Brain-Free Zones

Will the 2016 Republican National Convention set a new record for the largest collection of losers in one arena?

This year’s catastrophe in Cleveland will not be uniquely disastrous, only because the quadrennial event has always been a hot mess. Can you think of one GOP convention in recent history that didn’t display the worst in human behavior?

Think about it. There was Ronald Reagan’s hogging of the spotlight after he lost his primary fight to President Ford in 1976–and his disgusting demonization of President Carter in 1980. There was then-US Ambassador to the UN Jeanne Kirkpatrick baselessly accusing Democrats of “blaming America first” in 1984. There was George H. W. Bush’s “read my lips” nonsense in 1988. There was Pat Buchanan rhetorically kicking anyone who wasn’t a straight white Christian male out of the country in 1992.

Who can forget the false moderation of the 1996 convention and the false diversity of the 2000 convention? Who can forget the glorification of war and Zell Miller, that crashing bore, in 2004?

2008 brought us “drill, baby, drill,” Sarah Palin making us ill, and Joe Lieberman whining until we had our fill. 2012, of course, brought us this sick spectacle:

How can the 2016 convention possibly be any worse? The standards have been set so low that Republicans will have no problem meeting them this year.

This is why all the Republican hand-wringing about the trashiness of Trump–especially from now-former Republican George Will–is so morbidly funny. Rachel Maddow has already pointed out that Trump’s race-baiting is merely an updated version of what Reagan was doing in his 1980 campaign. When Trump appeared at the 1988 GOP convention, he was obviously studying the science of sleaze.

Trump’s alliance with the religious right is merely the 2016 edition of Reagan’s 1980 ride with the faith fringe. Reagan’s God was always money, and his association with the Moral Majority madmen was just a marriage of convenience; remember, just two years before, he crossed the crackpot Christians by opposing California’s anti-LGBTQ Briggs Initiative. Reagan showed how much he really cared about religious-right priorities when he nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court over their loud protests. Trump is using the fundies the exact same way, and they’re too gullible to notice.

There will be plenty of gullible people at the Quicken Loans Arena next month–people who can be swindled with little effort, people who can be hoodwinked with a hat that says “Make America Great Again.” They will lap up every insult, ever slur, every lie spewed from the stage. They will embarrass their grandchildren, who decades from now will watch footage of their forebears cheering a charlatan.

Ask yourself: have there ever been moments of grace and decency at recent Republican conventions? I can think of three instances: Mary Fisher’s stirring remarks about the AIDS crisis in 1992, then-Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld’s defense of abortion rights in 1992 and Colin Powell’s defense of both abortion rights and affirmative action in 1996. Other than that, nothing.

One wonders if the Republicans who still say they won’t vote for either Clinton or Trump will have second thoughts after they bear witness to the full foulness of this year’s convention. Perhaps the carnival of crassness in Cleveland will be enough to force them to reconsider their reluctance to stand with either Trump or Clinton. Perhaps the sight of the explicit extremism and unedited ugliness of this party will finally compel them to (ironically enough) exercise their right to choose (as President George W. Bush’s former Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, already has). Perhaps this year’s GOP convention will be so sick, so sordid, so sour that the general election will effectively be over by the end of July.

UPDATE: It took 12 Associated Press reporters to fact-check Trump’s June 22 speech attacking Hillary Clinton. The entire AP staff may be required to fact-check Trump’s remarks in Cleveland.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.