Guest Host: Frank Sesno

The first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media.

The first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media.

The 2016 Republican convention began last night with a focus on security anxieties, sharp attacks on Hillary Clinton, and support for traditional social policies. Melania Trump, wife of presumptive nominee Donald Trump, provided a respite from the largely negative perspectives offered by other speakers on America’s place in the world, U.S. immigration policies that compromise our safety and accusations that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton belongs behind bars, but there are charges of plagiarism: Join us for an update on the convention and GOP’s quest for party unity.

Guests

  • Mara Liasson National political correspondent, NPR and contributor, Fox News
  • James Fallows National correspondent for The Atlantic magazine
  • Howard Opinsky Executive vice president and general manager, DC office, Hill+Knowlton Strategies; national press secretary for U.S. Senator John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign
  • James Pasco Executive director, Fraternal Order of Police
  • Mercedes Schlapp Republican strategist and columnist for the Washington Times; co-founder and principal, Cove Strategies, a governmental and public affairs firm based in Alexandria, Virginia; contributor, Fox News; former media liaison, President George W. Bush Administration

Transcript

  • 10:06:54

    MR. FRANK SESNOFrom WAMU and NPR in Washington, I'm Frank Sesno, director of the school of media and public affairs at the George Washington University sitting in for Diane Rehm. Well, speaking last night at the GOP convention in Cleveland, Melania Trump, wife of presumptive nominee Donald Trump, offered an upbeat assessment of her husband, a man, she says, who cares about all Americans.

  • 10:07:14

    MR. FRANK SESNOOther speakers of the evening focused on a nation said to be undone by concerns about safety, here and abroad, a law and order theme emerged. Joining me to talk about the Republican convention, efforts to forge party unity is Howard Opinsky. He's a communication executive and former national press secretary for U.S. Senator John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. Good to see you, Howard.

  • 10:07:36

    MR. HOWARD OPINSKYGood to be with you, Frank.

  • 10:07:38

    SESNOAnd by phone, and we start with them, from Cleveland, Mara Liasson of NPR and James Fallows of The Atlantic. Mara, James, how are you?

  • 10:07:44

    MS. MARA LIASSONHi, how are you doing?

  • 10:07:44

    MR. JAMES FALLOWSGreetings.

  • 10:07:46

    SESNOJust great. Let me start with you folks in Cleveland and Mara, why don't you take it first? Last night, as I mentioned, as an attempt by the Republicans at that convention, the Trump allies to step out with a unified voice. There's question as to how well they did with that. I'm interested in your take on that, as well as this sort of strong law and order theme and Donald Trump is the man of the hour. Mara, your thoughts?

  • 10:08:11

    LIASSONWell, I think that there was something that was very unified about the Republican Convention and that was the animus to Hillary Clinton and that does seem to be the biggest unifying glue that holds all these Republicans together when other things might be pushing them apart. But that message was driven home pretty relentlessly with several speakers saying that Hillary Clinton should be in jail. One of them said, we know she likes her pants suits. She should be in an orange jumpsuit.

  • 10:08:41

    LIASSONSo it was pretty raw. And the law and order theme was also hammered at. I mean, immigration was seen as a domestic security issue. They had several speakers whose relatives had been killed by illegal immigrants, some of them in traffic accidents. And what was missing was the positive message about Donald Trump. Melania Trump tried to do that. She was the one exception, as you just said to the dark, negative, angry tone of the rest of the proceedings.

  • 10:09:11

    SESNOWhat about Rudy Giuliani's speech, Mara, where he attested to Trump's strength and said that if he, Giuliani, can make New York safe, Trump can make America safe.

  • 10:09:23

    LIASSONYes, yes. Giuliani was kind of a "all of the above." I mean, he was a character witness for Trump, talked about how he had a big heart, made anonymous donations to charity, but also stressed a law and order theme. And, of course, Rudy Giuliani is the former law and order mayor of New York City. And he, I think, was the most rousing speech of the evening. He was -- really had the delegates here excited and energized.

  • 10:09:50

    LIASSONAnd then, you know, he lead into Melania and she gave, I think, a pretty good character witness for her husband. It was overshadowed, to a certain extent, by the conversation afterwards when people discovered that a paragraph or two had been almost lifted verbatim from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech.

  • 10:10:07

    SESNOYeah. There is that and I want to come back to that in a little bit. But Jim Fallows, let me come to you. One of the big themes that seems to be coming out of the convention overall and has been embraced by Paul Manafort, the top campaign manager -- campaign aide for Donald Trump, has been this sort of look back to Richard Nixon in 1968 and stressing these law and order themes. And, in fact, Manafort explicitly said this is sort of a model for us. What do you make of that and are you seeing that yourself?

  • 10:10:40

    FALLOWSThat certainly is the tone. I should say also I'm in the middle an extremely noisy press center so all of our press colleagues are talking by the thousands around me. I'll try to talk over them. I think that, you know, one of the rules in presidential campaigning is usually the sunnier, more positive seeming candidate wins over the darker, more negative seeming candidate.

  • 10:11:00

    FALLOWSOne notable exception to that, of course, is Richard Nixon in 1968 in a very different circumstances at that time. But in a way, Donald Trump, who has a sunny side to himself that he can present sometimes, has, so far, as Mara was saying, the first day of the convention seems to be a full-on embrace of the darker, more fearful narrative of law and order at home, the threat of terrorism internationally and sending Hillary Clinton to jail.

  • 10:11:26

    FALLOWSI think those were the three light motifs that knit together most of the speeches.

