Since the late 1960s, the Democratic Party has resembled a big, sloppy, ethnic wedding, complete with awkward sons-in-law, sudden crying jags, complicated rituals and fist fights.
The Republican Party, on the other hand, has more often resembled the luncheon reception after a Protestant funeral: everyone dressed up and on their best behavior, with a lot of furious accusations and speculation about the will taking place behind firmly closed doors.
That’s all about to change. With Donald J. Trump — a man who swears he’s a Republican, despite scant evidence — steamrolling his way through most of the primaries and caucuses, we’re about to see what happens when Republicans, in the words of a journalist friend of mine, “put their shit out on the street.”
Cleveland, it’s safe to say, is going to be the most “Democratic” Republican convention ever, which is not the same as saying it’s going to be the most democratic Republican convention ever. Conventions are never democratic — each party’s primary rules are a tangled knot of delegate selection, favor-banking, threats and even actual voting results — but Republicans in Cleveland are going to get a taste of what Democrats have been experiencing for years. There will be threats. There will be protests. There will be fists raised. There will be stupefying ignorance about how it all works. There will be so many “calls to order” and “points of process” and “moves to suspend” that each cable news outfit will have Robert’s Rules of Order experts on-camera, daily, to explain what, exactly, is happening (and more likely, what, exactly, isn’t happening) and why. There will be absurd rumors: Sen. Tom Coburn is wooing delegates! Paul Ryan is meeting with Condoleeza Rice! Mitt Romney is in that skybox! And there will be accusations of fraud, mendacity, bribery, theft and, probably, incest and cannibalism, because once you get started on that stuff, it’s hard to pull back.
And there will be Trump — tossing aside the Republican rule that the nominees wait outside the hall, in their hotel suites, until the nomination is secured — swanning around the convention floor, somehow managing to talk to every news network at once, basking in the chaos and mayhem he has inspired.
Trump has spiked the punch at the Protestant funeral lunch, and everyone is tipsy and loose-tongued enough to start telling the truth.
The Reagan-era unity that led the party to the White House, to House and Senate majorities, to an overwhelming advantage in statehouses and governorships across the country — it’s all starting to fray and fracture along the San Andreas Trump, between the big-government vagueness of Make America Great Again-ism and the Gospel of Tax Cuts and Economic Growth.
It turns out that the constituencies that made up the Republican Party secretly hate each other. The D.C. and coastal moderates are tired of being yoked with the religious crowd. The movement conservatives are sick of making common cause with the increasingly on-the-dole working-class right. The small-towners hate the big-timers. The patriots hate the libertarians. About the only things they all agree on are the importance of American-flag lapel pins and the notion that all political consultants should be publicly executed.
Make popcorn. It’s going to be quite a funeral. The guests are going to be shouting and fighting so hard and loud that it’s even possible they’ll rouse the corpse.
But that won’t happen. The corpse is the old Republican Party, and it’s been dead for a while. It just took a rude, orange-faced funeral guest with peculiar hair to point it out.
Rob Long is a television writer and producer, a contributing editor for National Review and co-founder of the conservative community website ricochet.com.