Matthew Walther’s Second Cleveland Diary

Feature: Cleveland is almost too safe for its own good; plus: my new hero, bad food, my diet resolution, and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’

2016 Republican National Convention
Donald Trump arrives on stage to introduce his wife Melania Trump during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland / AP
July 19, 2016

CLEVELAND, Ohio—I forgot to tell you about one of the most surreal things I have ever seen. Taking a cab back to the Washington Free Beacon Cleveland bureau in the beautiful Tremont neighborhood on Sunday night, I watched about 40 policemen on bicycles troop past in the moonlight. I have no idea where they were going or why. Perhaps it was a training exercise. What I do know is that those of us whose mothers were calling in the days leading up to the convention urging us to be careful can rest assured that we will be fine. The perimeter seems to be impenetrable, and the handful of protestors that do bother gathering outside of it seem to have been thoroughly intimidated by the cops mounted on horses, steel, or otherwise.

My extended shoe-shopping adventures prevented me from crashing a cigar exhibition at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, and the execrable wireless Internet situation in the general press filing area of the convention center did not make things any easier. I was, however, on hand for an event put on by Take Back our Republic and Patriotic Millionaires. John Pudner and Morris Pearl spoke in Cleveland’s downtown Public Square about campaign finance reform, not a subject particularly beloved of the post-McCain Republican Party. But they have convinced me that it is something worth getting serious about. Pudner heaped scorn on an unnamed Republican senator who suggested that "everyone" in this country has the money to contribute $1,200 to any cause of his choosing every year, and said that we need to do more to prevent foreign money from flowing into campaign coffers due to lax credit card reporting rules. Both men argued on behalf of legislation that would reintroduce a $200 tax credit eliminated during the Reagan era for political donations. I hope that they are successful and that this time next year I am able to pony up twice a year for Rick Santorum’s forthcoming bid to return to the Senate on an anti-contraception platform.

I should say that it was somewhat difficult to hear Pudner and Pearl. About 30 feet away from them a lunatic was screaming into a megaphone about how illegal immigrants are damned by virtue of their legal status, which is perhaps the most freakishly imprudent right-wing revision of traditional Christian soteriology I have ever heard. My time in the park was not wasted, however. I am in love. Or, rather, I have a new hero. Her name is Eryka, and she is a Polish woman in her 70s and a Cleveland resident. I saw her today in Public Square near the convention center when yet another lunatic street preacher started railing against the Catholic Church. He began with the usual nonsense about how the Holy Father is Anti-Christ and continued to explain that all the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics were going to hell because we "worship Mary." Eryka, her eyes full of rage, pushed herself, walker and all, into the preacher’s face. "We do not worship the Mother of God! We ask for her intercession. You, you have a pastor or whatever you call him—you ask him to pray for you? It is the same with our Mother."

Here the nutball attempted to interject. "The Bible says—."

"The Bible? You are an idiot! How did we arrive at the Bible? Because the bishops were guided by the Holy Spirit." She stormed off. I ran over and thanked her immediately. She was a bit suspicious of me at first until I explained that I was a coreligionist and an ardent Marian. I wish she lived in D.C.

After a brief return to the house to re-apply my antiperspirant and drop off some things, I returned to the Quicken Loans Arena to observe the evening’s official proceedings. A colleague and I were forced to choose between one of the four dining options offered by the catering company the RNC has hired. They are all disgusting. What is it with Republicans and dairy? Cheese grits, cheese pierogis, nachos with cheese. The only thing I could find that was consumable by the lactose intolerant was beef brisket in tortillas. It was greasy and disgusting and made me feel 10 pounds heavier, a real setback for anyone still trying to lose baby weight as a child’s first birthday approaches. I hereby resolve to observe the so-called model diet for the rest of the convention: champagne, cigarettes, and coffee. I am willing to substitute cava or prosecco or any other non-carbonation method sparkling wine for the first of these, but otherwise I intend to follow both the letter and spirit of the law here and consume no solid food until Friday evening when I am back at home in Alexandria. By the end of the convention I expect my figure to be approximately that of a pouty-faced French Vogue cover star. My wife will be thrilled.

After taking these vows and smoking a great deal—no one seems to care; I even smoked with a local Cleveland cop today—I finally went to the nosebleed seats at the Q for a mostly tedious and unedifying series of short addresses from Senate hopefuls and failed presidential candidates and kindly old senators almost wholly lacking in charisma. It was wonderful seeing Donald Trump emerge out of the smoke and fog, like one of the vampire choir boys in the immortal music video for "Total Eclipse of the Heart." When I watched him again later on television it was even better: the man is a master of the medium, and there was a phantasmagorical quality to his entrance that was wholly in keeping with his unpredictable style throughout the campaign. If you have ever been to a Trump rally, you know that the soundtrack runs the gamut from the Stones’s "You Can’t Always Get What You Want" to Pavarotti singing La donna è mobile to 2 Limited’s immortal classic "Get Ready for This." It is such an absurd and eclectic mix that you almost don’t believe your ears. The same goes for the content of Trump’s speeches and everything else he does. It’s worked for him so far.

After the speeches a contingent of Free Beacon staffers closed the bar outside the arena. I was unable to get a head start on my diet because the only options available were a crap chardonnay, gin, and a handful of beers. If anyone knows of a good event with free bubbly, do let me know. Cleveland is an ocean of free booze: I just need to find the right inlet to start swimming in.