  • 10:11:30

    SESNOJim, one of the things that Manafort said yesterday and this was in his briefing, he said -- and actually, he also talked to the New York Times about this. He said, looking at the Nixon campaign, you could see that it's possible, and I'm quoting here, "to get people to see you in a different as a strong leader, but also a human one." Is it odd to be making a parallel to Richard Nixon, a Republican president who ended up having to resign the office in disgrace?

  • 10:11:54

    FALLOWSIt is. I guess if you wanted to see the bright of that, you could say Nixon did get elected twice, the second time, certainly, was by a landslide over George McGovern. And I think that even to make the comparison, however, beyond the obvious point of linking to the only president who's resigned, is the contrast between Richard Nixon, who had spent essentially all of his adult life on politics and policy and been vice president for eight years and had run for -- been a senator and run for governor of California and had an enormous network of policy people, with Donald Trump, who has spent, you know, zero of his previous life in politics or policy.

  • 10:12:32

    FALLOWSAnd I think we're seeing, even the last week or two, the ways in which the complexities of running a general election campaign are harder than they look, rolling out a vice president or coordinating conventions speeches. And so I think that the comparison to Nixon, in a way, underscores the things that Trump doesn't have at the moment in terms of just knowing how the game is played on this scale.

  • 10:12:55

    SESNOThat's fascinating. Mara, let me come to you and then Howard, I want to bring you into this conversation. Mara, you were talking about the speakers last night and one of the, by far the most emotional, I think anyway, was Pat Smith, the mother of Shawn Smith, who was killed in the Benghazi attack. And at one point, she said I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son. Personally. There was a lot more and many delegates in the cutaway shots that we could see from the coverage and that we could see in the room were in tears as she talked about the death of her son.

  • 10:13:23

    SESNOThis unifying force that you talk about, Hillary Clinton, is this -- you've been to many, many conventions and delegates always show up determined to defeat the other side, but is there something more visceral, more powerful, do you sense, with this opposition to Hillary Clinton than to other candidates we've seen in the past?

  • 10:13:44

    LIASSONWell, that's what it felt like to me. And I asked people like Mark Shields who's been to many more conventions than I have, have they ever -- has he ever seen this intensity of animus and he said no. The interesting thing about that moment with Pat Stevens was it really crystallized everything about this convention so far because she was delivering what, I think, is the most effective attack on Hillary Clinton. And it was very emotional. It has the potential to do a lot more damage to Hillary Clinton.

  • 10:14:17

    LIASSONIt, of course, is not shared by the other families of the Benghazi casualties. You know, there have been investigations on this and they haven't shown that Hillary Clinton was culpable. There have also been the other families who said that Hillary Clinton talked to them just the way she talked Pat Smith and she didn't blame it on a video. But it's a very, very powerful, emotional charge. At the same moment, at the moment that Pat Smith was speaking, Donald Trump was calling into Fox News to do an interview where he trashed John Kasich.

  • 10:14:49

    LIASSONSo he was counterprogramming his own convention. And I don't know how you explain that, other than saying it's kind of a remarkable act of un-discipline, but that kind of sums it up. There is a powerful message against Hillary Clinton that's being delivered relentlessly at this convention, but it's also being undercut, you know, over and over again.

  • 10:15:08

    SESNOI think that's a perfect moment to bring Howard into this conversation because, Howard, you managed John McCain and you've been through this convention process. Isn't the first duty of a campaign at a convention to avoid all distractions and stay completely on message and whoever's up there on the podium. So if you're picking fights with John Kasich or if you're getting involved in allegations of plagiarism and -- this is nightmare material, isn't it, for a campaign manager?

  • 10:15:34

    OPINSKYAbsolutely. A convention is a giant television show. It's produced and focused on the viewers at home. And anything that distracts from what's going on on that stage is a distraction that is a missed opportunity, really. And that's, I think, what we had a lot of yesterday with the counter programming and the problems with Mrs. Trump's speech. It really took away from what were some really good speeches in the day, whether from Giuliani, as you mentioned, making a really strong case, from the police chief who, I think, you know, animated the hall with a call for Blue Lives Matter and drew a real, you know, line in the sand, if you will, for what the election will be about.

  • 10:16:11

    OPINSKYMarcus Luttrell's comments, which were very emotional as well. So there were some great things there, but there's so much distraction that I think today, if you wake up and you're taking a look at what happened, even if you watched it live in the 10 o'clock hour, I don't know that you came away with the success that if you watched the whole thing and really focused on what was being said on the stage, you came away with a very different view.

  • 10:16:29

    SESNOHow damaging is this plagiarism business?

  • 10:16:31

    OPINSKYWell, look, in the long run, I don't think it's particularly damaging.

  • 10:16:36

    SESNOHow distracting is it?

  • 10:16:37

    OPINSKYIt's certainly distracting today.

  • 10:16:39

    SESNOSomebody need to lose their job over this? You were a campaign manager. Would you fire somebody?

  • 10:16:43

    OPINSKYI think that would've been the fastest way out of this. I think that's probably what would've happened in any other campaign. I mean, you know, I think, you know, campaign managers are left on the tarmac with regularity. I don't know why that couldn't happen here with simplest...

  • 10:16:56

    SESNOMara, what are you hearing about this in Cleveland?

  • 10:16:59

    LIASSONWell, the first reaction of the Trump campaign was, no, she didn't -- we didn't plagiarize, although there was also a statement where they admitted that fragments -- they referred to it as fragments of -- it seemed like they were saying fragments of other speeches inspired her. But Mrs. Trump had given an interview to Matt Lauer earlier in the day where she said she only ran through the speech once and that she did it with as little help as possible. She'd written the speech herself.

  • 10:17:27

    SESNOJim Fallows, let me give you the last word on this. You are one of the most amazing narrative writers in the country. If you're looking for the narrative that you're starting to hear take shape at this convention, where is it going?

