Live from Cleveland ...

Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Trump's Surreality Show

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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The Republican gathering in Cleveland this week was like no presidential nominating convention in history. It was more than strange.

With some rare exceptions -- the Democrats in 1968 and 1980, the Republicans in 1964 -- conventions are a rallying venue for political parties and their nominees.

Not this one. Delegates and alternates were split into three distinct camps, each distrustful of the others, or worse. If there was any unifying theme, it was hatred of Hillary Clinton.

There were Donald Trump's loyalists, men and women who, as Trump himself once gleefully defined them, would stick with their man even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

There was a wary middle comprised of delegates who had made peace with the reality of Trump's nomination but preferred to avoid talking about the particulars of a Trump presidency.

Then there was a bloc of conservative and moderate Republicans who are mortified by their party's turn to Trump. (Many like-minded officeholders stayed home.) When Trump officially won the nomination, much of this group wasn't even on the floor. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who ran against Trump, was in Cleveland but not at the convention.

On the opening morning of the convention, Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, assailed Kasich. Sources confirmed what everyone really knew: this was at Trump's orders. It also was inexplicable. Kasich may be the most popular governor in America in a state that Trump must win to be competitive in the fall.

Core Principles

Top congressional Republicans no longer are resisting Trump but they sure aren't embracing his agenda. At a lunch on Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to make the case that despite some differences, the party was united on "core principles." He then acknowledged that he and Trump disagreed on trade, immigration, reform of entitlement programs and the language that should be used to describe racial controversies.

The Trump forces, eager to paint their certain Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, as the candidate of Wall Street, inserted a platform plank calling for the reinstatement of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law. Reviving that law, which was repealed in 1999, would break up big banking companies. Clinton opposes doing so. So do Congressional Republicans, who said at the convention that the plank would be a non-starter. House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, batted away another Trump proposal, to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. He said it was a "bad idea" and would go nowhere.

Alinsky, Clinton, Lucifer

Every convention has weird moments. Cleveland exceeded its share. Former candidate Ben Carson mentioned that Clinton wrote a college paper about Saul Alinsky, a radical community organizer from Chicago who died 44 years ago. Carson then made reference to a passage in Alinsky's 1971 book, "Rules for Radicals," that puckishly called Lucifer "the very first radical" -- thereby bizarrely linking Clinton to the devil.

Then there was the actor Scott Baio, who asked the convention: "Is Donald Trump a Messiah?" He immediately answered his own question: "No, he is just a man."

'Lock Her Up'

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was not a happy camper. A year ago he thought he would be accepting the Republican presidential nomination Wednesday night. Then he was humiliated in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary and was forced to drop out of the race early.

The self-styled Jersey tough guy swiftly embraced Trump, and was rewarded by news articles and pictures about his appearances with the candidate depicting him as a lap dog. After Christie criticized Texas Senator Ted Cruz for refusing to endorse Trump, Jeff Roe, the Texan's campaign manager, shot back that the New Jersey governor had "turned over his political testicles long ago." 

Christie got a big reception at his convention speech Tuesday night when he attacked Clinton, focusing on what he suggested was her criminal behavior. "Lock her up!" the audience chanted. Clinton has been cleared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of charges related to her use of a private e-mail server when she was Secretary of State. Christie's administration and some of his key allies remain embroiled in a criminal investigation involving the closing of the George Washington Bridge to punish a political rival.

No Match for LeBron

Other than Trump, the big winner was Cleveland, a city that has lost 60 percent of its population over the last half century and often is the butt of late-night comics. But the convention area is a happening place. Despite the necessary tight security, the police were friendly and residents were welcoming.

For most Clevelanders, Republicans as well as Democrats, the event provided no match for the excitement last month, when LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA title, the city's first professional championship since 1964. Clinton is lucky she's not running against LeBron in Ohio.

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:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net