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Unconventional #42: Where does the GOP go after its ugliest convention since 1964?

·West Coast Correspondent
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Coming to you live every morning from Cleveland, Unconventional is the one thing you need to read to understand what’s really happening at the conventions. Each edition will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the biggest (and weirdest) moments of the day, with original dispatches from the entire Yahoo Politics team — plus a sneak peek at what’s next.

‘I alone can fix it’: What Trump’s speech revealed about the future of the GOP

CLEVELAND — When Donald Trump took to the stage of the Quicken Loans Arena to deliver his nomination acceptance speech, he was hoping for a repeat of 1968.

That was the year, of course, thata chip-on-his-shoulder, knife-fighting white man” appealed to the United States’ racially anxious silent majority by promising to restore law and order — and won the White House over an establishment Democrat as a result.

And so, on Thursday night, Trump used his moment in the spotlight to portray the world around us as a terrifying hellscape, with hundreds of thousands of law-breaking illegal immigrants “tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” and murder on the rise because of this “administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement.”

“The situation is worse than it has ever been before,” Trump added.

And the only solution, according to Trump, was Trump.

“The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life,” the real estate developer told the tens of millions watching at home. But, he added, “I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end. Beginning on Jan. 20, 2017, safety will be restored.”

Never mind that the rate of violent crime has fallen by half since 1990. Never mind that only 3 percent of Americans list “crime and violence” as the nation’s most important problem. If it worked for Richard Nixon, why not try it again?

The problem, though, is that — as Mark Twain is reputed to have said — “History doesn’t repeat itself.” Rather, it “rhymes.”

The story of the 2016 election won’t be the story of 1968, no matter how much Trump might want it to be. Trump isn’t Nixon; Hillary Clinton isn’t Hubert Humphrey. History doesn’t repeat itself.

But there were rhymes this week. And thanks to Ted Cruz’s dramatic mutiny Wednesday night — the boos and back-turning it provoked; the division and doubt it exposed — the most revealing was the way Cleveland rhymed with the GOP’s rancorous 1964 convention in San Francisco.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater was, in some respects, the Trump of his day. He was a Republican insurgent. He was running against the establishment. His views — on the New Deal, on the Cold War — weren’t considered mainstream. He was seen as impulsive, hot-headed, ill-informed — not someone to be trusted with the nuclear codes. The press was hostile. He opposed the Civil Rights Act, and white supremacists were drawn to him.

In the primaries, Goldwater vanquished his main rival, moderate New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, along with several lesser competitors. But the moderates did not give up. In June, they launched a “Stop Goldwater” movement. They even drafted a candidate: Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton. And when Scranton’s 11th-hour challenge fizzled, Rockefeller decided to go to San Francisco himself and propose a platform amendment repudiating Goldwater’s extremist followers.

“During this year, I have crisscrossed this nation fighting … to keep the Republican Party of all the people, and warning of the extremist threat,” Rockefeller said from the convention stage. “These things have no place in America.”

The delegates threw paper at the stage. “We want Barry!” they chanted.

“Some of you don’t like to hear it, ladies and gentlemen, but it’s the truth,” Rockefeller said.

“You goddamned Socialist!” cried a young Goldwater supporter.

The booing was so loud, Rockefeller could barely finish his remarks. Historian Rick Perlstein later described the event as the “ugliest of Republican conventions since 1912.” And with the GOP divided — Rockefeller, like Cruz, refused to endorse his party’s nominee — Goldwater went on to lose 44 states on Election Day.

The scene Wednesday night was similar. When Cruz urged listeners to “vote your conscience,” thousands of delegates booed and turned their backs, choosing instead to face Trump, who had materialized on the other side of the Quicken Loans Arena in silent, seething protest.

“Vote for Trump! Vote for Trump!” they shouted. “Go home, Ted!”

And yet a rhyme isn’t a repetition. Trump could win in November, or he may lose in a landslide, with party discord playing a part. But for anyone looking to answer the big post-Cleveland question — Where does the GOP go from here? — it’s worth remembering what happened after Lyndon B. Johnson defeated Goldwater: Conservatism took root. The movement blossomed. Eventually, Ronald Reagan won the White House and Republicans recaptured Congress after decades in the wilderness.