  • 10:17:39

    FALLOWSIt is -- I think the contrast between the energy of Trump and whether it can be expanded to any kind of broader appeal -- I'll just say one thing more on the speech front. I actually was a presidential speech writer at one time in my life. If I had done something like this, I would've been -- I assumed I'd be fired the next day just because...

  • 10:17:59

    SESNOInstantly, right? I mean, instantly.

  • 10:18:00

    FALLOWSOh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, and I mean, for no other reason, just for damage control. Somebody has to take the blame so better some speech writer schmo than the candidate or his wife.

  • 10:18:09

    SESNOAll right. Well, I want to thank Mara Liasson and Jim Fallows. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:20:02

    SESNOAnd welcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about, today, the first day of the Republican convention in Cleveland and last night's speakers, Melania Trump among them, Rudy Giuliani making a strong case for Donald Trump, a strong case, their case, against Hillary Rodham Clinton. If you'd like to join our conversation, if you saw the convention, have some comments or a question about it, please do at 1-800-433-8850. That's 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email at drshow@wamu.org. Or contact us through our Facebook page or through Twitter.

  • 10:20:38

    SESNOI'm talking with Howard Opinsky. And Howard, we were on the line a few minutes ago with James Fallows and Mara Liasson. They actually had to go back to work, so that was -- more here. But I'm really interested in some more of your thoughts on how effectively the case was made for Donald Trump last night. Are they trying to humanize him? Are they trying to put -- last night, the theme was making America safe again. So it was the law and order theme.

  • 10:21:04

    OPINSKYYeah, I think it was a C, maybe B-minus in that department last night. I think much more focus was put on Hillary Clinton. Much more focus was put on the dangerous times in which we live.

  • 10:21:17

    SESNOWas that done effectively, the dangerous times, to make this law and order focus real?

  • 10:21:23

    OPINSKYI think that it was. I think that it might have pushed a bit too far for some undecided, if there are any undecided voters left. But I think that the case was made very effectively. Marcus Luttrell was very strong in that area.

  • 10:21:35

    SESNORudy Giuliani said the vast majority of Americans today do not feel safe. They fear for their children. They fear for themselves. Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn said our way of life is in jeopardy.

  • 10:21:46

    OPINSKYWell, I think the events of the last week -- terrorism, the racial unrest that's been going on -- I think there's some real concern in the country now. As I said, it might have gone too far for some folks' taste. But I think that, certainly in that room and if you're trying to bring together the Republican Party as they were last night, that's a theme that I think most Republicans can get behind, that the country is not as safe as it was eight years ago.

  • 10:22:09

    SESNOSo let me use this as a moment to bring into our conversation by phone from here in Washington, James Pasco. He's the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. Mr. Pasco, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 10:22:19

    MR. JAMES PASCOThank you, sir.

  • 10:22:20

    SESNOI really do appreciate your time. I would like to just ask you, if I could, you know, given the latest attack on police in Baton Rouge, which resulted in the death of three officers there, are there -- there are reports that these men were specifically targeted and assassinated. Before I ask you more about the political context, do we know anything more and new about Baton Rouge?

  • 10:22:41

    PASCONo. Obviously, it's an ongoing investigation, Frank. And there is still much, I think, to be learned. That being said, they're fairly confident at this point that it was the work of a single shooter, who is now deceased.

  • 10:23:00

    SESNOSo, as I was chatting with Howard Opinsky here and focusing on this theme that we heard last night -- Rudy Giuliani and others talking about law and order, making America safe again. From your perspective, especially with this horrible backdrop of officers having been shot and killed, do you think the speakers last night addressed the problem or did they offer solutions?

  • 10:23:25

    PASCOWell, I think, hyperbole aside -- and that's a generalization about politicians at this time in the cycle anyway -- hyperbole aside, I do think that they identified a problem. And from our perspective, you know, when police officers are under attack, which is the case across the country, every American citizen is a little bit less safe, in the sense that when an officer is preoccupied with -- as she or she interacts with individuals -- his or her own political safety, is a lot less likely to be able to provide for the safety of others. Further, when you've got to double up in squad cars, that reduces immediately by 50 percent the number of officers available to respond to calls.

  • 10:24:25

    SESNOWhat do you want to hear from the candidates? What do you want to hear from the podium at these two conventions? This is a remarkable national moment for people actually to tune in and hear something, maybe even learn something.

  • 10:24:37

    PASCOWell, you know, we want to hear from the candidates, just as we want to hear from the general public. We want to hear of strong support for police officers who, in fact, are the barrier between people and the things that they fear, whether it's terrorism or whether it's crime in the United States. Whatever the case may be, we want to hear support for police. But we don't want to hear it in a context of who's to blame. And that seems to be the predisposition of political candidates and of activist groups of all stripes. It's not a gotcha game here. It's a game of life or death.

  • 10:25:24

    SESNOWhat do you want to hear from the candidates and what are you prepared to say yourself, though, when there are isolated but nonetheless outrageous, or apparently outrageous situations where there is police brutality or abuse?

  • 10:25:41

    PASCOWell, first of all, you know, we don't -- we have no brief for a bad cop. And where a police officer does something wrong, remember it's police officers who arrest that individual and do the investigation that results in the trial. So let's start there. That being said, the vast majority of the 800,000-plus police officers in the United States do their jobs every day anonymously and often heroically, with millions of contacts with civilians in the United States every week and without incident.

  • 10:26:19

    PASCOAnd while we understand the egregious nature of some of these events and the horrible optics of them as well, they are not representative of police activity here in the United States, anymore than the shooter in Baton Rouge was representative of the feeling of all African-Americans in the United States. It'd be an absurd premise to work from.

