RNC 2016: Republican National Convention – Night 3 Summary

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By going rogue onstage in Cleveland and pointedly refusing to endorse Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz – flawed politician though he may be – put the degenerate, ideologically rootless Republican Party to shame

The speakers on night 3 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland addressed the thousands of delegates against a giant backdrop of the United States Constitution. Which is pretty ironic considering that the GOP has chosen as its presidential nominee a man whose thin-skinned egotism and frighteningly authoritarian policies betray ignorance of the Constitution at best, and at worst an outright contempt for the founding document.

And in a pointed illustration of the depths to which the Republican Party has sunk – and the long distance it has drifted from anything that can be described as constitutional conservatism – the only speaker to make passionate and convincing reference to the Constitution and to liberty was booed off the stage amid a chorus of hate.

That speaker was Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, runner-up in the Republican presidential primary, whose uncompromising speech and unapologetic refusal to endorse Donald Trump sent delegates into meltdown and utterly eclipsed vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s speech (the traditional focus of the penultimate evening).

Cruz’s speech was in many ways everything that was missing from this dumpster fire of a party convention. Where the Trumpians were fearful and narrow-minded, Cruz was bold, optimistic and unafraid. Where the Trumpians spoke of enemies within and without, Cruz spoke of that more familiar America which boldly strives for progress, not merely consolidate its losses.

One particular  highlight:

But something powerful is happening. We’ve seen it in both parties. We’ve seen it in the United Kingdom’s unprecedented Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

Voters are overwhelmingly rejecting big government. That’s a profound victory.

People are fed up with politicians who don’t listen to them, fed up with a corrupt system that benefits the elites, instead of working men and women.

[.]

And if we choose freedom, our future will be brighter.

Freedom will bring back jobs, raise wages.

Freedom will lift people out of dependency, to the dignity of work.

We can do this. 47 years ago today, America put a man on the moon. That’s the power of freedom.

And no, I don’t just like it because Ted Cruz rightly name-checked Brexit as one of this year’s great victories for freedom and smaller government over the establishment and technocracy (although it sure doesn’t hurt).

What’s really appealing here is the sense of optimism, almost entirely missing from speaker after speaker who took the stage to endorse Trump. What’s appealing is the reverence for individual liberty rather than the craven need for an authoritarian strongman to smite our enemies and give us occasional treats.

America is the only country to ever successfully send human beings to the moon. It is the land of possibility, a place which has enchanted me since I was a teenager growing up in suburban Essex, England. So why does Donald Trump’s America seem like a place of threats and crooks and hidden dangers rather than the land of the free and the home of the brave?

But it was this passage which sealed Cruz’s fate in the convention hall:

We deserve leaders who stand for principle. Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.

And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.

Delegates were already loudly booing and chanting “say it!” and “endorse Trump!” before this point. But after Cruz delivered his final lines any applause was utterly drowned out by jeers and sounds of disapproval.

That is the contempt with which principle, freedom, liberty and the Constitution are unfortunately held by the faction now in charge of the Republican Party. One may rightly castigate the Republican Party of Mitt Romney and John McCain and George W. Bush for their sometimes empty paeans of praise to these high-minded ideals. But at least they spoke of them. At least they somehow sensed that they were important.

Not Trump. Donald Trump doesn’t promise personal freedom. He promises a chimerical wonderland of economic and physical security which is totally beyond his power to guarantee, all at the low, low cost of accepting the Donald’s pick ‘n mix attitude towards the Bill of Rights. It’s a dodgy, contemptible deal, but it is a bargain willingly struck by speaker after speaker as they fall in line and give him their endorsement.

Two more otherwise promising Republican governors debased themselves last night – Florida governor Rick Scott and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Add their names to the roll call of household name Republicans who have bent the knee to Donald Trump and there are very few well-credentialed conservative Republicans who will be able to help dig the party out of the rubble of defeat to Hillary Clinton in November.

Which, of course, is exactly why Ted Cruz made his gambit in the first place.

Jeremy Carl writes approvingly in the National Review:

Ultimately, Cruz’s performance in the hall outlined his strongest political quality: his courage, a virtue that, ironically, he shares to some degree with his Trumpian nemesis. For those of us who believe that courage is the virtue we will need most if we are to have any chance of effectively challenging liberalism’s false premises and rolling back its cultural hegemony, that courage is the reason we can make peace with Cruz, whatever his other flaws.

