This is Plunderbund columnist D.C. DeWitt’s reporters’ blog for Day 1 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. It’s been a helluva show so far. Ringling Bros. would be jealous.
So it begins. I last attended the U.S. Presidential Conventions in 2008. Eight years later, everything boasts familiarity, except this time I’m in Cleveland, my second favorite city in Ohio (right behind my hometown of Athens).
The theme of the day according to the Republican National Committee is “Make America Safe Again.” Each day has a theme. Tomorrow we will make America work again. And then we’ll make it first again. And then it all culminates Thursday, when we make America one again, apparently.
I’ve been in Cleveland for two hours, arriving at 7:30 a.m. just in time to be denied access to the Ohio Republican Party’s morning breakfast with guest speaker U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton. They said that they are over capacity. Unfortunately, I don’t appear to wield tremendous sway with the power brokers of the Ohio Republican Party. They won’t miss me much, I suspect.
This is how it works. Every morning, each state delegation puts on their fanciest duds and heads down for breakfast, back-slapping, hand-shaking and hob-knobbing at their respective hotels. The Ohio delegation is staying at the DoubleTree by Hilton on Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland.
They have denied my credentials to every breakfast and event so far, which I now consider as freeing me up to begin posting here on Plunderbund. Their excuse has been that they’re over capacity, which may well be the case. I’d hate to think they are just banning certain reporters they don’t like. Even Richard Nixon didn’t do that.
In the meantime, I’ve done what every respectable journalist in the city is doing, and found the free Wi-Fi. I’m holed up in a Starbucks in Playhouse Square, writing this while I wait for the nearby Halle Building to open so that I may obtain my credentials to get into the Q and the convention itself.
Quite honestly, Cleveland has been quiet this morning, so far. We had a bit of rain, and everything’s drying out now. The sun started shining. The man behind me in the Starbucks was very impressed to see in person the U.S. Secret Service officer behind us. We all had a good laugh.
In what I’ll take as a good omen, one of my favorite patriotic songs, “This Land is Your Land,” the Woody Guthrie classic covered by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, just started playing over the speakers. This version has all of Guthrie’s original lyrics. I grew up around here. I do feel like this land – The ‘Land – is my land.
I’m at home in Cleveland. I’m a little protective of it. Everybody I know who I told I was coming here told me to be safe. That’s grim. It speaks to something happening in our country right now that I know we should be better than, but will we be able?
What will happen here in Cleveland? Will the better angels of our nature prevail, or will we submit to our darkest impulses? Keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times and hold on tight.
I don’t know what to expect, but for now, the comfort of home is enough. More updates to come, so stay tuned, kids, and play nice.
I’ve spent the majority of the last three hours walking from government building to government building around Cleveland, obtaining credentials first from the Republican National Committee and then the U.S. Secret Service, waiting in lines, having my bags checked and getting into Quicken Loans Arena.
I am now at RNC in CLE Command Central. Headquarters. Upper deck baby! The nose bleeds! I’ve staked out my place with the world’s finest periodical press, whom they’ve stuck in sections 232 and 233.
The stage is a couple hundred yards away at my 11 o’clock. Meanwhile, it’s a party up here. The periodical press enjoys a more informal attitude than the more stuffy big time gray daily geeks, not to mention the well-coiffed TeeVee personalities with their endless makeup and even more endless equipment.
Scandinavia has played an unexpected role in my morning. While waiting in line for my Secret Service credentials, I spent an hour and a half on the 14th floor of the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse with a TV crew from Sweden. I asked them what they thought of this whole 2016 Election business in these United States. I’ve never heard the term “clusters****” more politely described.
After getting that credential, I made my way toward The Q, where the line for media, delegates and hangers-on stretched all the way down to Pickwick & Frolic on East 4th Street. While there, I was treated to witnessing a London Times TeeVee interview with Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch Party for Freedom leader.
In line, the man next to me, name of Fred, wore a “Make America Great Again” trucker cap à la Donald Trump. It brought him much attention and admiration. Many Instagram photos were taken. He confided in me his belief that Trump is sure to win in November.
He told me that the first thing Donald would do is “cut the hell out of the EPA, saving us $1 billion we didn’t know we had.” Then, he said, Donald would “go through the rest of the alphabet” making cuts to government services. The EPA served a purpose when it was created, Fred acknowledged, but it’s outlived its usefulness, apparently.
Then Tom Brokaw walked by. That’s one of the weirder things about these kinds of trips. You never know which random familiar face may show up shoulder-to-shoulder with you next. In 2008, I watched then-nominee Barack Obama’s big speech with Comedy Central’s Carlos Mencia. Random. Whatever happened to that guy?
Since my last update, I’ve been watching over the Republican National Convention like a freedom eagle, perched atop The Q at the only power outlet I can find in the arena, in the second-to-highest row.
Speaker after speaker has appeared, interspersed with rock music from a live band I haven’t been able to identify yet. The themes are fairly predictable: The last eight years allegedly have been awful and America cannot afford more of the same. We need to take our country back, make America great again, etc.
I’ve been giving the over/under at two minutes for each speaker before we hear some turn on the notion that America cannot afford four more years of what we’ve had the last eight. It gets mentioned by everyone.
Less often mentioned is the name of the Republican Party nominee himself, though I can’t say this surprises me. Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich apparently declined a speaking slot at the convention, causing a bit of a kerfuffle with the Trump campaign this morning. I believe Trump’s guy Paul Manafort called Kasich an “embarrassment.” I’m excited to see how the Guv responds at his big Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame event tomorrow afternoon.