  • 10:26:43

    SESNOJim Pasco, let me ask you this question. From your perspective as executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, is America a more dangerous place today than it was one, two, four years ago?

  • 10:26:56

    PASCOWell, sadly, it seems to be for police officers. I think that the numbers would reflect that, generally speaking, the crime rate, while it's starting to spike upward, is still at historic lows when compared to 20 years ago. But the trend upward is reflective of a number of areas that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. One is, police departments across the country are understaffed. They're undertrained. They're underequipped. And because of this spike in negative publicity, it -- recruiting has become more difficult.

  • 10:27:34

    PASCOWhat we have to do, though, we have to bear in mind that, when recruiting becomes more difficult, there's a natural inclination to lower the standards or broaden the net and consider people you might not have otherwise considered. We've got to get good police officers out there. We've got to pay them well. We've got to equip them. We've got to train them to do the job. And we can't accept mediocrity in policing anymore than we can in any other important line of public health or safety work.

  • 10:28:07

    SESNOLet me bring Howard Opinsky into this conversation, how you see this now playing through the political campaign. We heard it last night at the convention. We're going to hear more of it.

  • 10:28:16

    OPINSKYWell, I think, you know, what you heard at the convention last night was an attempt to create an us and them environment, where Republicans are on the side of the cops and Hillary Clinton is on the other -- is against the cops. And I'm curious if Jim has a point of view on that. Do you see the parties too hopelessly divided on who's more pro-police officer?

  • 10:28:37

    PASCOWell, not -- I certainly see a competition for votes that spins around slightly or significantly different bases. And, you know, we have -- we will, in fact, endorse. But we won't do so until mid-September. So we're waiting and watching and gathering information on all three candidates for president. And we'll hopefully make an informed decision.

  • 10:29:11

    SESNOWho did you endorse last time?

  • 10:29:12

    PASCOWe did not endorse last time. For the first time in our history, we made no endorsement.

  • 10:29:17

    SESNOWhy?

  • 10:29:18

    PASCOWe -- neither candidate got the requisite two-thirds of our delegate votes.

  • 10:29:25

    SESNODonald Trump is trying to position himself as the law-and-order candidate. Is he winning favor with your reviews so far?

  • 10:29:32

    PASCOBoth candidates have a level of support within the Fraternal Order of Police. And, you know, I'm -- I have been in this job for a long time. And one of the reasons that I'm still here is because I don't try and step on our members' votes.

  • 10:29:49

    SESNOWell, what do you think your members are going to be looking for in an endorsement? What are they listening for? What are they listening for this week? What will they be listening for next week?

  • 10:29:57

    PASCOWell, they're listening for the same thing all the time. You know, police officers will go through a wall for an elected politician who's got their back. That doesn't mean a politician who accepts mediocrity, who accepts improper activity on the part of police officers, but a politician who understand that, while police officers aren't perfect, they're human, they're doing their best each and every day. And they want to see that support. And by the way, just yesterday we received a very, very strong open letter to law enforcement from President Obama, which we posted on our Facebook page. And I just learned, as we were going on the air here, that the White House has in fact liked our Facebook page and shared it as a way of getting the letter out.

  • 10:30:53

    PASCOBut, in any event, it was a -- it's a very strong and welcome and unequivocal letter of support for law enforcement.

  • 10:31:00

    SESNODo you feel that these police killings -- these terrible police killings and attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge have sort of turned the tide here a little bit and focused -- whether it's the White House and both of these parties' candidates and the public -- in a different way? But still a lot of pressure from Black Lives Matter and others who cite serious problems as they see it., but do you think that the general mood and support has changed?

  • 10:31:23

    PASCOWell, I hope so. I really hope so. I mean, you know, it'd be a horrible thing if it took this almost unprecedented string of tragedies over the last, you know, month and a half or two months, to precipitate a positive change. But if we squander the opportunity that we have, shame on us.

  • 10:31:48

    SESNOJim Pasco, let me ask you one last question. Donald Trump will deliver his speech later in the week. We'll hear from Hillary Clinton accepting the nomination there. What, specifically, would you and your members want to hear from the candidates in terms of what they will do as president of the United States on behalf of good policing?

  • 10:32:10

    PASCOWell, it's -- it goes beyond supporting police officers. It's supporting the rule of law, the sanctity of all human life. We aren't in a gotcha game. We're in a protect you game. And we need a candidate who understands that it's -- protecting police officers and protecting the citizenry are two things that are inextricably intertwined.

  • 10:32:36

    SESNOJames Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, I want to thank you for your time and for everything that you and all good cops across America do every day.

  • 10:32:44

    PASCOThanks very much, Frank. Appreciate it.

  • 10:32:46

    SESNOThank you.

  • 10:32:47

    PASCOGood-bye.

  • 10:32:47

    SESNOHoward, take us forward. What should we be listening, if we're going to connect what you just heard Jim Pasco talking about and what we're going to be hearing from these speeches?

  • 10:32:57

    OPINSKYWell, I think the Republicans have probably spoken to it as much as they're going to speak to it last night, and keep American Safe Day. I think that you're going to continue to hear strong support for police officers. I think it'll be interesting to see the Democratic convention, though, and how they're going to address this. How are...

  • 10:33:13

    SESNODo you think law and order is going to be a big deal at the Democratic convention?

  • 10:33:15

    OPINSKYNo. I think that they don't want to talk about law and order. But I do think that they want to talk about racial justice. And I think that they're going to want to talk about the police killings. And I think they're going to want to put that into some characterization. I think it's going to be a bit of a tightrope. And I would look at the Dallas police chief and the marvelous job he did in talking about this and President Obama and George Bush, both at -- President Bush, at the funeral talking about it for guidance to how this might move forward.

