For much of this spring, political junkies, myself included, salivated at the prospect of a once-in-a-lifetime contested convention in Cleveland, at which pretty much anything could happen. But while those quadrennial dreams were dashed earlier this month, those looking for a where-were-you-when experience aren’t entirely out of luck: Donald Freaking Trump, after all, will stand on stage this summer and accept the nomination of one of the country’s two major political parties. Clint Eastwood’s empty chair will have nothing on that.
If Trump has his way, the four days leading up to his acceptance speech won’t follow the usual script. Via Politico:
From speaking slots to prime-time moments reserved for himself, the television celebrity and Manhattan billionaire is dealing directly in the details of his coronation as Republican nominee to maximize the drama and spectacle of the party’s four-night convention. …
Indeed, Trump is viewing the convention as a showcase for the brand he built in entertainment over three decades and then melded with a political persona developed over the last year. … And Trump plans to create news events too, not just line up speeches by up-and-coming members of the GOP. He’s toying with unveiling a running mate at the convention rather than before. He’s even considering whether to announce his would-be Cabinet.
That a reality TV star–turned–political candidate wants to use a convention as a four-day infomercial for himself is hardly a shock, and Trump’s already made no secret that he thinks the GOP affair needs a whole lot more “showbiz.” Still, his apparent plan to unveil his running mate onstage—and potentially his would-be administration to boot—is one more reminder of how well Trump plays the media game. (Decades ago, it wasn’t all that uncommon for No. 2s to be named at the convention, but its safe to say they weren’t revealed in quite the way Trump has planned. As one campaign source put it to Politico: “This is a massive television production and he is a television star.”) Journalists like myself have called him a “carnival barker” as a slight—and it is a slight—but still, he’s an amazing carnival barker. He continuously convinces everyone to stop what they’re doing and peek inside his tent.
And when it comes to the staleness of recent political conventions, Trump is (gulp) right. Calling them boring is like saying one of his xenophobic policy proposals is controversial. The conventions are overly scripted affairs that are devoid of drama not by accident; they’re intentionally crafted to avoid drama in the first place. (They’re not offering substance in place of showmanship either.)
Trump’s secret, meanwhile, isn’t that he’s promising an unscripted event, only that it seems like he is. He isn’t planning a convention where anything could happen; he’s planning one where it feels as though anything could. I believe this is called “reality TV.” As another Trump campaign source put it: “Announcing the vice presidential nominee before the convention is like announcing the winner of Celebrity Apprentice before the final show is on the air. This is one of the only opportunities to create tension and drama in the whole show.”
One of the last things American politics needs right now is more spectacle, but this cycle it’s pretty clear that’s what many Americans want. And Trump, God help us all, is really, really good at giving it to them.