The Asian carp of politics takes over Republican waters: Michael Enright

Rank and file Republicans are coming to the convention in Cleveland this week looking for a saviour, while the few remaining party moderates are hoping for a statesman. What they’ll get is Donald Trump: a gaudy entrepreneur and reality TV celebrity who might change — or sink — not only the party, but the entire conservative movement.

The old guard of the Republican Party won't stop Donald Trump at this week's convention

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shouts during a campaign stop in Tampa. (Reuters)

Cleveland is a modest industrial city of just under 400,000 souls, sitting on the south shore of Lake Erie.

The lake is famous for nearly suffocating in algae blooms in the 1960s, and for the looming threat of invasion by the monstrous giant Asian carp, which frantically seeks out its prey and mercilessly destroys everything within its dim visual range. 

Donald Trump is to the Grand Old Party of Republicans what the Asian carp is to Lake Erie.

The Republican Party elites and old-line power brokers see him as a destroyer of worlds — their world.
Asian grass carp have been found in some parts of Lake Erie, and some scientists fear it and other invasive Asian carp species could eventually become more common in Lake Erie and other Great Lakes. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources/Associated Press)

His supporters see him as the Promised One who will, in his very own words, make America great again.  

Some 50,000 people including 15,000 media zebra mussels from around the world will embrace Cleveland for the four days of the Republican National Convention.

Mr. Trump will be crowned the party's presidential nominee on Thursday as he picks up the war mantle to do battle with Hillary Clinton from now until voting day, Nov. 8.

Some diehards had hoped for and indeed predicted a deadlocked convention wherein Mr. Trump would be unhorsed and replaced by someone more, ahem, presentable.

Not going to happen.

There has never been a Republican convention quite like this one because there has never been a Republican nominee quite like Donald Trump.

The last open or brokered convention among Republicans was in 1976, the country's bicentennial in Kansas City.

The sitting president, Gerald Ford, was challenged by actor-governor Ronald Reagan of California.
The Republicans' last brokered convention was the battle between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford in 1976. (Reuters)

Reagan argued that because he had done well in his home state Illinois primary and won in North Carolina, he should be the nominee.

Ford, who succeeded Richard Nixon after his resignation, was considered a bumbler and potential loser.

In the end, Ford won the nomination, but in an impromptu speech to the delegates Reagan got a standing ovation.

Many in the hall felt they had nominated the wrong man.

Donald Trump, the gaudy entrepreneur and reality TV celebrity, has more than the 1,237 plus one votes needed to clinch the nomination.
Campaign supporters listen to Trump during a campaign stop in Westfield, Ind. (Reuters)

His successful procession to the nomination has been as unlikely as it has been unprecedented.

A year ago he was dismissed as a blowhard adventurer and vulgarian with little interest in being the nominee.

After a bitter and bruising primary and caucus campaign season in which he defeated no less than 17 Republican challengers, he is in sight of changing — or sinking — not only the Republican Party but the entire American conservative movement. 

There is little in the Trump biography that fits the traditionally understood drivers of modern U.S. politics.

Unlike his forebears, he comes to the nomination without any experience in either elective office or the military. 

Once a Democrat, he has contributed to the party and numbered among his friends the party powerful, including Bill and Hillary Clinton.

His success has been remarkable. With every outrageous Trumpian utterance, the commentariat vigorously predicted his political demise.

Hard-hit middle class

In the end, nearly 14 million Americans voted for him.

Middle America, seen as frustrated, adrift, confused and above all angry, very angry, was buying the wholesale version of Trump's new, robust America First republic.

It didn't seem to matter to them that a Trump administration would lower the minimum wage, build a border wall to keep out Mexicans, ban all Muslims from the U.S., limit the reproductive options of women, and tear up trade agreements and treaties, including the one stalling Iran's nuclear plans.
Trump supporters shout encouragement as law enforcement officials remove two men from the crowd before Trump takes the stage in Albuquerque, N.M., back in May. (Reuters)

The party elites, including former presidents, former governors, and former nominees, cry out that Trump is destroying the Republican legacy of Lincoln and Reagan.

The Trump camp returns fire, saying that rather than destroying the GOP, he is revivifying its brand among the hard-hit and hard-scrabble middle class.

The Cleveland that welcomes press and politicians this week is a city divided, perhaps reflecting the divisions within the country itself.

Relations between blacks and police are fraught with the same tensions now familiar in Dallas, Baton Rouge and St. Paul.
The police killing of Tamir Rice, 12, and the decision not to charge the officers involved, triggered many protests in Cleveland. (USA Today Sports)

In 2012, an unarmed black couple was shot to pieces by police who fired 137 rounds into their car following a high-speed chase. 

And in November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy pistol when he was shot dead by a white cop.

Industrial Ohio and Cleveland were devastated by the economic collapse of 2008. But long before that, thousands of jobs were lost as Ohio's once well-established manufacturing infrastructure was being hollowed out.

The city is only now slowly recovering. Optimism returned with the victory of the NBA Cavaliers, bringing to Cleveland its first sports championship in 52 years.
Cleveland Cavaliers star Lebron James celebrates with the crowd during a parade after winning the 2016 NBA Championship last month. (Reuters)

For the party faithful and for the party itself, the GOP is meeting in Cleveland at a time of existential trial.

In 2012, in the aftermath of the Mitt Romney debacle, the party's so-called "autopsy report" called for the creation of a big new tent. Reach out to Hispanics, women, black and other minorities with policies and programs that reflect what George W. Bush used to call "compassionate conservatism." And above all, as Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal put it: "Stop being the party of stupid."

But that big tent seems a bit torn and tattered as the GOP continues its Tea Party-driven triumphs as the rejectionist, nativist client cartel of the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers.
An anti-Trump demonstrator and a Trump supporter argue outside a campaign event in San Diego back in May. (Reuters)

Rank and file Republicans are coming to Cleveland looking for a saviour.

The few remaining party moderates are hoping for a statesman.

Meanwhile, out in the darkly quiet depths of the great lake, a sliver of hope in the war against the dreaded Asian carp.

The last one caught was sterile.


  • A previous version of this story erroneously referred to Lake Erie as the habitat of Asian carp. While the grass carp species of Asian carp has been found in the lake and some studies suggest the Asian carp population in the Great Lakes could grow significantly in coming years, there is currently no breeding population established in Lake Erie.
    Jul 18, 2016 12:43 PM ET

About the Author

Michael Enright

Host, The Sunday Edition

Michael Enright is the host of The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio One. During his long career as a journalist, he has hosted other CBC Radio flagship shows, including This Country in the Morning, As It Happens, Rewind and This Morning. He is the recipient of two honorary doctorates and the Order of Canada.


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