[..] But it is a far more human and admirable courage than Trump’s hyper-confident bluster. This is not to suggest that Cruz is not a calculating politician (indeed he is, far more than most). Nor does it deny that he may well bear some responsibility for other behaviors that have not endeared him to his Senate colleagues. But after all of the calculating is done, Senator Cruz, more than any other national Republican, is willing to go out alone and defend an unpopular conservative position when doing so may have substantial personal and political costs.

“It was the glory of this man that he could stand alone with the truth and calmly await the result,” said Frederick Douglass at the funeral of his fellow radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who first took up the cause at a time when it was deeply unpopular. While the stakes of Cruz’s speech, significant though they were, pale in comparison with the battles fought by Douglass and Garrison, the core principles Douglass stated apply equally. And in this case, the truth, whether or not the delegates in Cleveland wanted to hear it, is that Donald Trump, whatever virtues and vices he may have, and regardless of whatever GOP officialdom wants to pretend, is not a conservative, at least in the way that Americans have thought of conservatism over the last several decades. Ted Cruz didn’t join #NeverTrump yesterday. But he did declare that he wasn’t going to pretend that Trump’s record was something it wasn’t.

Senator Cruz’s decision was clearly unpopular with many GOP delegates and insiders in Cleveland. But for many in the wider political world outside the convention hall, Lyin’ Ted became Lion Ted on Wednesday night. And 2016 will likely not be the last time we’ll hear his roar.

This blog is no great cheerleader for Ted Cruz, a man whose prickly public persona tests the saying “principles before personalities” to the uttermost limit. But my God, he is a better Republican presidential candidate than Donald Trump. At least he is actually a conservative.

That’s not to say that this blog scorns all Donald Trump supporters or absolves mainstream conservatives of their responsibility for creating the Trump phenomenon in the first place. Far from it. The vast majority of Trump supporters are kind, decent people with entirely legitimate grievances against a self-serving political class which has failed them for years, even decades.

But that doesn’t make Donald Trump the right solution. It certainly does nothing to detract from the fact that Trump is a calamity for the Republican Party, who are now paying in a lump for their years of corruption and degeneracy.

Tonight Donald Trump will take the stage in Cleveland and accept the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency of the United States. By some accounts his acceptance speech is good, even dangerously good.

I don’t see this ending well.

 

 

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When The Establishment Dismisses The Economic Pain Of Struggling Americans, Donald Trump Wins

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A throwaway line by a well-meaning journalist reveals the gulf in understanding between the political / media establishment and the struggling Americans who are not just drawn but actively pushed into the arms of Donald Trump

On his live blog of Night 3 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Andrew Sullivan notes:

Rick Scott is up first. He’s informing us that the U.S. economy isn’t growing. That’s not true.

Yeah, okay. One point to Hillary Clinton, I guess. Except that for millions of Americans, the economy may as well not be growing. For millions of Americans, the economy is utterly stagnant – or at least the end of the labour market which they occupy is stagnant.

One of the reasons that so many people are enraged by the political class – and willing to give Donald Trump the time of day – is the airy way which their entirely legitimate concerns are dismissed by the elite.

There is a howl of pain emanating from the squeezed American lower middle and working classes – a cry that the economy is not working for them, not making it possible for them to achieve the American dream. But what is the establishment’s response? Too often, their response is simply to sniff that the dumb idiots have their facts wrong, that the economy is actually growing very nicely (for artisan bread makers and graphic designers and people working in the professional service sector), and that the dumb hicks should just shut up and stop complaining.

We see exactly the same thing with immigration. As Tucker Carlson wrote so memorably (and accurately) back in January:

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

And the scary thing is that it is the so-called “compassionate” liberals and progressive conservatives most likely to hold these dismissive views of the concerns of the squeezed middle and working classes. It is the people who make such a sanctimonious show of supposedly caring about equality that happily bank the many gifts that Obama’s economic recovery has bestowed upon them while looking with disgust and contempt at the complaints of their fellow Americans who are being left behind.

If that is how the elite really want to continue behaving then fine – it is their prerogative. But they cannot feign surprise and dismay when struggling Americans then lose faith in their leadership and their policy prescriptions, and go looking for something, anything else.

As it happens, I don’t think for a moment that Andrew Sullivan is indifferent to the suffering of America’s struggling working poor. He is a blogging hero of mine, and someone whom I respect enormously. But he is also very much part of the media elite and lives a life very far removed from those who struggle and live paycheck to paycheck. One can understand his instinctive irritation on hearing Rick Scott falsely state that America’s economy is not growing under President Obama.