  • 10:33:39

    SESNOI'm Frank Sesno and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to call us, we'd invite you to do that at 1-800-433-8850, with a question. Or send an email to drshow@wamu.org, find us on Facebook or send us a tweet.

  • 10:33:54

    SESNOHoward Opinsky, let's come back to this whole issue of Republican unity for a moment. We haven't talked about it, but yesterday during the daytime, before we got to the primetime speeches, there was quite an uproar in Cleveland on the floor over a fairly inconsequential rules fight, but consequential as far as the delegates were concerned -- booing and catcalls and all the rest, until it was kind of put down -- and then Paul Manafort said, we crushed the opposition. What does that tell you about the dynamic there? Does it matter? Is it a sideshow? How would rate the sort of unity quotient or set the unity quotient of what's going on in Cleveland?

  • 10:34:28

    OPINSKYWell, I think the unity quotient is fairly low at the moment. I don't think that the fracas on the floor, if you will, the other -- yesterday was all that emblematic of the real divide that actually exists. I think there were some folks that were trying to make a point and in fact trying to change the rules to make it more transparent going forward. And that's a legitimate effort. I also think that there was -- that it's not unusual in political conventions for there to be this sort of back and forth about the rules. Anytime you're managing a convention and you're able to shunt those disagreements into the Rules Committee, you've got a victory already, if you're not going to really have it much on the floor.

  • 10:35:05

    OPINSKYBut it does -- but I think that all of that puts a mask over the real problem that the party has coming together right now behind this candidate. And I don't think that the convention itself is going to be really enough to do that. I mean, Donald Trump has said a lot of things time and time again, over the last year in the primaries and even before that, that I think are very troubling to people. He -- that -- for which he not only hasn't -- isn't speaking to during the convention, he's certainly not changing his opinion on those things. So I don't think there's a lack of information. There's clarity of information about where Donald Trump stands on a number of issues that are very troubling to a lot of Republicans.

  • 10:35:39

    OPINSKYAnd I think it's, you know, folks are -- some folks are slowly warming up to him. The convention will clearly give a roadmap to many of those folks to say, the problem here is Hillary Clinton. We need to unite behind her -- against her.

  • 10:35:52

    SESNOJoining us by phone now from Cleveland is Mercedes Schlapp. She's a Republican strategist, columnist for the Washington Times, former media liaison for President George W. Bush and a supporter of Donald Trump. Mercedes, how are you? Thanks for joining us.

  • 10:36:04

    MS. MERCEDES SCHLAPPGood morning, how are you?

  • 10:36:05

    SESNOGood. Well, we're talking a lot about unifying the party and what Donald Trump is doing, what he has to do. How do you feel he's doing so far, given all the noise and some of these distractions.

  • 10:36:14

    SCHLAPPWell, I got to tell you, I was on the convention floor yesterday and really got to see, first hand, the emotional -- the emotions in the -- in Cleveland here. So you've got the -- you do have those that are obviously part of that Never Trump movement. Ken Cuccinelli, former attorney general of Virginia literally threw his credentials on the floor when he didn't -- wasn't able to speak up. And so it's been interesting. Emotions are very high. With that being said, when you -- they really had to move forward on deciding whether they were doing the roll call vote or not, because it would have put the convention two speeches, two hours even later than that.

  • 10:36:56

    SCHLAPPSo they were really trying to deal with this issue last week. It failed back in the Rules Committee. They only had a handful that were pushing for this, a handful of delegates.

  • 10:37:05

    SESNOSo will those delegates -- so, Mercedes, will those delegates now show up mollified and be able to do business going forward? Or are they burned and walked out? Briefly.

  • 10:37:13

    SCHLAPPWell, you saw the Colorado delegation walk out, which was, you know, quite a scene. But I do want to say that there is a -- probably a lot more unity than not. You do have that faction of the Never Trump movement and those that really were focused on Ted Cruz. And I've got to tell you, we're all looking to see what Ted Cruz is going to say in his speech.

  • 10:37:35

    SESNOAnd we will do that -- we'll look and see what Ted Cruz has to say. You and I will talk about that when we come back from the break. And coming up, your calls and questions, so stay tuned.

  • 10:40:01

    SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Diane today. We are joined by Howard OPinsky, he's executive vice president, general manager for Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a long career in Republican politics, including work as national press secretary for U.S. Senator John McCain in his 2000 presidential campaign. We're also joined by Mercedes Schlapp from Cleveland. She's a Republican strategist, columnist for the Washington Times, co-founder and principal for -- at Cove Strategies, which is a governmental and public affairs firm based in Alexandria, Virginia, and a contributor with Fox News and lots of other things.

  • 10:40:34

    SESNOMercedes, let me come back and start with you again, and let me tell our listeners, we'll come to your calls in just a moment, and if you haven't got our number, and you want to dial in, it's 1-800-433-8850. Mercedes, you were starting to say before the break Ted Cruz, and while we were in the break, Howard OPinsky was saying, gosh, we're, you know, a day away, and we still don't know what Ted Cruz is going to do.

  • 10:40:54

    SCHLAPPWe - and we don't, and we don't know what he's going to say necessarily. There was -- there is a sense he's going to talk about uniting the party. The question will become will -- by uniting the party, does it mean endorsing Donald Trump. Is he ready to take that next step? And that is what's keeping everyone...

  • 10:41:10

    SESNOHow could he possibly, Mercedes, step to that podium and not endorse the candidate?

