With the convention less than a month away, POLITICO contacted more than 50 prominent governors, senators and House members to gauge their interest in speaking. Only a few said they were open to it, and everyone else said they weren’t planning on it, didn’t want to or weren’t going to Cleveland at all — or simply didn’t respond.
As Alex Isenstadt at Politico notes, many of the party leaders and best-known figures are just flat-out avoiding the convention... which is unheard of and an open rebuke towards party unity. Martin Longman at Washington Monthly makes the argument that these party conventions - with their prime-time broadcast slots and intense media coverage - are supposed to be no-brainer invites for the up-and-coming hotshots and attention hogs:
...So, I took a look at the list of speakers at the 2012 Republican National Convention, and guess what I found?
Pretty much anyone who was anyone had a speaking slot there, from Speaker John Boehner, to House members like Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Marsha Blackburn, to up-and-comers like Mia Love, to senators across the ideological spectrum, to pretty much every major Republican governor in the country.
Romney made sure that Latino governors Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada were given primetime slots. Govs. Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Mary Fallin, Bob McDonnell, and John Kasich all made appearances, most of them prominent.
And now none of them can find the time to even pop in for a brief handshake rally off-camera for the party faithful - basically the Trumpshirt Far Right voters - during an afternoon panel at one of the nearby hotels.
These conventions are where your rising stars are supposed to show off their oratory and national appeal. Where your party elders come out for one more rousing speech to excite the base and make the pundits go "wow". For the ones thinking ahead to four years for their turn as the Presidential nominee, you gotta make a speech on prime-time after 8 PM EDT.
Longman counted out a list of who spoke at the 2012 GOP convention. Think back to 2008: you had the people from the primary campaign - as a "Participation" prize - who lost to the eventual nominee McCain; you had party leaders like Boehner (at the time the Minority Leader in the House); you had up-and-comers like Mary Fallin (current governor of Oklahoma). I can't recall anybody turning down an appearance in 2008, despite the clear signs that the voters were going to reject the Republicans after the debacle of the Bush the Lesser years. It wasn't because they wanted to: they needed to show.
I can't imagine anybody turning down an appearance for the Democratic convention THIS year. They don't have any confirmed list of speakers yet, but Hillary is not the toxic dump that Trump is. I'm willing to bet Bernie Sanders is going to insist on a spot to speak in prime-time. I'm willing to bet Hillary is going to want the party's two biggest orators - her own husband Bill Clinton and the current President Obama - providing fireworks leading up to her clinching nomination.
And when each of them were party up-and-comers, both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama eagerly took their moment to shine before national audiences. Bill even f-cked it up in 1988 as the "rising star" speaker: he went an hour too long and bored everyone into booing him. It was such a blow to his national aspirations that he did the night show circuit to apologize. By 1992 he got better. Obama spoke in 2004 as a then-state Senator running for the US Senate and drew rave reviews.
There's bound to be a sizable number of little-known Democratic Congresspersons or state-level officials eager to show off on the national stage. None of them are going to be fleeing from Hillary in terror the way the Republicans are avoiding Trump.
And Trump is toxic: the polling right now has him losing around double digits, and has him without argument the least-liked candidate running for the President of all time. Hillary currently has 88 percent of the Democratic ranks supporting her: it's not what Obama had in 2012 at 92 percent, but it's close. Trump currently has 79 percent of the Republicans backing him: by comparison Romney had 93 percent support in 2012 and still lost a relatively close race. Trump can't afford to be that low: the non-party voters tend to split even between candidates (although this year...) so there's no guarantee Trump can win enough of them over. Hillary's 88 percent is more due to Bernie supporters still holding a grudge against her: once the convention's done she's bound to get into the 90s like Obama.
Given how Trump has continued to campaign with the nomination locked up - failing to "pivot" to the moderate center, brash and reckless and idiotic public appearances, with little regard to ground-game dedication - there's no sign that Trump is going to get better at this. There's every sign Trump is going to be radioactive to the general electorate.
Nobody wants to be around Trump when he's this radioactive.
I'm actually feeling some sympathy for the party delegates coming in from the states to cast their nominating votes. They're the only ones who CAN'T beg off avoiding this impending mess. And even then someone's suing to get out of it.
So... Cleveland. It's looking like more people are gonna turn out for a Browns game than for the Republican convention.
The Factory of Sadness won't have nothing on the Trump Nobody-Else-Show.
Update: well, I spoke too soon. Trump was able to line up speakers for his convention after all.
and coach/chair-tosser Bobby Knight...
Not exactly party elders or up-and-comers are they?
Revision to the Update: It turns out Mike Tyson has not been offered nor accepted a speaking invite. So on that level, he's sane. Whew.
Addendum to the Revision to the Update (7/5): Word now that Scott "Couldn't Even Make It Out of Round One" Walker will be one of the key speakers. This is actually a good pickup for the convention as Walker is one of the Establishment-type governors that can show the party is "supporting" the show. He's not exactly known as a great orator nor a big draw for the voting base, of course, but any port in a storm will do...