Those who were there for a night of weirdness, and those who were not



I just thought I’d throw out a few scattered thoughts, which is probably an appropriate way to deal with the odd time I spent watching weirdness on the Boob Tube last night.

I’ll divide this into two chapters: People who were there, and people who were not.

We’ll start with the weirdness — people who were there.

The McCloskeys. I would see these people as a parody, an SNL skit — except there was nothing about them that was in the slightest way funny. You’d think there would be, after having seen photos of them on the day that brought them celebrity. I mentioned a couple of days ago that after I rewatched “Spaceballs” during a workout, it hit me “that the tubby guy with the pink shirt, too-long khakis, bare feet and ‘Look at me; I’m a soldier!’ rifle reminds me a lot of Rick Moranis spoofing Darth Vader. The McCloskeys looked so absurd holding their weapons, like they’d never held such objects before, and had no idea what they were for. Like Trump holding that Bible. But then, they came on television unarmed, and all the humor of the situation disappeared. Sitting there, they were like some disorienting twist on “American Gothic.” And then I heard them speak, and their words seemed to have been written by some BLM wokester trying to show us what modern racist white people sound like. All I could say on Twitter was, “Wow, they actually did it! They actually trotted out that sad, strange couple from St. Louis! Now that I’ve heard them speak, I feel MORE embarrassed for them…”

Kimberly Guilfoyle. Wow, OMG, etc. I had recently heard of this person in a context that caused me to Google her. But I had never seen her “live.” It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen on a convention stage, real or virtual, and I’m including Clint Eastwood talking to the empty chair. All I said was, “So THAT’S Kimberly Guilfoyle, huh? All righty, then. What’s she on?” Initially. Later, I added, “My, my. She got MORE worked up at the end…” Someone explain to me the thought process that led whoever was screening speakers to put this person on the program. Or her strange boyfriend, for that matter — although we know why he was on the agenda, don’t we? I later heard that the word “cocaine” was trending during his performance. I’m glad I missed it.

The rest of the Trump family. I’m sort of looking ahead here, since I see several others of his familial entourage are going to be on tonight. Everyone except, perhaps, his sister. Because, of course, this is not a Republican Party convention. It’s a Trump personality cult convention. As I’ll mention below, you don’t have the usual dignitaries who would place the event within a historical GOP context. You have the kinds of whackadoodles who will pledge everlasting loyalty to the Trump brand. Which includes the family, and a family member’s girlfriend. Which I guess answers my question above as to how Kimberly “I Want to Bite the World with My Big Teeth” Guilfoyle got onto the podium.

Nikki Haley. I missed this. I’m going to go back and find and watch it. But my understanding is that she was sort of the calming influence to set up fellow South Carolinian Tim Scott. Part of the process of transitioning from the loudly crazy. I’ll bet she was good at that. Disappointing that she was there, though. For some time, she’s distanced herself from the Trump circus. It’s rather awful, and something that will always attach to her name to her discredit, that she showed up now to pledge her fealty.

Tim Scott. This was the highlight of the evening. It was a stunning contrast to everything that had gone before, a speech that would not have been out of place at a real Republican convention 30 or 40 years ago. Which is the moment Sen. Scott seems to think he’s living in, speaking of a GOP that’s all about personal responsibility, fiscal restraint, and loving America. I don’t know Tim Scott, by the way. He emerged beyond local Charleston politics after my time dealing professionally with state leaders. I’ve never even met him. But I have the impression that he’s a nice man, a sincere man. A good man, although a terribly deluded man to let himself be used this way. And he brought that to the screen last night. A person who saw nothing but his speech might convince himself, “It’s OK to vote Republican this year! It really is!” But that person would have to do what Tim Scott has done: Ignore everything we’ve seen over the last four years. It was a stroke of towering manipulation to put this nice, decent thoughtful black man on in the slot of honor on the first night, after a couple of hours of manic racist rants. Surely no one’s buying it. Right?

Then, there were the people who were not there:

Any former president or nominee. OK, so only one former president is alive. But this is pretty jarring — the complete lack of anyone whose presence puts a stamp on the legitimacy of the gathering, who says Yes, this is the convention of a party that is both Grand and Old. We’ve never seen this before, and surely no one has missed the point — that all this is about is Donald J. Trump and those who will remake themselves in his image.