But what we need now from the establishment is an enormous effort to find empathy for those Americans who have not seen an economic recovery since 2008, no matter what the top line GDP figures say. When hard-working people are hurting and living precariously at a time of their lives when they had been raised to believe they should be enjoying the fruits of the American dream, it is not enough to summarily dismiss their concerns, even – perhaps especially – when they are poorly or angrily articulated.

The Republican Party has already failed to learn this lesson of empathy and humility. Donald Trump is their punishment. The American Left and non-aligned conservatives and libertarians can scarcely afford to make the same mistake.

 

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RNC 2016: Republican National Convention – Night 2 Summary

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Donald Trump is now the Republican Party’s official presidential nominee. And there is plenty of blame to go around.

The theme of Night 2 of the Republican Party convention was “Make America Work Again”. Not that you would have noticed any great difference from Night 1, titled “Make America Safe Again”.

The speeches were the same – long diatribes against Hillary Clinton’s criminality, endless unproductive hysteria about terrorism, creeping paranoia about Iran and constant assertions from speaker after speaker that President Obama’s America is a weak cuckold of a country, being fleeced left, right and centre by enemies and allies alike.

Chris Christie was the highlight of the evening. No matter how much the New Jersey governor may have debased himself since dropping out of the presidential race himself to become Donald Trump’s first and loudest establishment cheerleader, one cannot deny the effectiveness of his prosecutorial convention speech, calling out a litany of Hillary Clinton’s transgressions and inviting delegates to pronounce her guilty or not guilty of each charge (spoiler: the Republican delegates convicted Clinton on all counts).

But that was the prime time agenda, the face that the Republican Party actually wanted to show the country. Before the eyes of America fell on them, the GOP held its state roll-call and officially confirmed Donald Trump as their 2016 presidential nominee.

While some rejoice at the ascendance of a man touting such a populist, anti-establishment agenda – and I can identify with that impulse, in part – there is no denying that this is anything other than a profound defeat for American conservatism, an even lower low than that reached by the Bush-Cheney administration with their fiscal incontinence and calamitous decision to play at nation building in the Middle East.

For Donald Trump is anything but a conservative. He has no respect for the United States Constitution, or for individual liberty – precious things to which the old Republican Party would at least pay lip service. He is an authoritarian, ideologically rootless wannabe strongman who actively scorns policy and loudly insists that all of America’s problems can be solved by simply deciding to start “winning” again. Rather than engage his brain and think about education policy or immigration, or globalisation and free trade, Trump merely promises to hire “the best people” to get the job done.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Trump apparently offered to make Ohio governor John Kasich the “most powerful” vice president in America’s history:

One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

In other words, Donald Trump cares so little about actually governing that he was willing to outsource both domestic and foreign policy – that is, the entire US presidency, bar the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey – to his VP, someone who would deal with all of the boring stuff while Trump jetted around insulting foreign heads of state and acting as America’s global brand ambassador.

This – this – is the depth to which the party of Abraham Lincoln has sunk.

But how? Daniel Larison’s painful evisceration of the rotten Republican Party says it best:

Like Rod Dreher, I see Trump’s success as proof that “the people who run [the GOP] and the institutions surrounding it failed.” They not only failed in their immediate task of preventing the nomination of a candidate that party leaders loathed, but failed repeatedly over at least the last fifteen years to govern well or even to represent the interests and concerns of most Republican voters.

Had the Bush administration not presided over multiple disasters, most of them of their own making, there would have been no opening or occasion for the repudiation of the party’s leaders that we have seen this year. Had the party served the interests of most of its voters instead of catering to the preferences of their donors and corporations, there would have been much less support for someone like Trump. Party leaders spent decades conning Republican voters with promises they knew they wouldn’t or couldn’t fulfill, and then were shocked when most of those voters turned against them. Trump is millions of Republican voters’ judgment against a party that failed them, and the fact that Trump is thoroughly unqualified for the office he seeks makes that judgment all the more damning.

While as Tucker Carlson pointed out back in January (h/t Dreher):

In the case of Trump, though, the GOP shares the blame, and not just because his fellow Republicans misdirected their ad buys or waited so long to criticize him. Trump is in part a reaction to the intellectual corruption of the Republican Party. That ought to be obvious to his critics, yet somehow it isn’t.

Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? Billions, certainly. (Someone better at math and less prone to melancholy should probably figure out the precise number.) Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation: Salaries, bonuses, retirement funds, medical, dental, lunches, car services, leases on high-end office space, retreats in Mexico, more fundraising. Unless you were the direct beneficiary of any of that, you’d have to consider it wasted.

Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed. Many of those same overpaid, underperforming tax-exempt sinecure-holders are now demanding that Trump be stopped. Why? Because, as his critics have noted in a rising chorus of hysteria, Trump represents “an existential threat to conservatism.”

Let that sink in. Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

It turns out the GOP wasn’t simply out of touch with its voters; the party had no idea who its voters were or what they believed. For decades, party leaders and intellectuals imagined that most Republicans were broadly libertarian on economics and basically neoconservative on foreign policy. That may sound absurd now, after Trump has attacked nearly the entire Republican catechism (he savaged the Iraq War and hedge fund managers in the same debate) and been greatly rewarded for it, but that was the assumption the GOP brain trust operated under. They had no way of knowing otherwise. The only Republicans they talked to read the Wall Street Journal too.

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

This blog agrees: Donald Trump is the fault of every single American conservative who has been in government since the turn of the millennium. It is hard to think of any other political party which so thoroughly alienated its own base through a deliberate campaign of ignoring their interests and showering them with contempt since… since centrist Labour was blown apart by the Jeremy Corbyn revolution in Britain.

The GOP’s corrupt leadership and willingness to con their own voters (particularly by exploiting wedge social issues to little effect while pursuing the same old failed economic policies) is the reason why the Republican base turned en masse against establishment conservatism, preferring even an authoritarian strongman like Trump to another moment of their sanctimonious, self-serving rule.

This is happening. There will be no white knight to swoop in and save the day, snatching the nomination away from Donald Trump. The Republican Party have already bestowed their blessing and their nomination. And everybody who shares the same stage in Cleveland – even the good ones, like Paul Ryan – are now tainted by association with him.

And when the Republican Party is picking through the wreckage on Wednesday 9th November, there will be plenty of blame to go around.

 

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RNC 2016: Republican National Convention – Night 1 Summary

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As the Republican National Convention gets underway in Cleveland, it is hard to recall a time when American conservatism has been in so parlous a condition

Andrew Sullivan (in a most welcome return to political live-blogging) captured the ugly essence of Night 1 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio:

Just mulling over the events tonight, there’s one obvious stand-out. I didn’t hear any specific policy proposals to tackle clearly stated public problems. It is almost as if governing, for the Republican right, is fundamentally about an attitude, rather than about experience or practicality or reasoning. The degeneracy of conservatism – its descent into literally mindless appeals to tribalism and fear and hatred – was on full display. You might also say the same about the religious right, the members of whom have eagerly embraced a racist, a nativist, a believer in war crimes, and a lover of the tyrants that conservatism once defined itself against. Their movement long lost any claim to a serious Christian conscience. But that they would so readily embrace such an unreconstructed pagan is indeed a revelation.

If you think of the conservative movement as beginning in 1964 and climaxing in the 1990s, then the era we are now in is suffering from a cancer of the mind and the soul. That the GOP has finally found a creature that can personify these urges to purge, a man for whom the word “shameless” could have been invented, a bully and a creep, a liar and cheat, a con man and wannabe tyrant, a dedicated loather of individual liberty, and an opponent of the pricelessly important conventions of liberal democracy is perhaps a fitting end.

Well, quite.

What struck me most from the first night of the Republican convention, as speaker after speaker stood and railed against President Obama, called for Hillary Clinton to be thrown in jail and led the delegates in endless chants of “USA! USA!”, was the fact that these people were all scared. Scared of the future, scared of their economic prospects, scared of Islamist terrorism, scared of national decline.

Rudy Giuliani, appearing a very shrunken figure since his glory days in the late 1990s and during 9/11, sounded like a fearful pensioner shouting at the television when he gave his barnstorming prime-time speech. Where had his America gone, he shouted, and who would keep them all safe in these dangerous times? The answer, of course, was always Donald Trump.

We know that some American conservatives have skipped the convention entirely in disgust – and who can blame them? But of those in the convention hall – or the Quicken Loans arena, to give its full title – the vast majority seem to be drinking the Kool-Aid, or have at least reluctantly reconciled themselves to the fact that Donald Trump is their presidential nominee.

