RNC 2020: Unconventional wisdom regarding an unconventional president

Donald Trump was not always a Republican. Even when he was a candidate for the party’s nomination in 2016 he threatened to leave the party. But this week as he glides into his re-nomination, he has remade the GOP as thoroughly as if it were a high-rise building with his name on it. 

It’s a remarkable ascendancy for a man who had never run for office or held public office, but whose experience in the cut-and-thrust of the New York real estate business gave him an instinct for wielding power.

Those who have opposed him in his party are no longer in office. Those who might offer an astringent word take care to leaven it with a bouquet of compliments. Senators Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, once primary campaign rivals, are now vocal defenders. [As Graham said on “Face the Nation” last September, “I’m not fine with this president being impeached based on hearsay.”]

Bill Clinton once said Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. But Republican conventions were not always placid. In 1952 even war hero Dwight Eisenhower had to shoulder his way into the party in a brutal convention fight with Senator Robert Taft.

In 1976, Ronald Reagan almost took the nomination away from sitting President Gerald Ford. When Reagan spoke at Ford’s convention, a delegate was heard to sigh, “We’ve nominated the wrong man.”

The reason Donald Trump has such a lock on things is that he has delivered for the Republican Party on every important issue its members care about. He has cut taxes. He has slashed regulations. He has increased defense spending. He has been a vocal supporter of limiting abortion rights, and promoted the maximalist interpretation of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. He has elevated two Supreme Court Justices and hundreds of conservative lower court judges who will remake the judiciary for more than a generation.

Where the Republican Party has different views from Donald Trump – on trade, fiscal restraint and comprehensive immigration reform – he has reversed party orthodoxy to his way of thinking. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “I’m not sure he’s a conservative, but he’s the most effective anti-liberal in my lifetime.”

This week’s convention will bait liberals and the press with taunts, jibes and cultural displays designed to draw them into a frenzy. President Trump will present himself as a protector from the hoards – immigrants at the borders, protesters in the streets, and anyone carrying a set of ideas that might imperil the S&P 500, which this week hit a record. The reception will be more enthusiastic than the one Joe Biden received.

But with headlines about 170,000 deaths from COVID-19, economic collapse, and racial anguish, the question for President Trump will be: Do voters want protection from the world his convention will paint, or rescue from the world outside it?

Don’t miss CBS News’ coverage of the 2020 Republican National Convention, beginning Monday, August 24 at 8 p.m. ET on CBSN.

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Story produced by Kay Lim. Editor: Emanuele Secci.

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