CLEVELAND — It seemed possible that the balloons would never drop.
This was not, after all, the celebration that the Republican Party had waited four years for.
This was a reading of last rites.
The Republican brand is now permanently sullied by the victory of a former reality television star with an adversarial relationship with the truth and a fluorescent rodent adorning his head.
Donald Trump accepted his nomination as the Republican candidate and finished his speech, yet thousands of red, white, and blue balloons briefly remained suspended in the air in patriotic protest.
Confetti began to rain slowly downward.
And then the balloons.
And then “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” started playing.
Subtlety was never the theme of this election, after all.
It had been 401 days since he announced his campaign for the presidency when he arrived onstage here Thursday evening. He emerged to the grandiose tune of the Air Force One theme song to accept his victory and to preside over the memorial for the Republican Party that he killed.
He stood for a moment and looked out at the crowded arena, a sea of white people, white cowboy hats, and Trump campaign paraphernalia.
Trump smiled his triumphant, half-smirk smile.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” he said.
“Friends, delegates and fellow Americans,” he said, “I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.”
The Republican Party may eventually revive itself, Jon Snow-like, from Donald Trump’s death blow. But it will never be the same. Since January the GOP has watched Trump lure away their base with impossible promises of returning to a time long past. Along the way he threw out crucial Republican tenets—support of trade deals, antagonism toward dictators, discomfort with debt—and stomped on efforts to expand the party beyond its increasingly old, white loyalists. He barely pretended to share the Biblical values of the GOP’s evangelical core. He said nicer things about Vladimir Putin than the party’s last three nominees. He drove down the percentage of blacks voting Republican to literally zero in some key states. The Latino and women’s votes weren’t all that much better.
No wonder that all week, the convention was a series of miniature wakes at bars and hotel rooms, ballrooms and rented restaurants.
In between breakfasts, meetings, and speeches by a roster of speakers that were more suited for a seminar at Trump University than an event intended to convince the nation to vote Republican (who could forget the avocado farmer?) the conservatives here in town drank.
They confessed, in hushed tones, that they did not support him.
They looked, it was hard not to notice, helpless, like they knew the brand they’d long ago attached themselves to or aligned themselves with was slipping out of their grasp.
From the convention floor up to the top of the stands, Trump’s audience cheered. He removed his hands from the side of the lectern and stepped back, as if the force of their applause was moving him.
And then he said, as he often does, what many of us are thinking.
“Who would’ve believed that, when we started this journey on June 16th last year we, and I say we—because we are a team—what have we seen?” he said.
“Almost 14 million votes,” Trump said, although he received 12 million votes while Hillary Clinton received 14 million, “the most in the history of the Republican Party... Who would’ve believed?”
It took nearly until tonight for many in the party to believe.
Since June 2015, the pundits and analysts and political scientists who supposedly know what they’re talking about assured the conservative establishment that it just couldn’t be, that he wouldn’t be nominated, that voters would get serious as they went to the polls and elect someone more measured and reasonable.
But it turns out it’s easy to be popular with a message defined by a lack of nuance.
Since Day One of his campaign, Trump has offered his supporters a simple world, where issues are black or white, good or evil, right or wrong.
Trump’s convention speech was adapted from the same stump speech he’s given at dozens of rallies across the country–from Manchester to Biloxi–in the last 13 months.
It was not a broad appeal to Americans who do not already support him. It was not designed to make him more palatable to those who remain skeptical of him.
It was a convention heavy on fear and short on facts, with no discernable economic, social, or national security message.
Trump’s central themes remained: America comes first, he is the law-and-order candidate, immigration is bad and illegal immigrants are worse.
“We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities,” Trump said.
Some members of the mostly white crowd waved “Latinos Para Trump” signs.
That was far from the only example of a lack of consistency.
After adopting an anti-gay platform and selecting as his running mate one of the least gay-friendly politicians in the country, Trump extended a large, manly hand to the LGBTQ community, whom he promised he would support.
He acknowledged how remarkable it was that the conservative audience applauded him for that.
Perhaps to avoid the mistake his wife made early in the week, the official transcript sent by the campaign contained 282 footnotes.
After Trump exited the stage, delegates began enthusiastically popping the balloons.
They were righteous and triumphant, but it’s not clear anyone got what they needed.