The real action at the Republican National Convention will be the action no one sees coming.
“It’s not the ‘Real Housewives series,’ but it could be the Real Convention Delegates of Cleveland,” said Timothy Walch, an Iowa-based political author who’s studied conventions.
Convention organizers plot tightly scripted, carefully choreographed exercises in promoting their candidates. They want party insiders to depart as enthusiastic workers for the would-be president, and they hope to enlist millions of television viewers in the cause.
But something always goes wrong and the infomercial turns into an unscripted reality show. No one can control the weather, a scandal, windier-than-usual politicians. Riots. Strange optics. Awkward vice presidential picks.
The potential for surprises seems even greater this year, given presumptive nominee Donald Trump’s disdain for scripts, and his reality TV inclinations.
82 Average high temperature in Cleveland from July 18 to 21
Remember, though, distractions are not always bad for the candidate. A fast rebound makes a good story. Here, then, in no particular order, are 10 things that could go awry during the GOP convention in Cleveland from next Monday through July 21:
1. Party platform. “Normally people are not talking about the platform. This year could change that,” said Nathan Gonzales, a Washington-based analyst. Trump wants a U.S.-Mexico wall, a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and trade policies that mainstream Republicans don’t like.
Prospects for chaos: Moderate. Lots of staunch conservatives take the platform seriously and want those tough immigration stands.
2. Vice president. The goal is to “have someone who will give the convention enthusiasm,” said Joel Goldstein, a professor of law and vice presidential expert at Saint Louis University. If that’s not obvious to America and the conventiongoers, it means trouble. The furor over 1988 Republican pick Dan Quayle’s boyish, nonpresidential demeanor consumed a day’s worth of convention news.
Prospects for a repeat: Depends on whether Trump’s choice is a well-known figure.
I don’t think he’ll want a bunch of policy speeches.
Darrell West, analyst at Brookings Institution, on Trump’s hopes for the convention
3. Scandal. The revelation that Dick Morris, President Bill Clinton’s top campaign adviser, had enjoyed the company of a prostitute shook the 1996 Democratic convention. Morris resigned on the day of Clinton’s acceptance speech.
Prospects for a repeat: Characters and temptations abound.
4. Riots. The protesters now are kept so far away from the convention hall that they may as well be in the next state. There’s concern about another 1968-style convention riot in Cleveland, the sort that saw an estimated 10,000 protesters disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
5. Speeches, long ones. See Clinton, 1988, and his 34-minute speech for Michael Dukakis, a speech that drew cheers when he said “in closing.”
Prospects for a repeat: Pretty good. Even practiced political speakers can be tone-deaf, and this convention likely will have a few neophytes onstage.
6. Speeches, off message. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, spent 24 minutes in 2012 talking mostly about himself and barely about GOP nominee Mitt Romney. “For a moment, I forgot who was the nominee of the party,” Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said after the speech.
Prospects this year: See number 5.
Politico headline on story about Chris Christie’s 2012 GOP convention speech
7. Speeches, just odd. Clint Eastwood talking to a chair and an “invisible Obama”? In prime time during the 2012 Republican convention? Does anyone remember that Romney then gave his acceptance speech?
Prospects for a repeat: Good. Trump is suggesting more celebrities and entertainment. “He views the convention as another pageant,” Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Washington’s Brookings Institution, said of Trump’s Miss Universe experience.
8. Optics. The most memorable image from the 1980 Democratic convention was President Jimmy Carter circling the stage, trying to shake the hand of Sen. Edward Kennedy, his bitter rival.
Prospects for a repeat: Dim. Trump knows optics.
9. Weather. Not only does a hurricane dominate the news, but it means changing everything. President George W. Bush’s Monday speech was canceled in 2008 as Hurricane Gustav threw plans into turmoil. Four years later, the first day of the GOP convention in Tampa was postponed, this time because of Tropical Storm Isaac.
Prospects for a repeat: Well. . . . The Weather Channel predicts highs in the low 80s but no severe storms.
10. Boredom. “Remember,” said Tobe Berkovitz, former Boston-based media consultant, “people really don’t care about talking heads.”
Prospects this year: With Trump, you just never know.
David Lightman covers politics for McClatchy and has reported on 18 conventions. By July’s end, he’ll be up to 20.