Road to the Oval Office: Live at the RNC – July 19

Live from Cleveland, Mark Alderman, Blake Rutherford and Jim Schultz provide an update on developments unfolding at the Republican National Convention.


Blake: Thanks, and welcome everyone to the eleventh call in our series on the 2016 elections. I'm Blake Rutherford, and I'm joined as always by Mark Alderman and today by Jim Schultz. Mark and Jim, we are day two of the Republican National Convention. Jim, you have been in Cleveland now for more than a week managing a variety of convention operations. I first want to welcome both of you to the call. I'm excited and interested to hear your perspectives on this particular convention, what's going on in Cleveland and what we can expect in the days ahead, so, Jim, Mark, welcome.
Jim: Good to be here Blake.

Blake: Yeah. Jim, I really want to start with you. You've been boots-on-the-ground in Cleveland now for more than a week. Most of us are getting our first introduction to the convention was last night via television. I thought we might just start. What are some of your early perspectives on this particular convention based on the time you've been in Cleveland?

Jim: Last week I was in town advising on the platform committee which sets forth the platform for the Republican party for the next two years and the rules committee which sets the rules for the convention. What we focused on there, the interesting thing that came out of the rules committee was the idea that you had this cadre of Never Trump supporters that came in. There was also some group of delegates who really just wanted to change the rules of the Republican party in terms of how it's structured and the RNC is structured as a whole. They came together and came forward with dozens and dozens of amendments to each of the particular rules, especially those that pertain with the bind, un-bind issue here which was whether the delegates coming in who were bound could be unbound to then vote their conscience, so to speak, at the convention.

In the rules committee which took place last Thursday that got knocked down wholesale. Every amendment that the Never Trump folks put up got knocked down wholesale in the rules committee which is made up of two individuals from each of the states and territories that participate in the RNC. It's 112 people. There was not one amendment that was put forth by the folks that were supporting Never Trump that was passed.

Fast-forward to Monday of the convention the first day, one of the first things you do is for the platform and rules committee to meet once again. They approved that officially in their committee room. They bring it out of committee and it goes to the floor and the chairman brings it to a floor vote up or down. At that time there is an ability for folks to circulate minority reports and circulate petitions to have a full roll call vote. That's what happened in Cleveland yesterday. There was a series of folks in each individual state and it wasn't the entire delegations of each state that were pushing forward for this roll call vote for the rules in an effort to try to undermine what the rules committee had done very transparently and in full session the week before.

That was knocked down once again. In order to bring the full roll call vote they needed seven states, the majority of the delegates in seven states to sign on to that particular petition. There were folks that signed on and then decided to get off of those petitions. Ultimately, it was defeated. There were three states in the end that were on the effort to bring the full vote to the floor. That would have been DC, Maine and Minnesota were on and then off again. There were a number of states where they just couldn't get any support.

In my view at this point Never Trump is effort is done. This party has defeated that effort which was a very small handful of folks here at the convention. Last night we were focused on keeping America safe again, national security and law enforcement. Tonight it's going to be all about jobs and the economy, making America work again. That's where we are in a nutshell from last week to this week.

Blake: That's incredibly insightful, Jim, and I appreciate it. I wanted to follow up with you on one point which is one of the other outcomes of the last week was the platform itself and the policies and principles adopted in that platform. On previous calls we've talked a little bit about the conservative nature of the Republican party platform and rather liberal nature of the Democratic party platform. I wondered if you might just elaborate on the platform discussions and your reactions to the outcome from a political and policy perspective of what's in the Republican party platform this cycle.

Jim: Look, it was a very conservative platform that came through this platform committee. The Trump campaign didn't insert itself all that much in the platform efforts in terms of they wanted to let the committee do what they do and come to a platform that they could all agree upon. It was two days. It started in each individual committee. National security was one of the committees. Another committee is energy and resources, just for example. The subcommittees would work. They pulled together a subcommittee report that goes to the platform committee. The platform committee, again, made up of 112 delegates, two from each state and territory that participate, then ultimately vote on this.

Yes, we had a pretty conservative platform coming out. It's how the sausage is made. It's like any other legislative process. On the Republican side of the aisle we're very, very transparent. We're very, very engaged with the delegates, and they have a lot of say. You're going to have folks from each side of the party. Particularly on the LGBT issues you saw a very impassioned speech during the platform committee of the first openly lesbian member of that committee asking us to dial back on those issues and be more moderate, be more accepting. It is what it is. The platform committee voted to knock down some of those amendments. We have a very, very conservative platform, both on the social issues, also on immigration and the wall, although it didn't include that Mexico was going to pay for it.