Was Cruz’s rebellion the last gasp of the old guard? Has movement conservatism lost its grip on the GOP? Is the inward-looking “Americanism” that Trump touted in his address ascendant?

Or is Trump a party of one, without the infrastructure or ideological integrity to sustain the kind of movement that could remake the GOP?

We’ll know more in a few years’ time. Still, an early clue came Thursday night, in the middle of Trump’s address. He was bemoaning America’s political system — how it permits “the powerful” to “beat up on people that cannot defend themselves;” how it’s “rigged against our citizens.” He claimed to know the system well. And then Trump uttered a telling line:

“I alone can fix it.”

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Missed the big speeches? We’ve got you covered.

Holly Bailey on Donald Trump: “In a surreal moment befitting an unconventional candidate at one of the most unusual conventions in recent memory, the arena’s speaker system began playing the Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ The song is one of Trump’s favorites and a mainstay of his raucous campaign rallies, but it also seemed to be a message from the candidate to a divided party.”

Lisa Belkin on Ivanka Trump: “Her speech tonight was not big on personal anecdote — the few that she did offer included stories of sitting on the floor building towers with Legos while her father sat at a desk designing ones from concrete, or of having her dad exhort to her ‘think big’ — but it was filled with personal reassurance, one mother to millions of others, that her father would represent women in particular.”

Michael Isikoff on Peter Thiel: “Maverick Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel delivered a speech tonight that would have been unheard of at a Republican convention not too many years ago: He proclaimed himself ‘proud to be gay,’ decried ‘fake culture wars’ and called for an end to ‘stupid wars’ in the Middle East.”

Hunter Walker on Joe Arpaio: “Arpaio suggested the cornerstone of Trump’s immigration platform, a massive wall the developer promises to build along the U.S. border with Mexico, would help guard against ‘the dangers of illegal immigration and drugs.’”

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Overheard

“It was very interesting — but it was different than ones I’ve been to before.”

A deadpan #RNCinCLE operations volunteer, summing it all up as 10,000 delegates, donors, politicians and journalists streamed out of the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday night.

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The RNC wanted to reach out to minorities. Then along came Trump.

By Jon Ward

CLEVELAND — Before RNC Chairman Reince Priebus spoke Thursday night at the Republican convention he had presided over, his young staffers played a video on the big screen that demonstrated what they’d hoped their party would represent this year.

The video was skillfully produced, with slick graphics. It showed young, earnest men and women walking up to homes to knock on doors. There was a young Latino shaking hands with a couple, and an African-American man in a stylish hat telling a voter about the greatness of the Republican Party.

If only.

This year’s convention was as white and as old as ever, and was punctuated by outbursts of resentment against the Black Lives Matter movement and undocumented immigrants. Several speakers stood at the podium nodding and smiling as thousands of delegates chanted, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” in reference to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

(Read the full story here.)

One year ago, young Republicans looked at Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, or Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and thought, “We’re headed for a young, positive, hopeful campaign.”

A Rubio or Bush nomination, in particular, held the prospect of winning over millions of Latino voters and young voters. It was one of the goals set forth in the 2013 autopsy report that Priebus sanctioned and released from the RNC.

That report laid out the demographic facts — the diminishing percentage of white voters in each consecutive presidential election — and said, “If Hispanic-Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States … they will not pay attention to our next sentence.”

“It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies,” the report said.

One of Priebus’ favorite lines is that Republicans are “the party of the open door.”

On Thursday, Priebus started his speech with that same phrase. And then he ceded the stage to a nominee whose central idea is to build a giant wall.

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A tale of two protests

As Trump spoke Thursday night, he was briefly interrupted by veteran Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin, who began shouting and waving a banner that read “Build Bridges Not Walls.” Yahoo News National Correspondent Hunter Walker caught up with Benjamin after security dragged her out of the arena:

Benjamin and other members of Code Pink plan to travel to Philadelphia to protest next week’s Democratic convention. She said they get inside the conventions because the party activists and delegates in attendance “just give us their badges.”

“There are a lot of Republicans who don’t like Donald Trump. I mean, we’ve been out on the streets all these days, and we’ve just seen so many people who come up and say — you know, they agree with us that Donald Trump is not fit to be president,” Benjamin said. “There seemed like a lot of enthusiasm tonight, but from what I’ve seen, there’s a tremendous crisis in this party, and I think it’s going to be a very difficult electoral season for them.”

