Peace out.

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Cleveland: Where the Trump Campaign Went to Die

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Conventions have multiple purposes, but the part that is televised in prime time has only one: to reinforce the themes and competitive advantages of the presidential candidate. That requires highlighting his strengths, minimizing his weaknesses and damaging his opponent. Three days of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland have produced a slightly different effect, leaving the rationales for Donald Trump's candidacy in tatters.

Consider.

Trump the CEO. Trump's never been much of a manager, as my Trump-authority colleague Tim O'Brien just made clear. And experts often explain that running the federal government is nothing like running a company -- especially a family company like Trump's. Oddly enough, a convention sort of is. It's entirely your show. You set the schedule, pick the speakers and, in all but exceptional cases, precisely vet what they say. (You don't, however, get to pick its location. Trump seems to have lied about that for no particular reason other than that's how he rolls.)

CEO Trump's convention has been a fiasco. Incompetence is everywhere. Seats throughout the arena are empty in prime time. The schedule has run late, causing key speakers to miss valuable television slots. The arena's video monitor fritzed out on Wednesday night. And, of course, there was the epic plagiarism in Melania Trump's speech. The series of blatant untruths the campaign produced to try to quell the controversy was amateurish even for this group. Worse, the speech plagiarized Michelle Obama of all people. Worse again, it plagiarized a passage on the Obama family values -- which Donald Trump had gone to great lengths to portray as alien and un-American. ("There's something going on there.")

Takeaway: If Trump can't run his own convention, how can he run anything more complex? Like a large country?

Trump the Dealmaker. Remember this is the author -- well, at least subject -- of "The Art of the Deal." And he's going to put his razzle dazzle to work helping the little people. "We're going to have fantastic trade deals," Trump has said. For some reason, the extraordinary dealmaker couldn't entice the Republican governor of Ohio to be civil to him for four days during a party convention in the governor's state. To make sure there would be no benefits at all coming Trump's way, his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, trashed Governor John Kasich on the convention's first day. You can look up the number of Republicans who have won the White House without winning Ohio. The list could not be shorter.

Wednesday night, however, was the real art of the deal. Trump handed Senator Ted Cruz a prized prime-time speaking spot. In return, Cruz humiliated Trump on national television, not only refusing to endorse the party nominee but also making sure everyone understood, in real time, just how calculated and deliberate the snub was.

Trump's response on Twitter included this curious expression of pusillanimity: "I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!"

So Trump fails to cut a beneficial deal with a defeated rival, gets humiliated by him on national television and responds by saying "no big deal." Look out, bad guys!  

Takeaway: This guy gets hosed right and left.   

Trump the "Make America Great" Guy. Improbably, on the same night that his convention was a mess and his rival humiliated him at his own invitation, Trump told the New York Times that if Vladimir Putin menaces the Baltic members of NATO, which the U.S. is treaty-bound to defend, Trump might back down without a fight.  

If there is a GOP foreign policy neocon, realist or internationalist (or, really, any mind-set but surrenderist) who has not abandoned Trump's calamitous campaign by now, they just did.

Takeaway: Are you kidding me?

One convention delegate told Bloomberg Politics that Cruz's speech last night was "a big middle finger to this entire convention."

True enough. But somehow the delegate failed to notice that with its fraudulent claims, comprehensive incompetence, contempt for expertise and, most of all, its slapdash candidate, the entire Trump campaign is basically flipping off Republican voters on an even bigger scale. Trump, as he has told us, does have big hands.

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

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net