We also have a very, very strong, probably the strongest, platform on Israel that we've ever had. That's a place where the Trump campaign inserted itself and asked for the two-state solution of having this Palestinian and Israeli dual-state solution. That was taken out of the Republican platform and we have very, very strong language that is pro-Israel.

Blake: Jim, one of the big, obviously, events of last week as all these other things were taking place is the announcement of Trump's vice presidential pick, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana. You were in Cleveland when that announcement was made. How is that decision resonating with the delegates and party insiders in Cleveland?

Jim: Look, there's no secret that the conservative, the very ultra-conservative side of this party, is a little skeptical of Donald Trump's conservative credentials as it pertains to some of the social issues. Mike Pence is certainly conservative on the social issues, but he also brings to the table incredible experience having been a congressman for a decade and also been a governor of a very important state.

Having that executive experience and understanding of Washington is something I think that's viewed favorably both from insiders and from the folks who are out, the GOP electorate if you will. I've seen a lot of folks very, very pleased on the GOP side with that pick. He's a very measured guy. He's very even and he's not a guy that's going to make mistakes, and I think everybody sees that and sees him as a positive thing for this ticket.

Blake: One of the other narratives that certainly was building before yesterday, and we'll get to the events of yesterday in a minute, is who's not at this convention, the notable absence both as part of the speaking program of what we might consider to be your traditional political heavyweights, but also people who just aren't present. That's caused some controversy, most notably Governor John Kasich and the convention is in his home state. He's not there and the Trump campaign has had some pretty pointed words to say about his absence. What do we make of that, Jim? Is that all a little too insider baseball? Is there a different feel at this convention because of who's not present?

Jim: I don't think the convention has a different feel. Certainly it's noticeable the Bush family is not there. The former nominee Bob Dole I believe is the only former nominee that is attending and did attend last night. I thought he said it very well when asked why he came to the convention versus the other folks. He said, "Why wouldn't I be here, right? This is what we do. I'm a Republican, this is a Republican convention."

How it impacts the electorate going forward I don't think it has a whole lot of impact on the electorate going forward, and even in the particular states. We've seen that, at least through the primary cycle with folks who are in the GOP, Donald Trump handily winning state after state after state. I just thing that he's gotten beyond and above the in-fighting here in the party. It's really, at the end of the day, he's going to care what the electorate has to say, not so much about what John Kasich has to say.

I do think that there's a little bit of tension there because those folks aren't showing. Also, Paul Ryan's coming tonight, and you've got Kevin McCarthy speaking tonight. We have Chris Christie speaking tonight, all stars in the Republican party, if you will. Mike Pence on the VP ticket, I think that means a lot when you have somebody with his credentials joining the ticket. I think that minimizes any impact of the Bushes with their sour grapes over the loss of a primary or John Kasich or anybody, Rubio, pick any one of them.

Blake: Mark, you've been on the ground in Cleveland for a little more than 24 hours. Before we dive into the events of last night and the issues of today, from your perspective what's happening in Cleveland and what are your initial reactions to both the way the city's responding to the convention and the convention itself?

Mark: The city is handling the convention in the 24 plus hours I've been here, Blake, very, very well. Everybody has been very friendly and very helpful. It is a very secure feeling in downtown Cleveland. It is a bit of an armed camp. There is a tremendous police and security presence, but it feels very calm and it feels very peaceful. That is, of course, what everybody wants. I think that the logistics of staging something like this are formidable. I think the city and, for that matter, the party have done a very good job of putting it all together until you walk into the hall.

Once you walk into the hall it is everything that you and Jim were just discussing, but I, of course, see just about all of that a little differently. I do agree with Jim that Mike Pence is a governor of a very important state since I grew up in Indiana. Other than that I'm having trouble agreeing with very much of what Jim had to say. It does not feel to me like a unified party with what happened yesterday on the floor. Jim has his explanation and he was there. I don't quarrel with the facts of how it happened. I think characterizing it as just a few people is not what I saw in any event.

We have the whole controversy I know we will get to about Melania Trump's speech. We have the campaign chairman ripping the governor of Ohio for making a big mistake for not coming into the hall. It feels very organized, it feels very friendly, it feels very safe on the outside. It does not feel unified to me on the inside.

Blake: Jim, I want to come back to something that Mark just said and build upon it and get your reactions to it. You know the Trump campaign has prided itself, I think you'll agree, with it's ability to execute in this television space. This convention and we could argue the time frame, the lack of experience, certainly the Trumps never having participated in something like this before. It seems a little less choreographed than I expected it to be. Last night wasn't without some pretty significant challenges. Before we get into the specifics I wanted to just, A, get your response to Mark's commentary and get a sense of do you feel that maybe they're finding their sea legs a little bit in terms of pulling off an event of this magnitude?