  • 10:41:16

    SCHLAPPThat's what many of us are thinking. I think it becomes difficult for him. The problem is, and what you're hearing here at the convention is, is he more focused about that 2020 run than about getting Donald Trump elected and avoiding Hillary Clinton from becoming commander in chief. So I think it's going to be interesting to see if it's going to be about Ted Cruz first or if it's going to be about party first and America first. And that is where I think we're -- what we're all looking, watching very carefully.

  • 10:41:42

    SESNOLet me ask you both, Mercedes and Howard, about one other element of party unity here that strikes, I think, most observers as pretty extraordinary, and that is the spat, the ongoing spat, and it's more than that, between the Trump campaign and the governor of the host state, Ohio, John Kasich, former candidate himself. So Manafort attacked Kasich yesterday for not endorsing Trump, and he's attacked him repeatedly, but yesterday he accused him of acting petulant. He said he was petulant. He said he's embarrassing his party in Ohio.

  • 10:42:12

    SESNOThen the Ohio Republican Party chairman, Matt Borges, tweeted back, Manafort doesn't know what he's talking about. And then Kasich aide John Weaver had this nasty reference to some of Manafort's unsavory clients. He said, I'm quoting John Weaver here, Manafort's problem after all those years on the lam with thugs and autocrats is that he can't recognize principle and integrity.

  • 10:42:34

    SESNOHang on, this is the governor, the Republican governor of the host state of the convention. What does this do...

  • 10:42:39

    OPINSKYThis just doesn't make any sense to me. It's just strategic blunder again by Trump. I mean look, you've got to win Ohio to win the presidency. Why would you be taking on an extraordinarily popular governor in Ohio? Now he may think that he can beat John Kasich in Ohio the same way that he beat Marco Rubio in Florida, but the fact of the matter is he's not on the ballot. So you want him at least marginally on your team and not fighting with you. It doesn't make any sense to pick that fight. He's the winner. He should be magnanimous in his victory, and he should -- and he should be focused on bringing the party together and winning in the fall, and that means winning Ohio.

  • 10:43:16

    SESNOMercedes?

  • 10:43:18

    SCHLAPPThey're both fighting with each other, right. So Kasich and Trump, they're both -- this is not just a one-way street. I think it comes from -- Kasich has made his comments of not wanting to endorse Trump, and that becomes difficult when just last year, it was Reince Priebus basically saying, okay, Donald Trump, sign a pledge, right, and all these men went up there on stage during a debate and said they would support the nominee.

  • 10:43:42

    SCHLAPPAnd so that's what's frustrating is the fact that you have these individuals, who lost, Donald Trump won fair and square, and they -- and it's just many of these GOP candidates cannot get over it.

  • 10:43:54

    SESNOBut Mercedes, isn't this the week to bring this today?

  • 10:43:57

    SCHLAPPAbsolutely.

  • 10:43:57

    SESNOI mean, isn't this when this is supposed to be happening, but it's not?

  • 10:43:59

    SCHLAPPIt should've happened weeks ago, but it's just we're dealing with a very complicated situation where many of these establishment-type GOP candidates cannot believe that Donald Trump -- that the party has become a Donald Trump party.

  • 10:44:13

    SESNOI haven't heard very much from your former boss, John McCain, by the way, Howard.

  • 10:44:16

    OPINSKYWell, and I was going to say, you know, there's a lot of people that have been criticizing Donald Trump from within the party.

  • 10:44:23

    SESNOMcCain is not in Cleveland.

  • 10:44:23

    OPINSKYMcCain is not in Cleveland. McCain's got a challenging race of his own back in Arizona.

  • 10:44:28

    SESNOOh come on, that's...

  • 10:44:30

    OPINSKYI think like a lot of members of the Senate, through clenched teeth he said I will accept the nomination of the party, whoever they put there. So he's focused on his race. It's clear that he's not enthusiastic here, as I think a lot of these folks aren't. I think the folks who you're seeing in Cleveland on the stage are, I think Mercedes as you alluded to, people that want to run in 2020.

  • 10:44:52

    SCHLAPPYes.

  • 10:44:52

    OPINSKYAnd I do think Kasich, you know, might have desire to do that. But look, if Donald Trump doesn't dignify any of those responses, any of those comments with a response, I'm not sure that they get any air time. So I'm not sure why it makes any sense for him to keep fighting this fight.

  • 10:45:06

    SESNOLet me go to the phones because I know Joe has been waiting patiently from Cincinnati, Ohio. Joe, how are you? Go ahead.

  • 10:45:11

    JOEGood morning, and thank you very much for taking my call. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm over 50 years old. I've been voting for 30 years. I have always voted Republican, election after election. This cycle, it's -- Trump's rhetoric has been very concerning, but I watched about 80 percent of the convention process yesterday, and I have to tell you, for someone who is declaring to be an outsider and then the tricks that were pulled with the voice vote and then leaving the stage and all things that seem to be very insider-esque-type things just is very concerning to me, and...

  • 10:45:53

    SESNOWell, what could you have seen that would have been less concerning, I'm interested?

  • 10:45:58

    JOEYou know, I don't -- I personally don't -- there was nothing the anti-Trump people could do. But if they put it to a vote, and it was -- and they, the Republican Party showed, yes, there are different ideas within our party, but we will come together, and Trump will be our man, that would have been enough for me, like...

  • 10:46:17

    SESNOSo what are you -- what are you going to do in the fall?

  • 10:46:20

    JOEI have to tell you, my wife and I, staunch Republicans, I'm not voting for Trump, and I refuse to not vote, so I am going to pick Hillary Clinton, and we are going to vote for Hillary Clinton. And I also...

  • 10:46:33

    SESNOSo you're a staunch Republican family, and you're going to vote for Hillary Clinton?

  • 10:46:36

    JOEFor Hillary Clinton for president. All the other people on the ticket below them are -- mostly all the Republicans I will vote for. I can't vote for Trump right now.