Lindsey Graham or Henry McMaster. Not that I missed them at all. But it’s interesting. Before becoming Trump’s mindslaves, these guys pretty much represented what Republicanism was about, in South Carolina anyway. Remember, Henry was Ronald Reagan’s appointee as U.S. attorney, and that sort of affiliation was what defined him for decades. But these South Carolinians were set aside for two who represented a momentary, shockingly bold attempt to pretend that the rest of the evening hadn’t been about white people being terrified by dark people (I mentioned the McCloskeys, right?). So it’s worth noting.

Bob Inglis. God Bless Bob. Bob, of course, was one of the original religious-right conservatives who took over the party in the first half of the 1990s. He was the prototype of the sort of Republican Tim Scott sees himself as. He was a man of principles then, and he’s a man of principles now. Which we saw yesterday.

That’s enough to start a discussion. Have at it…

I shot this in 2004, on actual film -- which I had to take to a Duane Reade and have digitized so I could send it back to Columbia. As you see, a typical GOP convention of the past -- with Bush 41, and Rudy before he became Trump's boy.

I shot this in 2004, on actual film — which I had to take to a Duane Reade and have digitized so I could send it back to Columbia. As you see, a typical GOP convention of the past — with Bush 41, and Rudy before he became Trump’s boy.

34 thoughts on “Those who were there for a night of weirdness, and those who were not

  1. bud

    I hate to tell Brad this simple truth but this IS the Republican Party. And it didn’t just happen wit Trump’s emergence. This goes back at least to the Lee Atwater days. Then we had George W and his lies and incompetence, enabled by toadies like Colin Powell. Let’s not continue with this never Trumpers fiction that this is some kind of deviation from the norms of the virtuoso GOP. No. This is just a continuation of a pattern that was the well established character of this odious bunch of hypocrites, liars and thieves. But somehow the false equivalency crowd just can’t appreciate this truth.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Bud doesn’t REALLY hate to tell me. He tells me a lot.

      But what he tells me is based on a misreading of what I’ve said. There’s no “false equivalence.” There’s no holding up of the GOP as something good. What there is is noticing when something of historic significance happens in a party. If you go around like Bud thinking, It’s always been exactly like this, you miss important developments.

      Let’s hope that if he had been around and engaged with politics at the time, he would have noticed the one biggest historical shift in the GOP — the moment when Southern politics was utterly reversed. We went from the Democratic Party being controlled by particularly nasty racists, until it began gradually changing during the years of FDR, Truman and Kennedy and then, with LBJ’s time in office, utterly exploded. All the Dixiecrats started becoming Republicans as it was transformed into the White Man’s Party — to an extent that their children and grandchildren can’t imagine voting for anyone in the “Democrat Party,” ever. Black voters all switched from voting for Lincoln’s party to voting for LBJ’s. And those tiny few whites who used to vote Republican in the South morphed into Democrats. Or their spiritual children did (I’m having trouble of remembering actual individuals doing it. But there were so few to start with…)…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, about those principled few white Republicans back during Dixiecrat days.

        I haven’t run into all that many in South Carolina. By the time I started covering my home state — or supervising the people who covered it — in 1987, most of them would have been out of public life. Although I saw quite a few — Hugh Leatherman, David Beasley and others — still going the other way, well after I got here.

        But I knew some in Tennessee, in the early part of my career. I have a distinct memory of having one of them — I’m thinking maybe it was John D. Graham, but it may have been someone else — taking the time to explain to me in some historical detail why he was and had always been a Republican.

        It must have been John D. Because as this story reminds me, he had previously been a journalist at my own newspaper. So it would have been natural for him to take it upon himself to impart some historical perspective to the green kid presuming to write about state politics.

        For him, it wasn’t about race so much as it was about simple honesty and rectitude. Within his lifetime, and even through the early years of my own career, the Democratic Party in Tennessee had been spectacularly corrupt — and not just because of Boss Crump.

        Read up on Ray Blanton’s administration. He was such a crook he made plain ol’ Republicans like John D., and like Lamar Alexander, look really, really good.