Jim: I thought that last night's event was done very well. I thought Rudy Giuliani did a fantastic job last evening. We had some great speakers. Coming back to it, there are countless governors here in Cleveland. Governor Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas. We have a number of governors who are participating in the Republican Governor's Association events and standing on the floor and standing up and are going to be nominating Donald Trump for president.

The fact that there is a group of Never Trump, there was a movement for Never Trump, that was well documented and handedly shot down. Like any time you're going to have party disagreements but at the end of the day they're going to come together and the large majority of the leaders in this party are going to be behind the candidate. A governor here or there or a former nominee here or there or a former candidate may have sour grapes I think has a little less impact on what we're going to see going forward.

In terms of the logistics, the Melania Trump thing, I guess that's what we're getting to. Look, that is what it is. You had about 90% of what she said was not in anyway shape or form close to the Michelle Obama speech from a number of years ago. There were some lines in there that were similar, but I think the fact of the matter is she did a nice job explaining and talking about her husband in a way and he relates to his family. He's a family man, a good father, a good husband, very engaged with his children and with his wife, something that, I think, softens him a bit to the rest of the world, if that's possible. I think that's something that we saw last night.

She came off in a very, very credible way last evening, and it was somewhat undermined by this whole issue of the lines that were similar in the speech. I think we're not going to be talking about this 24 hours from now. We're going to be back to talking about the woman in this race who's actually on the ticket and not the person who isn't.

Blake: Mark, I want to get your thoughts and reactions to Melania Trump's speech. Certainly, it is the talk of everything today. You can't turn on television or scan Twitter and not see a discussion of Melania Trump's speech which I don't think it is where the Trump campaign wanted the day two narrative to go. What do you make of the speech and the press' reaction to it?

Mark: I think that Melania Trump was very impressive and poised. I thought she did the second best job ever of delivering that speech, and that's the problem with it. It was clearly plagiarized in significant passages from Michele Obama's speech in 2008. Let's deal with reality. Donald Trump is supposed to be a reality television star. The reality is that however it happened, and I do not believe that Melania Trump is responsible for it, but however it happened significant passages of that speech were stolen.

The problem with that is that it happened. The problem with that is that it speaks to the organization of this campaign, which is not ready for a prime time event like this convention. Even more troubling to me, far more troubling than the fact that it happened, is the manner in which it has been handled since then. There is no acknowledgement of the reality that it happened. There is no apology for the reality of what happened.

There is instead the typical Trump response, not yet from the candidate himself, of blaming the media and blaming the Clinton campaign and blaming everyone except whomever actually did this. The core of Donald Trump's argument to the country that he should be president is that he's a businessman and he knows how to get things done. That this could of happened to his wife in front of 35 million Americans really rebuts the core of that argument, I believe.

I also have to say that the Giuliani speech is, to me, a symptom of what is wrong with the convention and what I do not believe you will see next week in Philadelphia, Blake, and that is that the convention is not reaching out to the country. The convention is a celebration of the people who brought Donald Trump here. It is playing to the people in that hall, most but not all of whom are supporting Trump, and I have seen no reach out to the wider country, and certainly not to the undecided independent voters who are going to actually decide this election. To me, it is a narcissistic convention which is about what I would expect from this candidate.

Blake: Jim, I want to give you a chance to respond to that. I suspect that you will, but it is, I think, a point that I noticed and, granted, we've only been through one day of this convention. Certainly Trump's goal, obviously, is to win this election and in order to do that he's got to grow the Republican party beyond where it was in 2012. Do you think that this convention is aimed at achieving that and if so how do you see today and the next three days really broadening Trump's reach to that wider audience Mark described?

Jim: Look, it feeds into my response to Mark is that I think the problem with the Democratic party is that they're unwilling to recognize their mistakes when it comes to foreign policy, safety, dividing this country in the law enforcement capacity. All of that came home last night in a very, very convincing way. I think Rudy Giuliani did a very nice job of pointing out that our country is just not as safe as it was and under the Clinton/Obama policies we have become weaker. Our friends don't trust us, our enemies don't fear us and I think that's something that's going to resonate with all Americans.

You talk about bringing more people to the party. People have serious concerns about national security and local security right now in this environment. I think that's something that's going to resonate with folks from all walks of life. Same thing on the jobs and the economy front tonight. We've lost manufacturing jobs with the Obama Administration's over-regulation of a number of industries, including the coal industry. That's something that people are out of work. They're not happy about it. They want a fresh start and I don't think they're going to see the same old same old as something that's going to put them back in jobs. Another four years or eight years of what's already been happening to this country isn't something that they'll be interested in.

