Get ready for TrumpFest, America — there's no Republican Party anymore

This year's Republican convention is just a personality-cult conclave: No platform, and Trump speaks every night

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 24, 2020 8:00AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump makes remarks as he meets with U.S. Tech Workers and signs an Executive Order on Hiring Americans, in the Cabinet Room of the White House on August 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump makes remarks as he meets with U.S. Tech Workers and signs an Executive Order on Hiring Americans, in the Cabinet Room of the White House on August 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs must be feeling a little bit snubbed by his good friend President Trump. After all, according to the former chief of staff at Homeland Security, Miles Taylor, Dobbs has been "shadow chief of staff" of DHS for the past three and a half years, so you'd think he'd be invited to speak at the Republican convention. Taylor put it this way:

The president would call us and ... he would say, "Why the hell didn't you watch Lou Dobbs last night? You need to listen to Lou. What Lou says is what I want to do."

So if Lou Dobbs peddled a conspiracy theory on late-night television or made an erroneous claim about what should be done ... at the border ... the president wanted us to be tuning in every night.

He's not the only Fox News personality who has reason to feel hurt. According to CNN's Brian Stelter's new book "Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth," the person most people in the White House believe is the White House shadow chief of staff is Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity. Salon's Roger Sollenberger quotes from Stelter's book:

"Hannity counseled Trump at all hours of the day. One of his confidants said the president treated Hannity like Melania, a wife in a sexless marriage. Arguably, he treated Hannity better than Melania," it continues. "Hannity's producers marveled at his influence and access. 'It's a powerful thing to be someone's consigliere,' one producer said. 'I hear Trump talk at rallies, and I hear Sean,' a family friend commented."

The theme of this week's Republican National Convention will be "Honoring the Great American Story" which, since every member of Trump's immediate family except Barron will speak, must refer to the great American tradition of inheriting great wealth for each successive, spoiled and inept generation to squander. (Unsurprisingly, Trump's sister, former federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, won't be in attendance after tapes of her calling him a lying, cruel, unprincipled, untrustworthy, brat were given to the media by his niece Mary.)

With all that family in attendance, you'd think they could have made a little room for Trump's consigliere and wife-in-a-sexless-marriage. But no.Trump's most important advisers will be relegated to cheerleading on Fox after the show.

Not having your media brain trust speak is the only convention norm Trump is observing. The most egregious break from tradition — and possibly the rule of law — is that he will give his convention speech at the White House itself. Apparently, Melania Trump will also speak from there, and who knows who else? Back in the old days, before 2017, no one would have thought of staging the most blatantly partisan of all partisan speeches in the White House. It's a grotesque violation of the notion that the presidency represents all the people. But then, under Trump, that ship sailed a long time ago.

He's having Secretary of State Mike Pompeo address the convention from the Middle East, something that until now was considered much too political for America's top diplomat. But perhaps he's going to make a big "announcement" along the lines of Trump's supposedly "historic" declaration on Sunday evening that he had strong-armed the Food and Drug Administration into granting emergency authorization to another unproven COVID treatment. After calling scientists members of the "Deep State" who were trying to sabotage him, it was quite a bootlicking spectacle, with FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar further shredding their professional reputations as they stood by while Trump insulted their agencies as partisan enemies.

Other than Pompeo and all the Trumps, the lineup is what you would expect of a Trump convention. They have scheduled Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend, a couple of former NFL players, the couple who pulled guns on Black Lives Matter protesters in St. Louis, and Rudy Giuliani, along with Vice President Pence and his wife, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was slated to speak — but she abruptly announced her departure from the White House on Sunday night, allegedly to spend more time with her family, so it's unknown if she will still be on the program. And it appears that the only endangered GOP senator to risk associating herself with this thing will be Joni Ernst of Iowa.

In case you were wondering if Republicans would even pretend to be a real political party, wonder no more. They are now a full-fledged cult of personality. The platform is no more:

The official story is that the party couldn't write a new platform because the pandemic prevents all points of view of the "ever-growing Republican movement" from being represented. So they just decided to whine about the media and pledge their fealty to Dear Leader Trump and his "America First agenda." This raises an important question: What is that, anyway?

Trump has been asked over and over again what he wants to do in a second term and he can't answer the question. On Sunday night he appeared on Fox News personally, and when asked what he would do differently in a second term said, "I would strengthen what we've done and I would do new things." That was actually more informative than usual.

Perhaps realizing that the platform had been punted to the president, at some point on Sunday the White House sent out a wish list of things Trump wants to do in his second term, ranging from a manned mission to Mars to "Return to Normal in 2021."

According to this article in Politico, this convention is being launched on a wing and prayer, with people having little idea where they're supposed to be or what they're going to say. That doesn't mean they can't pull it off, but Trump made it harder on the planners by canceling two venues and then reportedly changing up the programming every nigh as he watched what the Democrats were doing. According to the New York Times, he called in a couple of obscure TV guys he knew from "The Apprentice," but neither of them has experience with a complex live show from many different remote locations. Reality TV isn't live, and isn't even reality. So they have their work cut out for them.

The GOP company line over the past couple of days has been that the Democrats put on a grim and dark convention and the TrumpFest will be upbeat and inspirational by contrast, which would obviously mean that Donald Trump himself will not be participating. But is he ever.

Traditionally, the nominee just pops his or her head in once or twice during the first few days and then appears for the finale to make the big speech. Trump is having none of that. He will apparently take the 10 p.m. slot every night to speak to the country because, as the Times reported, "the president wants the opportunity to rebut charges made against him throughout the Democratic program ... particularly on his handling of the coronavirus crisis."

That does sound uplifting, doesn't it? Feel the magic, America. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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