  • 10:46:47

    SESNOAll right...

  • 10:46:48

    JOEAnd if I could just interject, just for a second...

  • 10:46:48

    SESNOQuickly.

  • 10:46:50

    JOEI have been -- we have had two votes in my house forever. I have two teenage daughters who are now of voting age. We have had many conversations. So what in the past for 30 years has been two Republican votes in my house this cycle are four Democratic votes.

  • 10:47:06

    SESNOOkay, and there's Ohio, Howard.

  • 10:47:07

    OPINSKYThat's Ohio.

  • 10:47:09

    SESNOThat may have just, you know, that may be -- is that an isolated incident based on your conversations with your fellow Republicans?

  • 10:47:15

    OPINSKYNo, I don't think it's an isolated incident at all. I think you're seeing a lot of it.

  • 10:47:19

    SESNOSo Joe represents...

  • 10:47:21

    OPINSKYI think about a third of the party that's looking at this and saying I just can't vote for Donald Trump.

  • 10:47:25

    SESNOWe're not seeing that in the polling.

  • 10:47:28

    OPINSKYWell, I think you're seeing the polling is extraordinarily close election nationally, but as you're looking at it state by state, you're seeing Hillary with solid leads in some places where Trump really should be closer or well ahead.

  • 10:47:43

    SESNOSo Mercedes, as you're in Cleveland and listening to these speeches and watching things, it's one thing to create unity in the room, those are the party stalwarts, and that is a lot of Donald Trump's base, but what would have to happen in Cleveland, in your view, I'm not sure you're going to win back Joe and his family and his two kids, but for those who are thinking like Joe, on the fence, a lot of Republicans who I've heard from who say I'm not going to vote at all.

  • 10:48:07

    SCHLAPPAll right, this is the biggest -- one of the big challenges that Donald Trump is facing, right. He needs to win about that 90 percent of Republicans, the base, the Joe base, you know, to ensure that he's able to win in November. That doesn't include his issues that he has with women or minorities, for that matter. But here's the deal. What you are seeing is that independents strongly favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, number.

  • 10:48:32

    SCHLAPPNumber two, you have the fact that you have many of these blue-collar Democrats who have not voted Republican for a long crossing over in swing states like Pennsylvania, like Ohio. So this is where he's increasing his base. He's broadening base in that manner. But the bigger question, which is what we saw yesterday on the floor, is the fact that you are seeing some of these Republicans willing to throw away this election for the sake of sacrificing, you know, the lamb for 2020 in the hopes that a Republican can win.

  • 10:49:06

    SCHLAPPI think that is a catastrophic approach. I think the fact that they would allow Hillary Clinton to become president for four years and hope they can win in 2020 is just -- it just really would set us back, considering that we've seen how Obama has led in the past eight years, and we're going to push forward and allow four more years of this same type of weak leadership. I just think that is such a wrong move on the Republican part, and I think that's why I think the Republicans say -- I know, it's such -- you know, politics is emotional, and they are going to have to decide am I going to make that logical choice. It's a binary choice. It's either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

  • 10:49:41

    SESNOThat's the case that's being made. Let me go to an email that we've got from Jesse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Jesse writes, I think it's imperative we start to discuss the Republican platform. It is anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-women's rights and anti-environment. Let's discuss those facts and show what Trump will be supporting in his bid for the presidency.

  • 10:49:56

    SESNOHoward, I've heard a lot of people say that Trump -- that the platform doesn't matter. It's an exercise, you do it at the convention, and everybody sort of shakes hands, and then you go on, and it is what it is. I've heard other people say there's great distance between the platform and Donald Trump. Other places we see the platform has been influenced by Trump. So let's talk about the platform policy for a minute. What do you make of it, and what about what Jesse poses?

  • 10:50:18

    OPINSKYWell, let's separate the two questions. The platform does not matter. I don't think Donald Trump cares what's in the platform, and that's why you're seeing so much opposition to him, I think in part because he doesn't represent what most Republicans have believed what being a Republican meant, strong defense, international trade, engagement with the world. These are things that are bedrock Republican principles, but he's -- he's simply walked away from.

  • 10:50:45

    OPINSKYSo I don't think that Trump thinks that the platform matters, and I don't think that most voters care much about the platform. I think what's going to matter is what comes out of Donald Trump's mouth and what he continues to say his position on issues are.

  • 10:50:56

    SESNOMercedes...

  • 10:50:56

    OPINSKYAnd I think many of them are at odds. Now you could take -- you could say the platform's at odds with what many Republicans think. You could also say what Trump is saying is at odds with what many Republicans think. There is clearly a battle to be had within the Republican Party over what we stand for. Whether that happens during this election or after this election, we'll see.

  • 10:51:15

    SESNOMercedes?

  • 10:51:16

    SCHLAPPYeah, I absolutely agree. I think the platform is inside politics for these GOP activists. It's an opportunity for the activists to just put down governing principles. You know, I think there were some missed opportunities in just including more -- having more of an inclusion language in the platform, and it just shows that there's a lot of these conservatives that are running the show on the platform committee. But it is really more -- at the end I don't think the voters care. They are going to be more concerned about what Trump is going to be saying, what is his message, and...

  • 10:51:49

    SESNOOkay, Mercedes, I want to ask you another question that comes from another emailer, from Ernest, who writes, and I, like, want to pose this to you because you're there. Ernest writes, shouldn't something go through the minds of the Republicans when they look around their convention and only see a totally white audience? Now that's what Ernest writes. It's not a totally white audience, but...

  • 10:52:08

    SCHLAPPIt's not true. I mean there's...

