The last walk-through.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

And Now for Trump's Triumphant Big Finale

Margaret Carlson was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Even Donald Trump’s allies admit that the Republican convention has been one big flap after another. Insulting John Kasich, the hugely popular governor of must-win Ohio, lifting passages from a speech delivered by the wife of a president he suspects of being a terrorist sympathizer, giving a prime-time speaking spot to an unreliable rival. Then there were the multiple appearances by the would-be Republican nominee himself, apparently so hungry for attention that he was willing to steal his own thunder. And this is just a partial list of the week’s blunders.

But it's possible that none of this is getting down the star of the show. Trump himself probably doesn’t feel that the glitches have taken away from a boffo convention whose last night on Thursday, his big night, will break records.

Trump promised the most unconventional convention ever, which meant it could not be boring. What if the story arc required character development, the overcoming of adversity and a big cathartic reveal at the end? And if that meant, in fact, reprising the only successful show he knows about and importing "The Apprentice" to Cleveland?

What others would call setbacks, Trump might see as necessary plot twists to keep an audience tuned in. Squeezing a whole season of the show that made Trump famous into "Four Days in July: the Miniseries" isn’t for the faint of heart. The ultimate winner has to temporarily bear up under the open enmity of his rivals, the absence of those who held his role before, the attempts at revenge by those he defeated, moments of weakness and faltering among his own troops, and the Shakespearean element of self-inflicted wounds. 

Were Trump to take the stage on Thursday night without having to save himself -- and his convention -- he would be too bored to rise to the occasion and produce a finale that ties together all the hanging plot lines.

As it is, when he did a walk-through of the Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday afternoon, he was pumped. He usually hates details but endured going over them in the interest of a nail-biter finish. His challenge is daunting -- to prove so many enemies wrong: a press corps that keeps counting him out, those too good to come, those such as Kasich he didn’t invite, and latter-day knights who fault him for not protecting his wife from embarrassment.     

Clearing a low bar is for the losers he hates.    

This is the end of a primary campaign like no other. Pundits, strategists and bystanders are like those who looked up into the sky centuries ago and believed the sun revolved around the earth, only to find out that they'd been wrong. If what we believed before campaign 2016 held, Jeb Bush would be accepting the Republican nomination on Thursday and his father and brother would be cheering him on. Instead, Trump saw first that a shoeshine, a smile, a stream-of-consciousness performance in massive stadiums and 144 characters churned out at all hours can fell 16 smarter, more experienced and venerable competitors.

To those following the bouncing ball, Trump made his biggest blunder on Wednesday. How could he turn over a highly desirable spot to Senator Ted Cruz, an arch-enemy who carries a grudge against Trump for, among other things, ridiculing his wife and suggesting that his father had a role in John F. Kennedy’s murder? If Cruz wouldn’t bow down, he’d be speaking into the void at 5 P.M. If he did, the prized 10 o'clock slot would be his. But Trump claims that he had Cruz’s speech in hand and knew that the Texas senator would be telling Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea to “vote their conscience,” a huge slap in the face.

That was Trump's cue to make one of the most exquisitely timed entrances in all theater. He stepped in at the precise moment when every head would crane toward him and away from Lyin’ Ted. Expect at least one zinger directed at Cruz in Trump's acceptance speech.

The biggest applause will be produced by whatever Trump has to say about Melania, who suffered indignity and ridicule for plagiarizing Michelle Obama in her speech to the convention on Monday night. The failure played into the story line that Trump is unsuited for office, with his scant professional staff, microscopic attention span, refusal to sweat the details and overreliance on his gut.

Melania has been in hiding since that night. And on Wednesday, she was not among the entire family greeting vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence. In a tweet in which he said that Melania’s speech was the most popular by a first lady ever, Trump set the stage for her triumphant return. The first glimpse of her will bring down the house.

A lot of Trump supporters think the TV star should be giving a State of the Union-type address to appear more presidential.

We don’t know the music that will be playing as Trump crosses the stage. He has a weakness for triumphant marches, opera and Queen's "We Are the Champions." But we know who will be the winner of "The Apprentice: Convention Edition."

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Margaret Carlson at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at