I think that's the place where the blue-collar Democrats in West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, a lot of folks, northeast Philadelphia, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, places where you have manufacturing jobs that have been lost. In our case, refinery jobs and petrochemical jobs, this is something that people are very, very concerned about and I think it's going to draw them in.

Blake: Mark, though, you've participated in many, many political conventions. One of the opportunities that conventions provide is for the campaign to really capitalize on the theater of politics. Trump's day one, I'm not sure we could categorize it successfully, not from a partisan political perspective, but from the fact that all we're talking about today we're not talking about any of the issues that Jim described or that people who took to the podium last night spoke about. We're simply talking about whether or not a potential First Lady of the United States plagiarized a speech in front of 35 million people. That's not a great start to a political convention in my view it would seem. I want to get your thoughts about the theater of all of this and the optics of all this.

Mark: Let's talk about Donald Trump's introduction of himself to his own party, not political party, but nomination party. Donald Trump entered the convention in a cloud of purple smoke with Queen "We are the champions" playing. If you didn't know where you were you could easily have thought that you were at a WWF event. Was theatrical and it was not serious. The problem with this candidacy is that it is all imagery and not serious imagery. Everybody is concerned about security for this country, Jim, of course. Both parties and everyone who isn't in either party is, but the safety of this country requires a stable, serious leader, not someone who enters in a puff of purple smoke with Queen playing. I can only imagine what Freddy Mercury would think of Donald Trump using that song were he alive.

The foreign policy of the nominee is something that he has said he gets from watching television and talking to himself because he has an excellent brain. He thinks that maybe we should give South Korea and Japan nuclear weapons. He thinks maybe we should withdraw from NATO. He won't rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe. This is not serious. This is not stable. This is some sort of narcissistic pageantry, and it isn't going to make America safe again.

Blake: Jim, I want to give you an opportunity to respond to that.

Jim: Look, the Democratic party is putting up a candidate who the American people fundamentally don't trust and they shouldn't trust her. She's lied time and time again. She lied to the faces of the victim's families in the Benghazi disaster. She lied about whether she carried two cell phones. She lied about whether she received or sent classified information. She lied about whether she turned over all the documents when, in fact, many of them were likely destroyed. She just has a fundamental problem telling the truth. She lied then, she continues to lie now and she's going to continue to lie to the American people throughout this campaign. If she were to win the presidency likely to continue to lie to them into her term as president.

I think that if we're going to take shots at candidates and their qualifications, trust has to be number one, especially in an environment that is so volatile, both here at home and abroad. She's not going to gain the trust of the American people. She's not going to gain the trust of our allies and quite frankly she's not going to gain the respect of our enemies.

Blake: Let's come back to-

Jim: Blake, I have to wrap.

Blake: What's that?

Jim: I have to wrap. I have to go down on the convention floor.

Blake: Yeah, okay. All right. Thanks, Jim. Thanks for joining us.

Jim: You bet.

Blake: I appreciate it. Thanks.

Jim: Yep. Thank you. Bye, bye.

Blake: Mark, I want to come back to the convention itself and talk about day two. Day two of the Republican National Convention is "Make America work again". Some of the people we're going to hear from, we're going to hear from Dana White who's the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. We're going to hear from two Arkansans, Asa Hutchinson the governor, and Leslie Rutledge the attorney general. We're going to hear from Michael Mukasie the former U.S. attorney general. We're going to hear from the NRA, we're going to hear from a professional golfer. Then we're going to hear from Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Chris Christie before we get to the Trump children.  What do you expect to see on day two? As you hear that lineup what do you expect to hear? Let's start there and then I want to ask you a bit more about some of the speakers in particular.

Mark: Well, two things, Blake, and I feel bad saying all this without Jim there to rebut it, although, I also think a lot of this simply has no rebuttal, but I recognize that I can get a little partisan sometimes. I do not think that a professional golfer or the UFC chair or the NRA, for that matter, I don't think that the UFC, the NRA and the PGA are the organizations that I would turn to were I looking for economic policy for the United States in the 21st century. I think it's further evidence of the fact that this is not a serious candidacy, and it is much more about the people that Donald Trump knows and the people that Donald Trump likes to spend his time with at his golf courses and resorts.

I think also, though, that you have people taking the stage tonight in Paul Ryan, in Mitch McConnell, for that matter in Chris Christie in a prior life, who have called-out Donald Trump on some of the most heinous parts of his program, most specifically the unconstitutional and un-American ban on Muslims. Again, I do not feel, granted from the other side of the aisle, but I do not feel that we are going to feel a tremendous sense of unity and togetherness in the Republican party with this lineup.

