Thursday, April 21, 2016

GOP could party like it's 1952 -- April 21, 2016 column

By MARSHA MERCER

Donald J. Trump, having vanquished apathy, has set his sights on ennui. He wants to save us from another boring Republican National Convention.

The GOP confab in 2012 was “the single most boring convention I’ve ever seen,” said Trump.

“It’s very important to put some showbiz into a convention; otherwise people are going to fall asleep,” he told The Washington Post.

Even actor and director Clint Eastwood couldn’t rescue Mitt Romney’s convention four years ago. Eastwood’s rambling conversation with an empty stool as if President Barack Obama sat there was simply odd.

Whatever Trump has in mind, the proceedings in Cleveland in July to pick the Republican presidential nominee likely will be anything but a snooze fest.

Trump claims he’ll have the 1,237 delegates needed for nomination, but the Dump Trump movement is still kicking, despite a setback in New York on Tuesday. Trump insists that, if he falls short of the magic number, fairness demands that he be the nominee, because he has won millions more votes than his rivals.

His rivals are just as insistent that they should win. With the delegate math against Ted Cruz and John Kasich, though, much depends on the rules, which the convention’s Rules Committee will draft ahead of time. A majority of delegates must ratify them.

Like him or not, Trump is brilliant at using media – old and new -- to his advantage.

“My famous line `I’m the only one that BEAT Ted’ updated from 21 times to 22 times!” he tweeted after the New York primary.

He became a household name a dozen years ago with his reality TV show, “The Apprentice.” He tweets constantly and has 7.6 million Twitter followers. He dominates the news and hardly needs to buy ads because he gets his message out free.

Since many people now get their news through social media, instant reactions to how the GOP settles on a nominee could affect attitudes about the party going into the fall campaign.

For clues, we can look to 1952 and the dawn of television, when Republicans had a seriously contested convention.

When Republicans met in Chicago in July 1952, the race between “Mr. Republican” Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio and World War II hero Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was neck-and-neck.

Eisenhower’s forces appealed to fairness. They accused Taft of stealing delegates and challenged the credentials of delegations from Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

Eisenhower’s delegates ultimately were seated. Ike won the nomination on the first ballot and swept to victory in November over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

The 1952 nominating conventions were the first TV covered on a large scale. On camera, the politicians in the Gold Room of the Congress Hotel played up to the people back home. They made their deals in a smoke-filled kitchen that was off limits to TV. Here’s how a young newspaperman reported it:

“In calmer days, the Gold Room is a banquet hall…But today the Gold Room was a political arena from which television was showing millions of Americans a bitter struggle for control of the National Convention,” wrote Charles McDowell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

When he arrived at the Gold Room, “no seats were available for junior reporters from the provinces,” he recalled later. A kindly security guard let McDowell slip into the kitchen. The pols thought the reporter was a hotel functionary, he said.

 In “the huge tiled kitchen, with its racks of glasses, stainless steel sinks and signs saying `Keep it Clean,’” McDowell saw what TV missed – the horse-trading that preceded the action on the convention floor.

People at home saw Eisenhower as “a national hero standing above politics and demanding simple justice from the cynical bosses of what had always been a closed process,” McDowell wrote later. The people’s reaction was swift.

“The telephone calls and telegrams poured into Chicago; the feedback was pro-Eisenhower,” McDowell wrote
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Just imagine the tsunami of tweets and texts – our era’s telegrams and calls -- if Trump doesn’t get his way at this convention.

Showbiz? We won’t need it as long as Trump’s in the show. Nobody will snooze.

©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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