CLEVELAND — Few moments in recent times have elicited more anticipation in the American political world than this year’s Republican National Convention, and just hours into the confab’s first session of proceedings, it lived up to the expectations it would feature conflict and chaos.
For roughly an hour Monday afternoon, the convention floor descended into discord as renegade delegates sought a state-by-state roll call vote to change the rules binding delegates to the candidate who won their respective state. It was a technical maneuver designed to strip Donald Trump of the party’s nomination.
Despite being improbable — if not quixotic — the showdown put on full display a party fundamentally divided over the man soon to become its official nominee for president. Almost one day exactly after Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort told reporters “this is a Trump convention” and that “the party is united,” tensions within the GOP did not appear to be subsiding.
Just as this reporter was on the floor interviewing former New York congressman Bob Turner — a delegate who was noted for robust support of Israel during his House tenure — about the dissonance within the party over how to resolve Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, Quicken Loans Arena was overtaken by screams of outrage.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has claimed he’d seek a two-state deal to the conflict, but the GOP’s draft platform committee diverged by removing support for such an accommodation from the platform.
Turner, a Trump supporter and foreign policy hawk, argued the party was fundamentally more united on the Jewish state than it may appear, despite differences among its ranks on approach.
“We have to be realistic with the Palestinians,” he said. “I think we have to be a lot tougher on them. Trump has said he wants a two-state solution, but he’s also indicated that expectations have to be set on the Palestinians, which was reflected very well in his AIPAC speech.”
“He made the point then that the US can support certain outcomes, but it can’t impose any outcomes,” he added. “The platform essentially says the same thing by not saying one way is the way to go.” Trump himself tweeted the platform was “the most pro-Israel of all time.”
Another point of contention was raised when the former reality television star said he would be “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His position drew swift ire from many of his primary rivals, with Marco Rubio saying Trump took “an anti-Israel position.”
When asked about differences on this aspect of the foreign policy matter, Turner stated he suspected Trump’s stance emanated from his tendency to speak before thinking. “He sometimes goes off and says things that he hasn’t thought through,” he said. “The AIPAC speech, which was very well thought out, came when he read from a teleprompter, so I think he can do that when he listens to advisers and reflects on an issue, and that gives me reason to believe he can make sensible decisions.”
Moments later, the interview was cut short as the confrontation exploded. A patchwork of delegates on the floor were screaming “Roll Call! Roll Call!” — others were shouting “USA! USA!”
Steps away from us, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who supported Ted Cruz during the primary, was leading the rebellion from the Virginia delegation’s seating area.
As reporters swarmed the prominent social conservative, his exacerbation with the undertaking became evident. At one point, he took off the credentials from around his neck, threw them on the floor, and bellowed, “I am not going to do this again!” Eventually, he conceded defeat, telling the New York Times, “It’s disappointing. There’s nowhere to appeal.”
Indeed, since Texas Sen. Ted Cruz dropped out of the race on May 4, political pundits and party officials, including RNC chair Reince Priebus, have declared Trump’s impending nomination as inevitable. While that may be, fissures within the GOP continue to run deep, making Manafort’s proclamation of party unity seem like wishful thinking.
Turner’s formulation on Trump and the party being close on Israel, however, remains to be seen.