        Anyway, I appreciated him telling me about the old days, and putting the days we were going through into some perspective.

        I’m sure the trajectory was somewhat different in South Carolina, back before Strom started leading the white folks to the GOP. But I wasn’t around here then. I was just here toward the end, when Carroll Campbell et al. completed the process…

    2. Ken

      Stuart Stevens, a long-time Republican operative and Romney campaign strategist, recently published a book that largely agrees with this assessment of what has happened to his party: that it wasn’t taken over by Trump but instead helped pave a pathway for him.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Well of course — Trump has played into trends that have been there since the Southern Strategy. But there were always the people who didn’t let it go too far. It was fine with them that so many whites in the South were voting for them, as long as it was sufficiently tasteful that they could pretend, “Isn’t it wonderful that so many Southerners now appreciate the virtues of limited government?”

        A guy like Tim Scott helps them with that. They can say, Yes, he’s one of those negroes, but he’s got his mind right! He gets it! He’s one of us! Which proves we’re not racist!

        But Trump didn’t mess with facades or niceties, or anything that dressed things up and made them respectable. And the base, which was frustrated already that the GOP never delivered on things they wanted, like keeping the Mexicans out, loved him for it.

        And that’s Trumpism — the dark underbelly of the GOP since 1964, flipped to the top side…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And these are some of the key reasons I can’t be a Republican — along with the distrust of government, which to be honest is closely related to the other stuff.

          The reasons I can’t be a Democrat have to do with abortion, retreat from the world, and a few other, smaller things…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, and don’t misunderstand me. Not all of the economic libertarians in the GOP are just using it to hide their racism (you know the formula — government’s good for nothing but taking the hard-earned money of responsible people like me and giving it to THEM)…

            There are people like Mark Sanford, and the Club for Growth. They really believe in the libertarian stuff…

        2. Ken

          Tim Scott lends credence to more than just Southern Strategy prejudices. He lends credence to tired Republican tropes by leaving out essential details as if they didn’t exist. Like when in his address yesterday he said, “Our nation’s arc ALWAYS bends back towards fairness.”
          Well, no Senator, actually it hasn’t and it doesn’t. Neither always nor automatically. The fairness it HAS achieved has only been achieved through the promotion of and implementation of policies aimed at making fairness a reality. And many of those policies were brought about in the face of opposition from your party.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    I watched a little while organizing my emails. I thought Nikki Haley and Tim Scott both gave the best speeches of the night.

    The lady who yelled the whole time made me just mute the TV about 45 seconds into it. I mean, stop yelling, that’s why you have a microphone. Just talk in your normal voice, right? Completely tuned her out, which is what I imagine most people did.

    Biggest disappointment was how fast they went through the individual states! Where are my silly state celebrations? My only guess is the RNC didn’t have it at all, and then scrambled to get something quick after they saw how nice the DNC roll call ended up being. Oh well.

    Overall, I saw a lot of coverage talking about how night one played to the “base voter”. Maybe so, I don’t know. However, the base voter is someone who isn’t changing the election. They are already locked in, right?

    On the contrary, the people who approved of Trump’s job performance in March and don’t today are the important swing voters, as are the low-propensity voters in Trump-friendly demographics. I don’t know how big those groups are, but those seem to be the people that Biden and Trump will be contesting.

    1. bud

      Interesting thing about Nikki’s speech was her description of her response to the church massacre in Charleston. To her great credit she did bring people together and got the confederate flag moved. But what does that have to do with Trump? Trump doesn’t want to unify people by even a simple gesture like renaming army bases. This was an ok speech by Haley but pretty irrelevant to Trump.

      1. Barry

        Some family members of the victims in charleston reacted with venom toward Haley after her talk last night.

        she took credit for what was going to happen with the flag. She’s great at that.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      And the question becomes, which way do you go?

      Do you try to appeal to the basest of the Trump base, with the St. Louis couple coming on and urging suburban whites to fear black people coming into THEIR suburbs, too — or even worse, the Democrats banning suburbs altogether!

      Or do you put the most reasonable-sounding person you can find — a black man at that — to reach out to potentially reachable people in the middle?