Blake: Mark, Jim said that 24 hours from now we wouldn't be talking about the Melania Trump speech. Do you think that's right? Do you feel like that this is something that goes away in a day, or is this one going to linger throughout this convention?

Mark: Blake, I'm laughing at myself because just about everything I've said so far this cycle about Donald Trump has been dis-proven in a day or two by Donald Trump. I guess I'm going to go with the odds in answering your question. The odds are that something else is going to happen that is going to knock the Melania Trump speech off the front pages because that's been the history of this candidacy. It is one outrage after another and just when you think you couldn't possibly get any more controversial than the last one he comes up with the next one. I'm going to agree with Jim on a second thing. I agree that Indiana is an important state and I agree that we'll be talking about the next Trump debacle tomorrow.

Blake: It certainly seems like from my own perspective that yesterday just went about as poorly as any campaign could hope simply because you simply didn't execute. Speakers ran long, music wasn't choreographed well. Joni Ernst who Trump and many republicans believe is a rising star in that party spoke to a near empty hall well after 11:00. Then the Melania Trump plagiarism issue which, again, is just everywhere you turn in the political news today that's the discussion.

I think it sets a pretty poor tone for what it is that Trump needs to achieve and seems to also at the same time really narrow the window of persuadables who could be engaging in this convention, 35 million people watching television last night, not an insignificant audience. Day two, bringing certainly some heavy bats to the stage. What do you expect? Chris Christie's been in the news quite a bit, a finalist, it seems, in the Trump VP stakes, a big defender of Donald Trump including a line that we heard Jim use today which is, "93% of Melania's speech was in her own words," but a big defender of Trump. What do you expect to hear from Christie tonight?

Mark: Christie will fundamentally be the attack dog on the stage tonight I suspect. I think he'll be up there to tear apart Hillary Clinton. Sure, he'll defend Melania, sure he'll say something about Donald, but mostly I expect him to be negative and then some. His keynote address four years ago at the 2012 Republican convention went about 30 minutes, if I recall, before he mentioned for the first time the nominee. Maybe he'll break that record tonight. Who knows?

Blake: Certainly much has been made about the frosty relationship that Trump has with certain members of House and Senate Republicans. We do have the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan talking tonight. Are we going to hear a message that's consistent with Trump's platform, or are we going to see McConnell and Ryan veer off and talk about their own legislative priorities, their vision of a party which, if possible, could be rather different than the vision Donald Trump has articulated? What do you expect from McConnell and Ryan?

Mark: That is such a good question and, obviously, would have been better asked of Jim were he here. Speaker Ryan was here the other day. He had an event at which he said that Donald Trump was not his kind of conservative. I think that both McConnell and Ryan are going to attempt to do a high wire act. I think they are going to try to walk a tightrope right across the convention floor without falling off, endorsing Trump while advocating for a program with which Trump is in near total disagreement. It's going to be working without a net. They're formidable political figures. Maybe they can get away with it.

I will say one thing that I'm sure Jim would agree with were he on the phone, it'll be real interesting to hear from the kids. Every indication I get is that these kids, who are, of course, adults, they are Trump's children, are terrific people and very significant and substantial in their own right. I think it'll be very, very interesting to hear from them. I would expect them to be the highlight of the evening, frankly.

Blake: Yeah. That was where I was going. We've got speeches tonight from Tiffany Trump and from Donald Trump, Jr., and such begins the opportunity for the children who played a very visible role in the campaign. We've heard, I think, more from Ivanka than we have the others. She, of course, is speaking on Thursday night. You beat me to my question, was where do you think the real highlights come tonight? You've said you think from Trump's children.

Mark, I know you've got a lot going on in Cleveland. I want to thank Jim who had to jump off to attend to his responsibilities with the Trump campaign, but certainly wanted to thank him for joining us and giving us that perspective. I want to thank everybody who has called in. We will continue to provide updates from Cleveland. Mark, I know you're going to be on NBC 10 tonight here in Philadelphia. For those of you that are in this market you'll be on NBC 10 tonight.

Mark: Right. Jim and I from 7 to 8.

Blake: Right, 7 to 8, you and Jim. I would certainly encourage anyone in Philadelphia to tune in, watch that and get an even broader perspective on the day's events once the convention gavels in. Then next week we're live from Philadelphia, so looking forward to that. Mark, I want to thank you for your time. I want to thank everyone who dialed in to listen and look for us to be back with you next week from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Thanks, gain, Mark and thanks to everyone for listening.

Mark: Thank you, Blake.

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