Cleveland — It is just Cleveland’s luck that the year the city finally gets to host a Republican National Convention, the nominee is so politically and culturally controversial that a large number of the party’s biggest names are staying away.
In 2012, Tampa got Clint Eastwood; Cleveland gets Scott Baio. Tampa got Condi Rice; Cleveland gets Omarosa. Tampa got New Mexico governor Susana Martinez; Cleveland gets Tiffany Trump.
Perhaps this is fitting for a city with such a sad history. For decades, Cleveland was the Rodney Dangerfield of American cities, relentlessly mocked with the nickname “the Mistake by the Lake.” The heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1969. The city defaulted on its debts in 1978. Cleveland went 52 years without winning a major sports title, a half-century encompassing plenty of heartbreak for fans, who, as recently as 2010, lived in “America’s most miserable city.” In your face, Detroit!
In recent years, Cleveland has enjoyed a renaissance. Downtown population and residential occupancy boomed. Urban planners raved about new development projects. And of course, LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers and ended the city’s historic title drought.
The 2016 convention should have been the cherry on top of a remarkable comeback story for this city. Instead, Donald Trump won the nomination, and what was imagined as a glowing week in the national spotlight became a nightmare.
Governor John Kasich is speaking to Republican groups in Cleveland this week, but not attending the convention or speaking at it. Ohio senator Rob Portman, in a tough reelection battle, is not currently slated to speak at the convention. Senator Marco Rubio, Trump’s onetime rival and perhaps the party’s best hope of keeping its Senate majority, will only appear via video. Those Republican senators in tougher reelection races this year are staying away entirely: Kelly Ayotte will be at home in New Hampshire, Mark Kirk in Illinois, and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.
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No former Republican president will appear; several incumbent senators made a point of not attending. Rand Paul is doing pro bono eye surgeries. There’s a lot of lawn-care talk this week; Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona says he has to mow his lawn, while Senator Dean Heller of Nevada said he needs to irrigate his ranch. Trump’s most vociferous critic in the Senate, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, says he’s going on a home-state tour of “dumpster fires.”
Tim Scott, the Senate’s lone black Republican, has been speaking with great power and eloquence about the need to protect police and African-Americans who encounter law enforcement in the wake of the recent spate of violence. But he won’t be speaking in Cleveland.
The list goes on and on and on.
#share#As if an incendiary nominee wasn’t enough, the convention comes amid the summer of Black Lives Matter. Deliberate shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge have created a disturbing sense that the unthinkable is the new normal. The country appears to be bursting at the seams. The first night’s theme, “Make America Safe Again” is now painfully resonant.
As of this writing, the protests outside the convention center have been smaller and quieter than expected, with no signs of violence or confrontations with law enforcement. If that holds throughout the week, the city and its police force — short-handed after other local police forces backed out of commitments to send officers of their own — will breathe a sigh of relief.
But even then, it won’t have come without a price. The head of Cleveland’s police union caused a stir Sunday by asking Kasich to temporarily suspend the state’s open-carry laws for the duration of the convention, making it illegal for licensed gun owners to carry in the downtown area. (The Secret Service bars private firearms within the arena and the “event zone” surrounding it.) A governor suspending the Second Amendment by executive fiat would hit a sour note at a Republican convention, and Kasich and his office argued he didn’t have the authority.
#related#“The governor is a political animal — he’s a Republican and the NRA guys are probably beating him up over it, but the reality is the governor should,” Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association Stephen Loomis told the media. “We are not asking for something that’s exceptional, we are saying ‘Listen, just take the guns out of the city for three days.’ That’s it. . . . The delegates are more important than the cops on the street, that’s the message they send with that.”
After a long and divisive primary, there were still at least two points that the vast majority of Republicans agreed upon: Cops are beleaguered and brave and deserve a warm embrace for their hard work, and the Second Amendment is not optional. If those two beliefs come into conflict this week, it will be just one more example of Cleveland’s rotten luck.
— Jim Geraghty is National Review’s senior political correspondent.