  • 10:52:09

    SESNOBut let me continue, and then you can respond to it. Ernest says, it's my understanding that only 20 delegates to the convention are people of color. So Mercedes, do you want to address Ernest?

  • 10:52:17

    SCHLAPPSo I'm Latina. So I'm a very proud conservative and Trump supporter, to start with, and there's plenty of minorities that are attending the convention. I can tell you plenty of people that I know, African-Americans, if you looked at the lineup last night, several African-American speakers.

  • 10:52:36

    SESNOYeah, but that's the podium. That's the podium. I think what Ernest is saying is, you know, how about the delegates. And there are African-Americans, people of color, in the audience but not many.

  • 10:52:44

    SCHLAPPWell, I mean, we can start going through number after number. I think that you find that there are plenty of Hispanics. I know that I'm working with plenty of Hispanics who are Trump supporters, we just met down in Miami, Hispanic Evangelical leaders, education leaders, business leaders supporting Donald Trump. So, you know, we don't do identity politics. It's not what we do. We want to obviously ensure that more minorities learn about the message because what happens is the Democrats have had a stranglehold on minorities and have pushed policies that actually haven't helped them from an economic standpoint or even from an education standpoint.

  • 10:53:21

    SCHLAPPSo, I mean, we -- from the Republican side, we want to offer better solutions, where we empower the individual, where we uplift communities, and that's a message that -- look, you look at the record of Obama, and...

  • 10:53:31

    SESNOHold your thought, hold your though, I need to take a very quick breath here. I'm Frank Sesno, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Go ahead, Mercedes, finish your thought.

  • 10:53:42

    SCHLAPPSo I really think that, you know, it's unfortunate when we really start to divide, right. This is not -- we don't want to become this nation of division, which is something that we're seeing obviously right now, experiencing through our -- through the unfortunate incidents in inner-city communities, and we don't -- I just don't want to -- I really want to get to a point that, and I think for the Republican Party, too, that we're able to talk about ideas and politics that uplift every single American, regardless of color, regardless of ethnicity.

  • 10:54:07

    OPINSKYI think everybody...

  • 10:54:10

    SESNOLet me go to the phone here because Ben has been waiting very patiently from Ann Arbor, Michigan. And Ben, very briefly if you would, and thanks for calling in, and thanks for waiting.

  • 10:54:16

    BENHey, good morning, thank you. Yeah, I just wanted to comment on the convention yesterday. I'm somebody who has -- my mother is a police officer in Flint, Michigan. My grandfather was a detective in Genesee County. My cousin currently is a police officer in Genesee County. And the bottom line is blue lives do matter. But the convention, the speakers, they're painting it as blue lives matter more.

  • 10:54:37

    BENI mean, you have Republican Steve King saying what have non-whites basically done for civilization. I mean, the bottom line is that they're drawing a line in the sand and saying that certain lives matter more than others, not just saying it, but their actions are saying it, as well.

  • 10:54:49

    SESNOAll right, well thank you very much for that, and let me ask Howard for your thoughts on what -- what is the balance that should be struck here, you know, for both effective politics and effective policy?

  • 10:55:01

    OPINSKYYeah, I think it's a challenge for both parties to strike the right balance. We certainly hear it a lot of support for the police last night, but you really didn't hear anything that addresses the critical issues that the African-American has been animated by over the last -- over the last several weeks and for many, many years.

  • 10:55:16

    OPINSKYAnd I think to go back to something that Mercedes was talking about, in the last email, you know, sure there are people of color that are in the crowd, there -- it's not devoid of it, but the -- it's emblematic of the lack of the appeal that the Republican Party has been able to make towards minority groups for many, many decades now. And I mean, you take African-American, this is a challenge that the party has had for a long time. I think you've got -- if you go back to the report after the last election, it was clear that we have to make inroads amongst African-Americans but more importantly Hispanics.

  • 10:55:48

    OPINSKYWe have an opportunity to win Hispanics this election, and if we lose them, we could lose Hispanic voters forever, which will keep the Republican Party a minority party, out of the White House for the rest of my lifetime and maybe well into my children's.

  • 10:56:02

    SESNOI have covered many conventions, and at every convention, every Republican convention, I have heard people talk about trying to make the Republican Party the big-tent party. And what you're saying is it ain't there yet.

  • 10:56:12

    OPINSKYNo, it's not -- well, I think that there's -- if you look down-ballot, if you look in state houses, if you look in Congress, if you look in the Senate, there are lot of folks who are not only talking about it but are actually doing something about it. You look at what Paul Ryan is talking about poverty and things like this. But it's definitely not happening with Trump as a nominee.

  • 10:56:28

    SESNOAnd this is a conversation that's likely to emerge, I think. Mercedes, we have about -- only about a minute left. Tonight is the economic scene and making America great again economically. What do you expect?

  • 10:56:40

    SCHLAPPWell, I think it's going to be an opportunity for the GOP surrogates to go out there and be able to discuss Donald Trump's economic populist message. I think the idea of how do you bring jobs back to America, how do you ensure that the Americans have the right tools in order to improve and have economic and social mobility. And so I do expect it's going to be a positive, again uplifting night. I could tell you, yesterday it really felt, when Giuliani spoke about the balancing between race relations and law enforcement, it was a powerful message, and I think you're going to see a lot of that...

  • 10:57:20

    SESNOLet me let Howard have the last word here. Do you expect this to be more about -- more than about ripping up trade deals, quickly?

  • 10:57:25

    OPINSKYI hope so because I think that if he can find an economic policy, he could perhaps unify the party again. If it's just about anti-trade, it's going to be divisive.

  • 10:57:35

    SESNOHoward OPinsky, Mercedes Schlapp, thank you both very much. I'm Frank Sesno. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."

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