clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Donald Trump's reality TV experience didn't translate to an entertaining convention

Republican National Convention: Day Four Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

One of the big mysteries about this week’s Republican National Convention is why it has been such dreary television.

After all, Donald Trump is a successful reality television star, and he won the Republican nomination in large part due to his deft manipulation of the media — especially cable news channels — into covering him nonstop. So even people who can’t stand Trump’s politics expected him to put on a lively, entertaining show.

But that didn't happen. The evening speeches this week haven't been particularly fun to watch, nor have they succeeded in presenting any sort of coherent message about Trump or his agenda. Indeed, the week’s two biggest stories were the result of planning missteps: Melania Trump’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech from eight years earlier, and Ted Cruz refusing to endorse Trump.

The reason for this is simple: Being a compelling television personality requires very different skills than does organizing a compelling television drama. Trump is a talented on-air personality. But he’s far too lazy and narcissistic to create good television that features anyone other than himself.

The convention was a disorganized mess

Republican National Convention: Day Two Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Many people were hoping that Trump would break the mold and produce a new kind of convention spectacle. But by the end of the first night, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. Structurally, the week has proceeded exactly like conventions in past decades: a parade of politicians, business leaders, and minor celebrities speaking one after another.

Recent conventions have at least been scripted to be relentlessly on-message. Presidential campaigns would choose a few big themes and then require every primetime speaker to stick to his or her assigned talking points. That made the conventions somewhat tedious for someone who watched all four nights all the way through, but it meant that anyone who tuned in for an hour or two would get a clear idea of what the party stood for.

In contrast, the Trump campaign’s strategy appears to have been to choose speakers who would appeal to the conservative crowd and then let them say whatever they want.

Some speakers — like Laura Ingraham and Newt Gingrich on Wednesday night — gave something resembling a conventional convention speech. Other speakers were in desperate need of professional speechwriting help. For example, on Monday night authors John Tiegen and Mark Geist gave a 20-minute, blow-by-blow account of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that was so detailed it was hard to follow if you weren’t already steeped in conservative mythology.

There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the order of the speakers. The first night’s theme was "Make America Safe Again," and featured speeches that were mostly related to this theme — with Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails featuring prominently. The second night’s theme was "Make America Work Again," and the speakers focused on ... Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails. A viewer expecting to learn about the Republican approach to jobs and the economy would have been totally disappointed.

And some of Donald Trump’s signature initiatives barely got mentioned. On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly talked about building a wall with Mexico, restricting trade with China, and restricting Muslim immigration to the United States. But these issues were mentioned infrequently by RNC speakers other than Trump himself, who spent far more time talking about the Benghazi attacks and calling for Clinton to be thrown in jail.

Donald Trump has been too lazy to organize a good convention — or an effective campaign

Celebrity Roast Luncheon With Donald Trump Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Donald Trump didn’t do the work necessary to craft a better convention — either one that was more entertaining for viewers or one that more effectively promoted the major themes of Trump’s campaign.

Indeed, Trump was so lazy that he couldn’t even be bothered to arrange for competent speechwriting assistance for his wife, Melania Trump, resulting in an embarrassing plagiarism scandal that's overshadowed the substance of peoples' speeches on the first evening.

Putting together a polished convention with a coherent lineup of speakers requires a lot of hard work and attention to detail. Donald Trump is not a man who pays attention to detail, nor is he good at hiring people and delegating this kind of work to them. So the work didn’t get done, and as a result the four-day infomercial that is the RNC will likely boost his candidacy less than it would have if it were more competently organized.

This, of course, is not the first time Trump’s laziness has hampered his campaign’s effectiveness:

  • Trump couldn’t be bothered to organize on-the-ground campaign staff, leading him to lose Iowa to Ted Cruz. As late as last month, the campaign only had 30 staffers, compared with hundreds for the Clinton campaign.
  • When the campaign was running low on funds, Trump reportedly couldn’t be bothered to call more than three names on a list of 20 high-dollar donors provided to him by the RNC.
  • Trump can’t be bothered to do the homework that would allow him to give convincing answers to policy questions, leading him to flub interview after interview.
  • Trump’s son reportedly told an aide to Ohio Gov. John Kasich that if Kasich became Donald Trump’s vice president, he could be in charge of foreign and domestic policy. The Trump camp has denied this rumor, but it’s totally believable that Trump would be too lazy to actually do the work expected of the president.

Trump obviously isn’t lazy in the conventional sense — he’s positively frenetic about self-promotion. But he evidently can’t bring himself to do the kind of often tedious behind-the-scenes work that’s normally required to organize a national campaign and win the presidency. This week’s lackluster convention is only the latest sign of this character flaw.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.