Will the idea of “President Donald Trump” seem plausible by Thursday night? Or will rioting and big-name no-shows take the spotlight off this week’s Republican convention?
The GOP opens its four-day convention Monday facing an uncommon amount of uncertainty. These events long ago stopped being true party meetings where disagreements were aired and candidate disputes resolved. Since 1980, they’ve been tightly-choreographed reality shows carefully crafted to create warm feelings toward the candidate and his party.
This convention looks to be less scripted, less cohesive. Almost every hour, every day until Trump finishes his acceptance speech Thursday night, the specter of craziness looms.
Trump forces say they’re confident. “We’ll come together and have a very smooth convention,” said Bill McGinley, a Washington attorney advising Trump on delegate issues.
Not everyone is so confident. “The party hasn’t completely unified yet,” said Saul Anuzis, veteran Michigan Republican committeeman and backer of Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s chief rival.
Here are 10 questions whose answers could decide whether Republicans emerge unified, happy and looking ahead, or spend the rest of the summer trying to recover:
1. Can anti-Trump forces succeed? No. But they can grab media attention Monday. They’ll try to get the convention to free delegates to vote for whoever they want, but that’s expected to be quashed quickly and decisively. Trump’s forces are ready. They’ll have supporters positioned around the hall Monday, watching their delegates and making sure they stay in line.
2. Will no-shows get a lot of attention? Two story lines to watch: Local reporters sending stories and tweets back home about how their governor, senator, whatever isn’t there. And the whereabouts of John Kasich, governor of Ohio and a Trump rival in the primaries. He’s not expected to be at the convention, but is expected to be in Cleveland – and visible – all week.
3. Will protests get more attention than the convention? Could be. Thousands are expected to demonstrate in the city. Not since 1968, when thousands clashed with police during the Democratic convention in Chicago, have large-scale protests erupted outside a convention. If it happens, particularly in this age of instant video, media will regard that as more newsworthy than the parade of speakers in the hall.
4. Who will be the breakout stars? Conventions can vault little-known political figures into the limelight. Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic keynote speech launched his national career. This year’s roster has some potential, particularly since it’s largely a collection of non-political figures likely to share their own personal stories rather than promote Republican ideology.
5. Will Ted Cruz shine? He officially has 559 of the 2,472 delegates, but an estimated twice that number are viewed as fans. Cruz is a dynamic speaker with an eye on 2020 and his backers are wary of vice presidential pick Mike Pence as giving in too quickly to critics of a religious freedom law widely criticized as anti-gay. “He’s not the golden bullet,” said Ben Barringer, an Iowa Cruz delegate.
6. Will anyone remember Pence? Conservatives love him, but most voters forget vice presidential candidates after their acceptance speeches. Trump demonstrated Saturday in his running-mate rollout that Pence is a bit player. He’ll be seen again by most voters in the October 4 vice presidential debate.
7. How much will recent tragedies matter? Conventions are usually song-and-balloon filled celebratory affairs. Republicans have to be careful this time, since the past few weeks have seen 49 killed by a gunman in Orlando, five police officers slain in Dallas and three this weekend in Baton Rouge, and 84 killed by a truck in Nice. The chief response: “We’re going to declare war against ISIS,” Trump said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday.
8. Can Democrat-bashing go too far? GOP leaders see Democrat Hillary Clinton as everything they’re opposing – an establishment figure, liberal, unable to shake controversy – and therefore a unifying force for them. There is a risk, because going too far in demonizing her could very well alienate the undecided voters this convention needs to woo.
9. Will Trump be Trump? The toughest question of all. The acceptance speech, the convention’s closing act, is the moment he can show dubious voters he has the gravitas, temperament and judgment to be president. It’s a speech that traditionally touches on both the personal and the visionary, though Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort says the speech will be “a more personal message.” Vision? He tends to ramble, to dart from one topic to another, to repeat himself. His supporters love it; he’s not the usual politician, they say. But…
10. Will Trump get a lasting bounce? Candidates usually gain a few points in polls after their convention (and often lose them quickly). Trump, though, is already well known, and already widely disliked. Can one convention, or one speech, change that?