The Republican National Convention (RNC) begins tonight, and I honestly don’t know how to complete this sentence. Many will watch, many more will not, and I’ll be fixated on this four-day failapalooza for one reason only: to see if the Audience of One phenomenon rears its orange head and burns the whole project to the ground. I very strongly suspect it will.
The “Audience of One” media phenomenon is perhaps the most vivid, daily available evidence of the stranglehold Donald Trump has on the Republican Party. A member of the administration, or someone who wants to be a member of the administration, or a senator looking to curry White House favor, will go on a news show and spout astonishing conspiracy nonsense or hateful lies that cut deeply against the grain of basic, established reality.
Because they know Trump is watching, because he is always watching, because watching TV is almost all he does. This is how the president is reached: Not via phone or in a meeting, but through a “Fox & Friends” segment. Millions of voters tune in to such broadcasts over the course of a given year, but they don’t matter to the person in the studio trying to reach the Audience of One. The only one that matters is the member of the audience squatting in the White House, remote control in one sweaty hand, Twitter phone in the other.
For the next four days, those who partake in the RNC’s festivities will bear witness to the Audience of One phenomenon swollen to obscene proportions. This convention exists to serve a single purpose: to bolster the battered self-image of the president of the United States. The GOP didn’t even bother with a platform this year. Instead, they released a letter essentially declaring that everything Trump has done or will ever do is cool with them, period.
And that’s before the thing has even started.
“This week’s Republican National Convention will be The Trump Show from start to finish, aiming for ratings-juicing stunts, attention-grabbing speeches from MAGA stars, and executive power as performance art,” reports Jonathan Swan for Axios. “President Trump made clear to aides that he wanted a grand, raucous convention — to the extent such things are achievable during a pandemic…. People familiar with the planning said Trump will be portrayed as the ‘tough’ leader standing between safe streets and leftist anarchy.”
The glaring “tell” of the whole thing is the fact that Trump will be appearing all four nights of the convention. Usually, the nominee for either party will do a very brief fly-by or two before delivering their acceptance speech. It’s a time-honored way to build momentum and anticipation for the big finale on the final night. Not this convention. Because Trump cannot stand to be anything but the center of attention for any meaningful length of time, he will install himself in the middle of each night in an apoplexy of “Me!”
The stakes are particularly high at present. In the space of one week — being last week — Trump watched his former campaign wizard Steve Bannon get arrested for defrauding a fund meant to build his nonsense southern border wall. His own sister slagged him in the public prints. A Republican Senate committee released a scathing report on his Russia dealings that went far beyond the Mueller Report, and the courts told him to go pound sand regarding the secrecy of his precious financial records.
To top it all off, the RNC is coming hot on the heels of a Democratic Convention that was pulled off without a hitch, despite the restrictions of a pandemic world. Last week’s days were filled with news stories of Trump’s corruption, greed, lawlessness and failure, while the evenings fairly sang with powerhouse speakers coming down the mountain to grind his relentlessly shabby record under their heel.
At present, it sounds like the producers will still be painting the set when the curtain goes up. “As Monday’s kickoff looms, Republican officials were still deciding what segments to air live and what would be taped in advance,” reports The New York Times. “Typically, convention broadcasts require weeks of highly technical preparation. By the weekend, producers at the major TV networks had only a foggy idea of what to expect, although Republicans provided a more detailed rundown on Saturday evening. Still, broadcasters will head into the week with some unknowns.”
Besides Trump, the convention’s slate of speakers is a perfect distillation of where the Republican Party finds itself at this juncture in history. This evening’s presenters include Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Jr.’s girlfriend, before Junior himself rises to rock the mic. The execrable Reps. Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan will give Florida and Ohio a bad name, again. Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the wealthy couple who menaced peaceful protesters with firearms, will have their say. Turning Point USA founder and Trump othermind Charlie Kirk will speak.
The absence of Republican Party heavyweights is vivid. Instead, a great many of the week’s speakers are either family-connected to Trump, or are people who gained fame by going viral in a video that Trump likely saw in his Twitter feed. Due entirely to the influence of the man at the middle of it all, the Republican National Convention appears poised to be little more than a trolling festival designed to “own the libs.”
I have a feeling it will be that very man in the middle who might cause the most trouble of all. Imagine the Audience of One the morning after some speaker or another fails to adequately bathe him in rapture. We could very well see/read the Republican nominee attack his own convention because it didn’t make him feel sufficiently good about himself.
Trump is a bull in a china shop, and because of his flailing between Charlotte and Jacksonville, the planners have had very little time to nail this four-day megaproduction together. Forecasters predict a possible shitshow, followed by two tropical storms and a dead cat bounce in the polls. Take appropriate precautions.