Columns

The Demagogue Rises

Column: Donald Trump Accepts Republican Nomination in Cleveland

AP

Donald Trump delivered the longest, loudest convention speech in recent memory when he accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday evening. He made no attempt to "pivot to the general election," moderate his agenda, smooth over rough rhetoric. Gone was Mitt Romney's Etch-a-Sketch, tossed into a dustbin with George W. Bush's Freedom Agenda, George H.W. Bush's Thousand Points of Light, Ronald Reagan's Morning in America. Trump was his usual self: brash, boisterous, overbearing, defiant, inimitable, roiling with anger over the state of the country and the corruption, ineffectiveness, and arrogance of the nation's elite. Trump won't change, won't learn, won't listen, won't apologize, won't cavil, won't conform to the traditions of presidential politics or adhere to the norms of political discourse. He doesn't care about facts, he wants to overturn the postwar international order, he champions the will to power, he mercilessly attacks opponents. He's a demagogue in dark suits, electric ties. I can only imagine what he'd be capable of if he were competent.

Because he's not competent. He is actually truly, magnificently inept. The convention was a mess, haphazard, disorganized, weird. The botched roll call vote, Melania's plagiarism, Ted Cruz's hand grenade, the leaked speech draft—all of these gaffes and scandals occurred against the backdrop of dismal attendance, chants to put Hillary in prison, bizarre speakers, rambling addresses, early departures, and testimonies to Trump's greatness. His campaign has practically no money, no advertising, no infrastructure, no grassroots operation. The other day, when he expressed uncertainty about whether the United States would lead NATO in defense of the Baltic States if they were attacked by Russia, Trump made history by provoking an international incident without even being president. Many GOP officials wouldn't come near the convention, including Ohio's popular governor. There are two Republican parties for the moment: the party led by Trump and the Republican Party in exile, the party of Kasich and Larry Hogan and Nikki Haley and Charlie Baker and Brian Sandoval and Mark Kirk and Ted Cruz. Election Day won't just determine who will succeed President Obama. It will also determine the fate of Donald J. Trump's hostile takeover of the GOP.