Cleveland’s Republican Convention to Decide Party’s Future
by Ned Sheehan on Friday, April 29th, 2016
Cleveland, the city of my birth, is affectionately known as “The Mistake on the Lake (Erie).” It is a town of abandoned steel mills, terrible baseball and football teams, pierogis, and Rock & Roll. It is a town whose popular events include “Ten Cent Beer Night” riots and oil fires on the Cuyahoga River. This summer, though, Cleveland may have the chance to host the Republican National Convention. This will be no ordinary convention. In fact, this convention will likely decide the future of the Republican Party.
These days, political party conventions are usually little more than self-indulgent; there are balloons everywhere, festive badges are given out, prominent Party members make speeches in hopes of a presidential run down the road, and everyone prepares for the brutal campaign months ahead. Sometimes these conventions can become trainwrecks, but, usually, nothing much happens. However, this atmosphere was not always the case.
Before the days of primaries, which debuted in 1901, conventions were where the presidential nominee was decided. Party bosses, faction leaders, and prominent politicians gathered and decided presidential candidates. Backstabbing was common; dark horses frequently came out of nowhere to receive the nomination, and political careers were made or broken. Sometimes, these conventions were disasters of near glorious proportions. The 1924 Democratic Convention, for instance, was a sixteen-day-long debacle. Candidates pandered to the Ku Klux Klan so much it became known as the “Klanbake;” fistfights broke out on the floor, and the reputation of nearly everyone involved was destroyed (luckily for our nation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s polio prevented him from attending). As primaries rose in prominence, contested conventions fell out of favor, with the last one occurring in 1968 (and ending with riots).
This year, however, it looks more and more like no Republican candidate will gain a decisive majority going into Cleveland, meaning the nomination may be fought for out on the floor. If that happens, I’d bet none of the three current candidates receive the nomination. Party mainliners detest Trump and loathe Cruz on a personal level. John Kasich doesn’t have nearly enough support to win in a general election: the future of the Republican Party is at stake.
The fact is that the Republican Party can’t survive much longer in its current form. Relying on shrinking demographics, an increasingly fractured coalition, and policies unpopular with more and more Americans, the Republican Party could suffer a crucial defeat in the upcoming election. There are three possible outcomes this year.
The first of these possibilities is that the GOP continues its current course. The party nominates Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or someone else of that moderate substance and lets democratic nominee Hillary Clinton win the election, but by a margin that doesn’t humiliate the Republicans. The GOP isn’t destroyed in the short term, but it kicks all its problems four years down the road and continues its long, slow slide into irrelevance. This possibility would mean four, and likely eight, years of a Hillary Clinton presidency, and the Republican party’s wandering deeper into the political wilderness.
The second possibility is that the GOP somehow finds its way to salvation (no, not by nominating a candidate from the religious far-right) with a candidate who can assemble a coalition for the future. Maybe somebody like Charlie Baker, Olympia Snowe, or even Scott Brown, could shift the party far enough to the left in order to appeal to more Americans. Perhaps Cleveland’s convention will be remembered as a miracle: the moment the party saved itself from decay and ruin.
The third possibility is that we see the convention drag on for weeks, turn into a mess, and eventually burn the party to ashes on live TV. Maybe Trump and Cruz supporters will riot on the floor, or outside the city’s sports arenas (remember: this is a city that nearly rioted when LeBron James left). The ways in which the Republican Convention could go wrong are numerous and potentially ugly enough to destroy the GOP. Only one thing is sure to be discovered in Cleveland: the Republicans will either find salvation or damnation.
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