Something has changed in the soul of the Republican Party. One can argue endlessly about the reasons why – this blog believes that the continued failure of Republican government to benefit the struggling middle classes, the failure of the Tea Party to make a positive difference despite its loud rhetoric together with the ill-fated adventurism of the neoconservatives, has done much to alienate working class Americans from a conservative political class who have little to offer them but shallow patriotism.

Of course, Donald Trump offers shallow patriotism too. But he is also a strongman. Where President Obama wrings his hands and attempts to explain the complexity of the world and the problems facing America – often to excess – Donald Trump offers clarity and bold, oversimplified solutions. ISIS can be defeated without putting American boots on the ground, just by America deciding to “lead” again. Semi-skilled manufacturing jobs can be repatriated to America simply by “standing up” to nefarious foreign countries like China and Mexico. And apparently, after having been ground down by two stalled wars and a financial crisis, American conservatism was sufficiently dejected and debased to pick up that message and run with it.

I came of age (and became aware of American politics) in the late 1990s, in the tail end of the Clinton presidency and into the George W. Bush era. And in that time, in books and speeches by prominent conservatives, American conservatism was clearly dedicated – in rhetoric, if not always in practice – to advancing freedom. Freedom for the individual in America, and (sometimes disastrously) freedom for people in other parts of the world.

But the Republican Party of 2016 barely talks about freedom at all. On the first night of the RNC in Cleveland, speakers and delegates gathered under a massive sign proclaiming “Make America Safe Again”. Freedom has apparently gone out the window completely – why else would Republicans nominate an authoritarian like Donald Trump, a man who expresses contempt for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and human rights? And in freedom’s place comes the soothing, reassuring, beguiling promise of safety.

The America I now see through the prism of the current Republican Party – thankfully quite a distorted prism – is one where the American Dream has died for millions of people, or is at best on life support. The Republican primary voters who overwhelmingly voted to make Donald Trump their presidential nominee, and who are now gathered in Cleveland for the quadrennial party convention, were motivated by not by a sense of opportunity but by fear. Fear for their physical safety from terrorism. Fear of economic instability. Fear of relative decline.

Tim Stanley agrees:

Note: preserve. Not build more, not expand, not create – but preserve. You might argue that Trump is conservatism in its purest sense, the sense of being about conserving the best of the past. You might also argue that this represents a break from Reaganism, which is optimistic and about growing the economy to the advantage of the individual.

I’ve been a US conservative convention goer for eight years and I can tell that a change has come over them. You used to hear a lot about defending the Constitution and shrinking the government. Not so much anymore.

The people who are interested in those things are here. On Monday afternoon, God bless them, they tried to kick Trump off the ticket with a rules challenge on the convention floor. They failed and stormed off. They never had the numbers necessary to do it and the Republican establishment has reconciled itself to Trump anyway – so no dice.

And that’s the most depressing thing of all – there is no longer a major political party in the United States remotely dedicated to expanding freedom for the individual and defending against the encroachment of the state.

Lord knows that the Democrats will not be championing liberty now that they are led by Hillary Clinton and nearly entirely captured by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. For small-c conservatives, libertarian and conservatarians, this election is very much a case of pick your poison.

Andrew Sullivan is quite right to highlight the lack of any serious policy discussion on Day 1 of the convention (and if you don’t get any on the traditionally less TV-worthy opening days then you won’t get any at all). Trumpian conservatism clearly is not interested in solutions. Like their strongman hero, the Republican Party of 2016 has decided that the difficult, intractable problems of Islamist terror, deindustrialisation, global competitiveness and social mobility can be solved simply by willing them away, by “standing up to America’s enemies” and being swept along by Trump’s strong leadership.

Maybe it will take defeat in the 2016 presidential election for the Republican Party to be shocked out of its current stupor and invigorated to find a way to appeal to Trump’s broad coalition of voters with a more optimistic, pro-liberty message.

The nightmare scenario, though, is a Trump victory, which would gild this fear-based, revanchist form of conservatism with the prestige that comes with winning (never mind posing a serious threat to the American republic) and has the potential to transform Donald Trump from an unfortunate blip on the political landscape to an early 21st century Ronald Reagan.

In short, it is hard to see any grounds for hope at all going into this Republican Party convention. But this blog will continue to watch and hope for the green shoots of a future conservative revival, something better to come once this Trumpian nightmare is over.

 

Donald Trump Hosts Nevada Caucus Night Watch Party In Las Vegas

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