A good idea, actually, and a nice example of how Trump the showman understands voters better than many professional politicians do. Send Marco Rubio out onstage and the average low-information voter says, “Who?” Send Tom Brady out there and he says, “Hey!” Maybe more importantly, that voter will grasp that Trump understands that he’d rather see Brady speak than Rubio. That’s the sort of thing, I think, that convinces people that Trump is “authentic.” He knows what they want to see and hear. He must be One Of Us.
Whatever ends up happening, Trump at least has the good sense not to try to win over working-class Americans with a “you didn’t build that”-themed convention.
After regaling the crowd with the long story of how he successfully courted the endorsement of Bobby Knight, the former Indiana University basketball coach, Mr. Trump rattled off a list of other names of sports figures who he said have supported him. According to the candidate, he also has the support of the star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger; Brian France, the chief executive of Nascar; and Dana White, the president of Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“Dana White, you know Dana White?” Mr. Trump asked the crowd. “U.F.C. Guy’s a champion. These are champions.”
He said he wanted to have them all address the convention, to be held next month in Cleveland, as examples of “winners,” rather than “these people, these politicians who are going to get up and speak and speak and speak.”
“One [politician] spoke for, like, 45 minutes” at the last convention, Trump noted, yet “never mentioned Romney’s name.” Correct: That was none other than Chris “Shinebox” Christie, his own right-hand man. It makes my heart swell to see Christie’s serial humiliation at the hands of his new boss continue.
I don’t want to overstate the “star power” involved in bringing Brady or Roethlisberger or, um, Bob Knight to the convention. If there’s any nominee who doesn’t need celebrity support, it’s Trump. The convention’s a cinch to pull record ratings just like the first GOP debate did last August thanks to the curiosity factor in seeing just how weird things might get with him onstage. Still, rolling out celebrities and sports starts in lieu of the usual dreary drumbeat of party apparatchiks has benefits. The main one is that it signals that Trump is a different kind of Republican. The more non-politicians there are at the podium, the less conservative dogma there’ll be; you won’t like that if you’re a movement conservative but the broad majority of the country will. I think there’s populist appeal too in giving a football star a spot at the mic. That seems paradoxical: Brady’s a member of America’s “elite” by any measure, after all. But inviting a football player onstage to give his political opinion underlines the idea that you don’t need to be a member of the political establishment for your voice to matter. Who needs an egghead like Ted Cruz up there rambling about policy when you could have a non-politician giving his “common sense” take on American greatness? The guy who doesn’t spend all day thinking about politics probably has better instincts than the one who does, or so the line-up of speakers will suggest. That’s Trump’s populist message in a nutshell.
Three problems, though. One is that Trump will have to be judicious in choosing which stars to invite. A Twitter pal this morning semi-seriously suggested Mike Tyson, who’s a convicted rapist. Reince might want to run through that guest list after Trump approves it. The second problem is that the Republican convention this year precedes its Democratic counterpart by a week, meaning that Trump loses the element of surprise. If he has any grand stunts up his sleeve for Cleveland, Team Hillary will have (a little) time to counter. In fact, the Dem convention may be celebrity-heavy this year regardless of what the GOP ends up doing in the expectation that Hillary will need extra star power to counter the Trump show in Cleveland. The biggest celebrity in the world, Barack Obama himself, will be there, of course. Bill can and will, I assume, pick up the phone and start twisting arms — LeBron James, Katy Perry, Oprah, Jennifer Lawrence, and so on. Democrats can always outgun Republicans in a battle of the A-listers. Although maybe that’s okay: Like I say, one of the virtues of Trump’s plan is that it reinforces his populism. Hillary’s the opposite of a populist, and having America’s beautiful people on a conveyor belt at her convention may do more to remind the public of that than it will to make them sit up and take notice of the all the big names backing her. If I were Trump I’d exploit that by setting aside a bunch of speaking slots for average people, and not just during the usual garbage time before 8 p.m. either. Both parties routinely invite average Americans to speak at their conventions but no one pays much attention because it’s dismissed as a gimmick. Because of Trump’s populist brand, it may matter more this year. He should take advantage.
The third problem is that, however much he’d like to keep Republican pols offstage, he’s going to need to suck it up and invite some of them in the name of party unity. There aren’t many #NeverTrump movement conservatives left, but there are some and they require a bit of pandering. So do important constituencies like social conservatives whose turnout will be important to Trump’s victory. If Rubio really is willing to speak, Trump has little choice but to agree. The same may be true of Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, and so forth. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the convention will really be two conventions — the Trump show and the traditional you-didn’t-build-that conservative pageant aimed at true believers, and obviously each will have to sacrifice time and speaking slots to accommodate the other. I wonder how Trump’s going to manage that. Will there be an entire night devoted to conservative all-stars and then another night where none of them speak, or will it all be jumbled up with speakers of different stripes following each other? I look forward to Paul Ryan and Jeff Sessions going back-to-back on whether free trade is creating or costing American jobs.
For what it’s worth, whatever my many other issues with Trump, I’m convinced the convention will be a smash success and he’ll get a major, maybe even game-changing, bounce out of it. Doubting Trump the politician is one thing. Don’t doubt Trump the entertainer.