CLEVELAND — A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump descended an escalator at Trump Tower to announce his presidential bid, hardly anyone believed it was the start of a successful quest to become the Republican Party’s nominee. But this week, that’s exactly what it will officially turn out to be.
The 2016 Republican National Convention, which kicks off Monday, will be like no other in American history. With much of the party establishment disinclined to make the controversial real estate magnate its standard-bearer — and in a year that has turned all conventions upside down — it’s fair to expect plenty more controversies, twists and unexpected turns.
Trump himself has promised to deliver more flair to the quadrennial confab than was found in conventions past. He has called the 2012 gathering that nominated Mitt Romney “the most boring convention I’ve ever seen” and vowed to make this year’s “monumentally magnificent.”
While few doubt he will bring his characteristic extravagance to the Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland, much of what’s unfolding indicates the showman should be preparing as much for conflict as for entertaining stagecraft.
Many Republicans in the pro-Israel and Jewish communities are not rallying behind Trump’s candidacy, and there are differences on substance between the former reality television star and the party’s platform committee on Israel, including on a policy stance that has long been considered a given.
After Trump repeatedly claimed on the campaign trail he would seek the elusive two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying he would “give it one hell of a shot,” the GOP’s draft platform took the unprecedented step of avoiding support for such a position, departing from long-held orthodoxy among both parties in Washington.
Instead, the platform called for the US to recognize Jerusalem as “the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state,” and to move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv “in fulfillment of US law.”
Trump himself told a crowd of some 18,000 at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference he supported moving the embassy, but such language on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians represents a stark contrast from where the party stood in 2012. That platform abstained from discussing the ancient city and explicitly called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, calling for “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states — Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine — living in peace and security.”
While Trump once resigned himself to saying “sometimes agreements can’t be made,” language from the platform represents the party and its nominee diverging on a critical aspect of US foreign policy.
Jewish Republicans skipping
A number of prominent Republican Jews who are typically some of the loudest supporters for the party’s candidate have totally jumped ship on the Grand Old Party this year.
Some large GOP donors have declined to attend this year’s convention, like Yitz Applebaum and Charlie Spies, according to Jewish Insider. And a lot of former members of the George W. Bush administration and those in the family’s circle are not going either.
One of them, Jay Zeidman, is a Houston-based Republican highly influential in Jewish circles. He and his father Fred supported Ted Cruz during the primary and both are involved with the Republican Jewish Coalition, with Fred sitting on its board.
RJC itself will be present but not in its usual fashion, refraining from hosting its usual large-scale gatherings recognizing party leaders and young talent it deems allies on its core issues. Instead, it is having one private reception honoring pro-Israel elected officials, according to JTA.
Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal recently reported on a way RJC members have expressed their discontent with Trump via their wallots. Thus far, they have given roughly $5,400 to the billionaire businessman’s bid — as opposed to $16.5 million to Mitt Romney come convention time four years ago.
Trump may have earned some points in many of their books, however, by choosing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, who has a record of strongly supporting Israel.
Several Jewish pundits have also unequivocally taken a pass on the Trump train, including Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, Bret Stephens and Charles Krauthammer.
Delegate drama and plenty of guns
Despite Trump clinching the needed delegates during the primary to become the presumptive nominee, there will be a group at the convention, Delegates Unbound, urging delegates to “vote their conscience” and support a candidate of their choosing, even if, or especially if, that candidate is not Trump.
“These individuals are extremely passionate about the right to vote their conscience,” Delegates Unbound leader Dane Waters told ABC News. “So I can’t imagine that people are going to sit around and not do anything.”
Others, like Kendal Unruh, a delegate from Colorado, is a leading an “Anybody but Trump” campaign. “Nobody has any idea who is going to step in and be the nominee, but we’re not worried about that. We’re just doing that job to make sure that he’s not the face of our party,” she told The Washington Post.
Just as a delegate showdown is looming — and as thousands of angry anti-Trump protesters are expected to show up — security concerns are accentuated by Ohio’s law giving people the legal right to openly carry firearms. While local police have prohibited a number of items from the protest zones near the arena, guns are not among them.
On Sunday, Cleveland’s police union asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich to suspend the state’s open-carry rights for the week, but the former presidential candidate said he thought such a move was not legally permissible. The issue comes after a spate of mass shootings in recent weeks — including in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Dallas, Texas; and Orlando, Florida — and there is much apprehension over what could erupt in Cleveland.
There was already a series of protests over the weekend, and more are expected throughout the week.
Beyond protesters, a group of white supremacists from Sacaramento, California, are planning to attend. “We’re essentially just going to show up and make sure that the Donald Trump supporters are defended from the leftist thugs,” Matt Parrott, spokesman for the Traditionalist Worker Party, told the McClatchy news outlet. He said roughly 30 members of the self-proclaimed neo-Nazi group would head to the lakefront city.
The convention begins in earnest Monday at 1 p.m. EST. The first evening session, which will feature speeches from Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and Melania Trump, begins at 8 p.m. EST.