trains did not run on time, and it was 9:57 when the two men took the stage, acting like estranged fathers-in-law at a shotgun wedding.
Jeff Larson, the convention’s CEO, has the extremely solid build and ingratiating manner of party functionary. Paul Manafort, the seasoned adviser who has taken the helm of Donald Trump’s campaign, has crimson cheeks and an almost robotically sanguine manner. In the past, he has advised the campaigns of presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush, and Bush. Like Trump, he sports a young man’s hair.
Larson spoke first. Monday’s theme would be “Make America Safe Again.”
Larson pledged his heart and prayers to the families of the fallen police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He had a list of the evening’s speakers — Benghazi survivors, the mother of a fallen Navy SEAL, Melania Trump, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and the star of “Charles in Charge,” the old sitcom. Larson said that Trump would be arriving in person to introduce his wife, and that he would then fly back to New York and return to Cleveland on Wednesday. He did not demonstrate a clear handle on the specifics of their order, or the schedule.
Manafort’s presence was more commanding. He wore a better suit than Larson, and carried himself like a lord. He dismissed a last-minute push that would allow delegates to vote against Trump as “a non-event.” He said that the convention had four goals: humanize Trump through “family testimonials that will describe Donald Trump the man … the inner personality”; indict what he called “the Obama-Clinton years”; present Hillary Clinton as “the establishment candidate”; and finally, unify the party.
In response to a question from a Univision reporter, Manafort hinted that Trump might soon offer some kind of olive branch to Hispanic voters — two speeches directed at that very constituency, he said, had been delayed by the two police shootings — but he stopped short of promising an apology. The 2016 GOP platform, he said, would contain a provision about building a wall along the Mexican border.
There was work to be done on the unification front. On “Morning Joe” a few hours earlier, Manafort had called the Bush family, which is expected to skip the convention, “people who are part of the past.” He said that Gov. John Kasich was “embarrassing the state” by not attending.
At the press conference, he did what he could to walk these harsh words back. “They were leaders in past administrations,” he said of the Bushes. “While we wanted them here, we understand that they didn’t want to be here, but I also made the point — many of the people who supported Gov. [Jeb] Bush in this primary and who served in President Bush administrations were involved in our campaign at all levels. We think the unification has happened. And we hope that when the Bush family decides to participate again in the political process, that they will join us. We would welcome them. We have reached out to them. But, you know, healing takes time.“
Larson stood up behind Manafort, thumbs hooked into his belt, tapping his heel. He looked as though he wanted to interrupt. Manafort did not yield.
“One more question!” Larson finally shouted.