It's hard to know how we'll be thinking about the Republican National Convention a few weeks from now, no less a few years from now. But what have been the most memorable moments of the convention thus far? What they have in common is they have basically all been bad for the nominee, and they have basically all been the product of unforced errors.
To be sure, in a big convention with thousands of attendees and dozens of speakers, things will go wrong even if everything is well planned. Keynote speakers can give ponderous or uninspiring speeches (see Bill Clinton in 1988 and Mark Warner in 2008). Clint Eastwood's speech at the 2012 Republican convention was a mess, although one could hardly blame organizers for inviting him. And this week's norovirus outbreak is gross, but such things can happen in hotels and conventions. Most of the things that have gone wrong this week, however, could easily have been avoided.
Surely one of the bigger moments has been the multi-day story over Melania Trump's plagiarism of Michelle Obama. In part, this is because it's an easy story to cover. No one looks like a partisan hack for criticizing plagiarism, and readers get that it's a problem without a lot of explanation. But this was a story that didn't need to happen. A competent campaign wouldn't have put the copied phrases in the speech in the first place and could have easily caught it if someone else had done so. They could also have quickly apologized and moved on instead of attempting to spin it. Instead, the Trump team compounded error after error.
What about the delegation walkouts over unpledged delegates or the rules over counting votes for other candidates as votes for Trump? These were the product of needless strong-armed tactics to silence dissent. Trump had the votes to become the nominee, but he sought to minimize demonstrations of support for other candidates. Desperate to avoid the appearance of disunity, the Trump team ended up augmenting it. On TV.
What about Ted Cruz's big speech that contained no endorsement of the nominee? The Trump team understandably wanted Cruz to speak, and Cruz has never been one to stifle his long-term political ambitions out of deference to others in his party. But it's hard not to think that at least some of Cruz's rebellious act was brought about by Trump's own campaign tactics in the spring, insulting Heidi Cruz's looks and suggesting that Sen. Cruz's father was part of a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. It's not like Trump needed to go there to secure a primary win. Is it shocking that such over-the-top campaign techniques would have blowback?
Trump managed to step on Mike Pence's big evening last night with his own rambling interview in which he suggested that he would only defend NATO allies if they're current in their payments. That only compounded the botched roll-out of the vice presidential announcement from last weekend.
Again, obviously, things can go wrong in such a large event, particularly when the party has significant divisions plaguing it. But in the modern era, where there are rarely actual deliberations over the choice of nominee, conventions are supposed to be a multi-day advertisement for the party. The main takeaways from this one are unforced error after unforced error. This is again indicative of a candidate who has no idea how to run a national campaign and, more importantly, no apparent interest in learning.