      They tried to do both last night. And I don’t know how that works for anybody. If you saw it all, you don’t believe either — do you?

      1. bud

        What kind of weird mental gymnastics would land a person in the “teachable middle” at this stage? Perhaps a few still exist but what more do you need to know about Trump (or Biden for that matter) that requires additional pondering? I’m thinking the Trump number is fixed at this point. What this comes down to is whether Biden can win enough John Kasich voters by pandering to some unrealistic “let’s all get along” fantasy without losing pragmatic Bernie supporters to the Green Party. Both extremes are likely tiny, but important elements in the electorate

  3. Mark Huguley

    Brad, You described the convention cast of characters well. After the malice infused rants of the boyfriend and girlfriend, I felt like someone should get a message to Tim Scott warning him to get out you’re not safe with these cringe worthy dangerous idiots. Too late, I fear.

  4. Bill

    No one one in this state reeks of hypocrisy more than Nikki Haley and Tim Scott..Absolute phonies and sleaze balls .Wrong year for the RNC
    To hell with them
    Lady G is done and ready for the Tenderloin retirement home

      1. Bill

        See,Jennifer Rubin,Washington Post:
        Nikki Haley and Tim Scott don’t deserve any praise from the media:
        “In fact they are worse because they are not crazy . Yet they sign up to defend a racist liar.”

          1. Brad Warthe

            Good. Because Elvis Costello was about to say, “In what way am I FUNNY?”…

            Elvis is not a clown, here to amuse us…

    1. Barry

      Tim Scott is a hypocrite.

      His mealy mouth efforts to ridicule trump after he tweets something awful are pathetic.

      I’ve seen him on tv too many times saying “Ive urged the president to be more careful with his words” While taking the smallest thing uttered by a democrat somewhere and using harsh language in his criticism.

  5. Phillip

    The most ludicrous takes on this are by the likes of Bret Stephens et al, touting Tim Scott as a possible Presidential contender in 2024. Sorry, but no matter how highly one might think of Scott, this is the Republican Party that embraces Trump and what he believes. There is no way the Republican Party will nominate an African-American for national office for 20 years at least. No, not all Republicans (nor even all Trump voters) are racist, but the Party has relied so heavily upon and counted so assiduously the 15-20% of Americans who are more or less overtly racist (really since about 1964) that a black Republican cannot for the foreseeable future put together a successful GOP nomination bid, because of that “base” who thrill to the dire warnings of the St. Louis couple, or prick up their ears at every racist dog-whistle their Dear Leader utters.

    Scott and a few others do not fit in today’s GOP: he would be a better ideological fit in a party that embraces fiscal conservatism, some kind of coherent foreign policy, but is also anti-racist, pro-democracy, anti-authoritarian. That party does not currently exist in the United States.

  6. Barry

    I’m proud to say I didn’t watch even a second of that crap show

    – And won’t watch a second all week. I didn’t even watch a second of news clips of it.

  7. Barry

    CNN reported this evening the GOP had to remove a scheduled speaker for tonight because of recent anti Semitic comments.

    What a shock.

    Trump did invite the Qanon promoting GOP Primary winner in Georgia to attend his GOP acceptance speech. pence was pushed to respond to a question about Qanon and wasn’t happy to have to respond. Trump sure has no problem with it.

    1. clark surratt

      You have to put political buzzwords in perspective. To most Trump followers, law and order means keeping folks of other skin colors in line. They ain’t talking about white collar thieves.
      Trump won first time (and might again) on five general issue categories: religion, race, guns, anti-Washington and anti-press. (Many details, like abortion, prayer, immigration fall under these main categories.
      Ironically, good journalism probably helped Trump. For decades, expository reporting from Washington has helped instill in the public how terrible the place is with its corruption, etc. (Look at political ratings).

  8. bud

    Has there ever been a more disgusting spectacle in the history of American politics than Trump’s craven naturalization ceremony last night at the White House. That monstrosity of an event was wrong on soooo many levels. It just made me want to hurl.

    1. Barry

      Everything trump and republicans do at this point is vomit inducing.

      The only surprising thing so far is that jerry Fallwell jr has not spoken at the convention. (And maybe he did, I’m not watching).

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