After protesting at so many major events, Benjamin has become fairly well-known. She was “amazed” security didn’t notice her infiltrating the RNC. “There was a congressman there who came up and said hello,” Benjamin said.

“There were people who winked at me. I’m sure there were people who recognized me, but thankfully they didn’t say anything. I was indeed nervous the whole time that somebody was going to come and pull me out because I had been recognized.”

Benjamin wasn’t sure which lawmaker she saw, but she said he was wearing a congressional lapel pin. She spent about two hours waiting on the convention floor for Trump’s speech, and said she was “very nervous the entire time.”

“It’s scary. I mean, you look out and you see a sea of people who are so enthusiastic and cheering, and you know that the people around you are going to be really upset with you. It is scary,” Benjamin said.

Meanwhile, outside the Q, Yahoo News’ Chris Wilson wandered among the protestors gathered in Public Square:

Here, for this night at least, there was no fear on display, no violence — and no arrests.

There were some gun-rights supporters carrying long guns and pistols, but they were outnumbered by people lounging in the grass with their dogs, and in one case, a pet lizard. There were also a few men in Guy Fawkes masks, and flag-waving Trump supporters in “Hillary for Prison” shirts, but their exchanges with the anti-Trump demonstrators never got beyond the occasional taunting shout or intense but mostly cordial political argument.

As the night wore on, the various constituencies began to disperse. The last remaining group was Stand Together Against Trump, whose co-founder, Bryan Hambley, has been writing a convention diary for Yahoo News all week. The group of a hundred or so anti-Trump protesters roamed the park chanting variations of, “Donald Trump has got to go.” Later in the evening, an organizer had everyone take a ten-minute break to “catch their breath and get to know the people around them if they hadn’t already met.” The preferred slogan on more than one sign Thursday night read, “Vote your conscience,” quoting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s Wednesday night address.

Advocates for marijuana reform stuck it out until late in the night. A police officer who appeared to be engaged in a heated discussion with a banner-waving pot advocate turned out to just be amused by the weed-lover’s disgust that trans fats are legal while marijuana is still outlawed.

When Trump’s speech ended, fireworks began going off over the Cuyahoga River, with the park offering a view for those who had stuck around, now clearly outnumbered by law enforcement officials and members of the media. The convention was over, the delegates would soon be dispersing to their homes in an America that looked a lot friendlier and less dangerous outside the arena than inside.

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The big picture

Photographer Khue Bui is on the ground in Cleveland, capturing all of the action for Yahoo News. Here’s his most unconventional pic of the day.

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Cory Booker vows DNC will take high road, berates RNC for ‘lock her up’ chants

By Liz Goodwin

CLEVELAND — Democrats who gathered Thursday for the Clinton campaign’s counter-convention, a few miles from the Republican National Convention site, blasted the event and vowed that their convention next week in Philadelphia would have a kinder tone.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Cory Booker. N.J., and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who chairs the Democratic National Committee, berated the GOP convention’s speakers and delegates for connecting Hillary Clinton to Lucifer and leading chants of “Lock her up!” Separately, an adviser to GOP nominee Donald Trump said Clinton should be executed by a firing squad.

“These chants of ‘lock someone up,’ take away their liberty, throw them in prisons — that’s why we had a revolution in this country, against those ideas,” said Booker, a rumored potential Clinton vice presidential pick who delivered an emotional defense of the presumptive Democratic nominee Thursday morning.

Booker vowed that there would be no such ugliness at the DNC in Philadelphia, which kicks off Monday. “No one will be leading chants so filled with hate,” he promised. “Nobody’s going to be wearing T-shirts calling for violence against other Americans.”

(Read the full story here.)

There was some sense of Democratic schadenfreude toward the Republican event, which was marred by Melania Trump’s plagiarism scandal, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz getting booed on stage after telling delegates to “vote your conscience,” and numerous high-profile Republicans skipping Cleveland altogether.

The Democratic National Convention may face its own drama, though, depending on how supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders decide to act.

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By the numbers

100,000: The number of balloons that fell from the rafters of the Quicken Loans Arena after Donald Trump spoke last night

120: The number of local high school students tasked with inflating the balloons last week

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