Why you should care
Because we’re in the kitchen showing you how the sausage gets made.
Between election-themed condoms being hawked to delegates and third-party candidates pushing their own runs at presidency from the sidelines, the GOP’s quadrennial gathering represents the best, brightest and, yes, strangest that American politics has to offer.
But this year’s Republican National Convention presents an opportunity to recast a party still trying to define itself in the wake of its flaxen-haired hurricane. The party’s next big names will be elevated here, and, in four or eight years, perhaps paraded as a presidential or vice presidential nominee themselves. Here are just a few of the surprises shaping and shifting the party as it looks to November — and future conventions.
The Republican Party’s Rising JV Team
The RNC usually serves as a coming-out fete for the party’s all-star team, though many elite conservative talents have opted out of attending this year’s event. Notable absences from the main stage so far have included New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Does the GOP risk hiding its depth by not highlighting, on a national platform, the best it has to offer until the next election cycle?
Or, could this ultimately prove to be a successful move? After all, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the national stage is being held — and even elevated — by its junior varsity squad. Some true up-and-comers include Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, whose measured tone and family’s history of military service stirred the patriotic crowd, as well as Colorado Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, a rising Black Republican who boisterously proclaimed, “Frankly, somebody with a nice tan needs to say this — all lives matter.” Cue the raucous applause.
Further Complications of Color
Multiple speakers this week, including Paul Ryan, have argued that Democrats are the ones splitting America into divisive groups, whereas Republicans are trying to bring them together. “I think a lot of political leaders need to stop fanning the flames of racial tension,” Cotton said at a talk hosted by The Atlantic. They’ve also tried to showcase a more diverse group of speakers, including Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer and vice chair of the California Republican Party, who delivered an invocation in Punjabi and English — with a Sikh prayer.
Yet some of the party faithful have been skeptical that it’s fulfilling its mission as an inclusive “big tent.” That group includes delegate Victor Ashe, the former mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, and ambassador to Poland under George W. Bush: “Just look around at our party,” he told OZY. Others believe Donald Trump can solve America’s racial divide, most crucially by creating jobs — “especially in the inner cities,” Charlie Strickland Jr., a Black delegate from Minnesota, told OZY. “He’s the only one who can turn it around.”
Trump’s Growing Global Appeal?
While Trump’s nativist rhetoric hurts the nation’s reputation abroad, he still attracts quite the crowd of conservatives from around the world. Foreign accents rang across the crowded convention floors, including that of Steve Hilton, the man behind David Cameron’s election as the U.K.’s prime minister, before his recent resignation. And though it’s true the world always watches when the U.S. elects its next leaders, this election has warranted special interest from international Trump-like figures. Geert Wilders, the founder of the anti-immigrant Dutch Party for Freedom, attended the convention as a guest of a Tennessee state senator. It’s not about optics: The interest suggests that even while Trump preaches U.S. isolationism, the rest of the globe will still look to America with bated breath.