Republicans gather today in Cleveland to begin the most contentious political convention season in decades. With Donald Trump’s selection of Indiana Gov. Michael R. Pence as his running mate, and Hillary Clinton to announce her choice later this week, the general election season will soon be running full steam. No one will be waiting for Labor Day.
Both parties are suffering from internal conflict, but it is especially true of Republicans as the party faces the prospect of nominating a political novice who has run the most controversial campaign in memory.
Will the convention degenerate into anger and frustration? Will the thousands of protesters descending on Cleveland produce a repeat of the violence that ruined the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago? Authorities believe they are prepared for the event and, if so, it could be largely peaceful, especially given that police were among the main offenders in 1968. But the fears exist, and they are not simply the stuff of fantasy.
It’s that kind of year.
Democrats will hold their convention next week, and there are stresses there, too. Some have to do with Hillary Clinton’s political troubles, following the FBI’s harsh criticism of her handling of emails while she was secretary of state, but there are also political divisions that have been laid bare in that party.
With the unexpectedly potent campaign of Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Clinton has had to move further to the left, even as the Republican Party has continued its march to the right. The political center is becoming wider.
This week, though, it’s the Republicans. The convention gives Trump the opportunity to reintroduce himself to Americans and to try to cast himself in a better light to the significant elements of the party – and of independent voters – who harbor doubts about his suitability as the party’s nominee and as president.
His selection of Pence as his running mate could help in that effort. The Indiana governor, a former congressman, brings badly needed political experience onto the ticket. As Newt Gingrich, another vice presidential hopeful, observed with startling honesty, Pence would not only bring “Midwestern appeal” to the ticket, he would also match Trump with a “relatively stable, more normal person.”
Because Pence is a social conservative who opposes abortion and gay marriage, he could ease concerns about Trump among Republican leaders and other party members. Many of those Republicans, in and out of public office, are skipping the convention because of their opposition to Trump, whose conservative bona fides they doubt and whose divisive rhetoric they condemn.
Even then, the two men diverge in significant areas that Democrats could seek to exploit. Trump, for example, has called the Trans-Pacific Partnership a “rape” of the American economy, while Pence broadly supports trade agreements, including the TPP. And he condemned Trump’s proposal – popular among his primary season supporters – to ban all Muslims from entering the country.
Part of Trump’s challenge will be to win the votes of independents, who typically make the difference in presidential elections. Pence may offer little help in that regard, given his socially conservative positions.
Still, it’s a plausible choice in what is the nearly impossible task of selecting a candidate that complements a nominee who – putting it gently – is as non-traditional as Trump. And unlike Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also considered for the ticket, he is unlikely to steal the limelight from the man at the top.
It remains now to see how the convention unfolds. Trump has promised a “show biz” atmosphere, while some have worried that it is a poorly planned event that will not help sell the ticket to skeptics. That will soon become clear, but in this topsy-turvy political season, especially when it involves Trump, the only thing that is safe to expect is the thing that, in any other year, you would never have dreamed of.