One person the speakers so far haven’t been shy about mentioning: Democratic Party Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. They really don’t seem to like her much. We here at The Q have been told that she doesn’t really represent women or women’s interests. Donald Trump is much better for women, they say. Also, they say, the Republican Party represents youth and diversity, while the Democratic Party represents continued Big Government Corruption.
It’s all so much red meat. Nothing surprising. Nothing unusual. Chum in the water. The big question on everybody’s lips, natch, is when Scott Baio will appear. OK, maybe that’s just the question on my lips. What would the 2016 Election be without hearing the sage advice of “Charles in Charge,” I put it to you.
Meanwhile, I got a mite peckish and bit the bullet for a severely overpriced jumbo hotdog and some French fries (or are they still Freedom Fries?) from the “Republican Roadhouse.” All the eateries here at The Q have been rennamed. My other option was the GOP Bistro. I think they missed the mark. I’d have called it the Grand Old Grill.
Anyway, the gentleman next to me bemoaned the loss of his “fiscally responspible” bonafides in paying such an exorbitant fee for a hot dog. I assured him that Cleveland’s famous Stadium Mustard would make it worth it.
On the floor, the Dump Trump movement is reportedly making their move, getting delegates to sign a pledge in an attempt to secure a roll call vote. I’m doubtful they’ll have any hope of real success, but this is the only card they have left to play. I may go down to the floor for a closer look.
I’m fairly certain I just watched the Never Trump/Dump Trump movement gasp out its last. It’s all centered around the rules and whether or not they shall be approved.
A number of rogue states wanted a roll call vote on approving the rules, thus providing them a way to wage an assault against the presumptive nominee. They needed delegates from seven or more states to agree, and apparently thought they had nine, but then some dropped, and they fell below the threshold.
So when the state of Utah was finally recognized and requested a roll call vote, amid much teeth gnashing, the chair said that there were insufficient delegates requesting to do so. There were chants, “We Want Trump” v. “Roll Call Vote.”
The opposing chants have continued intermittently. A former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire named Gordon Humphrey said the calls for a roll call vote were drowned out by “Brownshirts.” There have been allegations of a “rigged election” and calls for a “walkout,” but so far no walkout has happened.
WaPo’s Cris Cillizza reported that the gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, threw down his credentials in disgust. And then, briefly, we heard a benediction from a preacher whose name I didn’t catch about how united Republicans are…
And now we’ve recessed until this evening’s events.
Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson got the crowd in The Q on his side early Monday night by going to the old Trumpean standby of attacking the media out of the gate. Apparently, we in the media get everything wrong all the time because we never talk to regular people.
But Donald Trump will have the back of regular folk, Robertson has assured us, even when we don’t agree or if he’s not “politically correct.” He’s trustworthy and will make America great again because he’s a straight shooter, Robertson said.
Scott Baio was up next, and they credited him as being on “Happy Days” instead of my favorite, “Charles in Charge.” (Once upon a time I gave a speech in a classroom at Ohio University about how “Charles in Charge” is the greatest sitcom of all time, tongue firmly planted in cheek of course).
For his part, Baio just called America the greatest country god ever created. But America “doesn’t mean getting free stuff,” Baio tells us, it means “sacrificing, winning, losing… and doing the hard work to be where you want to be.”
Bad things are happening every day in America, and we need Donald Trump to fix it, Baio says, getting his biggest reaction from the audience with boos at Hillary Clinton’s name. Hillary wants to be President for Hillary Clinton, he says, and Donald Trump wants to be President, “out of the goodness of his heart,” for “all of us.”
Well, those of you following along at home know a little more than me. I skipped out of the convention to check out East 4th Street around 9:30 p.m., right after the Benghazi speeches turned into the series of anecdotes about “illegal aliens” doing horrible things. In my journalistic experience, many different types of people do many horrible things.
Also, y’know, lots of good people do good things all the time too. Those things don’t make the news as much because, well, it’s kind of expected of decent people, ergo not newsworthy. But who knows? Fatigue is setting in.
I saw Tom Brokaw again for the third time today. The man’s everywhere. Media and delegates have to enter The Q basically from East 4th Street.
East Fourth is a pedestrian hot zone of bars, grills and clubs that sits right where The Q and Tower City intersect in downtown Cleveland. Lights are strung overhead. Al fresco dining options line the brick street.
It fell into such disrepair during the steel bust of the 1970s that it was proposed for demolition in the ’80s until a grassroots movement to revive it brought it to its present state.
And now, during Convention Week, it’s media central, with all of the action that entails. Various news outlets have rented out whole buildings in some cases from which to conduct their business.
Right across from Flannery’s Irish Pub is Bloomberg News. The Washington Post has rented out the building next to Pickwick & Frolic. Just beyond Pickwick, MSNBC has their stage with on-air talent delivering whatever it is MSNBC on-air talent delivers. Crowds gather in back to gawk and make faces at the cameras, holding up signs.
At the intersection with the entrance to The Q, various protestors and counter-protestors were gathering. These weren’t the big groups down at the mall by all the city buildings toward the lake; these were little pods of action-seekers that can be spotted in clusters around the city.
The evangelicals were there, doing their thing: namely telling everybody we’re all going to hell. I saw some Black Lives Matter protestors there but there wasn’t much action from them. In fact, I saw one of them shake three police officers’ hands in a row, to their enjoyment. That’s the spirit.
One guy was wearing a Hillary mask and holding two signs, one that said, “Trump v. Tramp,” and another that said, “Hillary for Prison 2016.” The latter seems to be popular at this convention; I’ve noticed it numerous times.
The sidewalk vendors are cleaning up, often boasting both pro-Trump and anti-Trump merchandise and happily selling out of both. Tomorrow morning I intend to check out the mall and get a good look at both sides of that equation for you all.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.