CLEVELAND – The speakers, delegates, and gagglers assembled at the GOP Convention in Cleveland are talking policy. But this is not your 2012 convention, where every attendee asked to name policy problems with the Democrats pointed only to Obamacare.
In conversations with Republican Party leaders sprinkled across diverse states and activists from far afield, there is a common thread — Trump has got them thinking policy. These conversations in bars, hallways, and street corners often take a more nuanced and sophisticated tone than the speeches at the podium (thanks for trying, Lt. Gen. Flynn).
“They’re not just excited, they feel like he’s David flinging a rock at the Goliath political Establishment.”
Political science professor at Georgia Military College Eddie Zipperer credits Trump’s fearless stand against globalism for the revived policy interest in the grassroots ranks.
“For so long, both of our major parties in this country have been all-in on globalization. In the presidential elections, there haven’t been candidates who weren’t all-in on multilateral free trade no matter how lousy the deal was — meanwhile, our trade deficit has been allowed to reach dangerous levels,” Zipperer said. “There haven’t been candidates who put securing the border at the top of their agenda — meanwhile, illegal immigrants poured into the country. Multinational corporations make bank on these globalist policies while American jobs disappear.”
“All of a sudden, here comes a candidate who doesn’t need corporate bucks to get elected because he’s a billionaire and because he has the celebrity status and personality to get unlimited free exposure,” Zipperer continued. “He promises to fix the problems that both parties had abandoned in pursuit of their shared globalist agenda. From the perspective of a Trump supporter, it’s an opportunity they may never show its face again in American history. Nobody else wants to secure our sovereignty. Nobody else wants to put America first.”
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“They’re not just excited, they feel like he’s David flinging a rock at the Goliath political Establishment,” he said.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan agreed Trump’s appeal is firing up the conservative base.
“Donald Trump brought a record number of people to vote in the Republican primary because his message resonates,” Jordan said in an email to LifeZette. “The speakers here have highlighted conservative policies that excite and energize Americans across the country. It’s clear that the Republican Party is putting America first.”
The sharp focus on real solutions, real action, real legislation to address America’s woes for delegates in Cleveland and Trump supporters around the county stands in sharp contrast to the media portrayal of Trump’s campaign as lacking in substance.
“Donald Trump all style, little substance at Republican National Convention,” reads a Tuesday headline from ABC News’ North America correspondent Michael Vincent.
“Can Paul Ryan preside over a GOP convention so far from his own style and substance?” said a headline from the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday morning. Is it not substance if the policies are not the same agenda as the Establishment that has wreaked havoc on American wages, optimism, jobs, and safety?
These dapper stars of modern media clearly haven’t ventured far outside their hotel rooms or posse of like-minded bubble-thinkers. If they had, they would see clear evidence the Trump campaign has emboldened the grassroots ranks of the party to think “America First.”
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“Although Trump’s campaign is continually derided as substance-free by the Establishment Media, his position papers on immigration, U.S.-China trade relations, and overall U.S. trade policy are not only strong challenges to the status quo, but full of specifics,” said economic policy analyst Alan Tonelson. “It’s arguable that his insistence on better border security has aroused as much opposition from the one-world crowd increasingly dominating Democratic voter ranks as it’s spurred Republican and independent support.”
But where Democrats are turned off by Trump’s desire to return the country’s immigration system to a lawful, American interest-driven model, his populist appeal on trade wins many more back.
“[Trump’s] forthright call for trade policy overhaul has excited voters, too — and contrasts strikingly with an at-best ambivalent Hillary Clinton message that troubles many Democrats,” Tonelson said.
Specifically, by flipping GOP Establishment orthodoxy on its head, Trump has emboldened ordinary people to support, develop, and advocate for the commonsense solutions America has thirsted for while adrift in a sea of Establishment doctrine from both parties.
Ed Pozzuoli, a Florida delegate, said Trump was not his first choice. He originally backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is skipping the convention and has refused to endorse Trump. But Pozzuoli said the choice in November could not be clearer.
“It’s a democracy. You have a primary process. Sometimes you win elections; sometimes you don’t.”
Pozzuoli said Republicans supporting Trump — those who were on board early and later converts like himself — have a shared collection of principles and policy views that are starkly different from what the Democrats offer. Pozzuoli affirmed voters are attracted to Trump because of policy — he added that many in his delegation feel Trump’s larger-than-life personality can help push commonsense, conservative policy proposals through a legislative process mired in gridlock under President Obama.
“His personality can cut through these and break the logjam,” he said.
The result of Trump’s policy-linked impact is a party invigorated with hope for the future. Not because they feel optimistic — the vast majority here think things are terrible — but because in Donald Trump they have a candidate who breaks the frustrating cycle of foolish priorities from Washington.
This is not 2012. It is not 2008. This is not a convention about a few talking points but mostly stale ideas. It’s not about personality (no matter what the media would have you believe) — it is about the idea of making the American system of government work for ordinary Americans.
That newfound policy heft has permeated a very engaged crowd of activists in Cleveland.
LifeZette Senior Political Reporter Brendan Kirby contributed to this report.