The Current

Republican convention shows 'triumph of celebrity over politics,' says historian

Last night Donald Trump proclaimed only he could save the country. But some say he could end up destroying the Republican party itself. The Current looks back on the Republican National Convention and how Trump's candidacy fits in the history of the GOP.
Donald Trump framed his candidacy in his speech, July 21, at the Republican National Convention, as necessary at a 'moment of crisis for our nation.' (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Republican convention is unlike any in history, according to Geoffrey Smith. He's a professor emeritus at Queen's University and tells The Current's host Laura Lynch how the deep divisions of the Republican Party and Donald Trump's extreme rhetoric have become acceptable in American politics.

" I would argue that the Republican Party is not there anymore as a political vehicle. It is a different kind of thing that Trump is doing and that is he's reaching out to groups in various areas of economic life that have been depressed, and that have been put down, people who feel aggrieved."

Crowd chants 'Send them home' as Trump talks about borders 2:12

Smith tells Lynch that the "coarser side" to Trump's campaign is the issue of racism and is bringing the Republican Party down with it.

It looked to me like a dog and pony show.- Historian Geoffrey Smith on the 2016 Republican National Convention

"I'll tell you Donald Trump stands for white America, that should be clear. And the Republican Party, if it has a hope in hades, really needs to stand for a little bit more than that."

'There can be no prosperity without law and order,' Donald Trump shouted in his 75-minute speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, July 21, in Cleveland, OH. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

According to Smith, the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland was a mix between entertainment and something "out of control."

"It looked to me like a dog and pony show ... it was the triumph of celebrity over politics as we've known it."

Smith tells Lynch the convention was difficult to read but he says "it was a very negative convention."

Republican nominee lays out some of his foreign policy views 1:25

"I quite expected with all those little Trumps running around to hear a new name - the von Trumps - and to have them sing these are a few of my most unfavourite things."

'I think [Trump] is definitely a player in November'.- Historian Geoffrey Smith

Smith points to a history of conspiracy and dissent in American politics as a player in elections including this one and says fear has played a "far more important role in electoral outcomes than given credit for."

He says America will be compassionate -- but first to its own citizens 1:22

He's not willing to call who the winner might be in November but says Trump is "definitely a player." If Hillary Clinton wants a real chance to win the presidency, Smith tells Lynch her campaign moving forward must successfully prove Trump is not the right fit to run the country.

Donald Trump you are really Dr. Strangelove.- Geoffrey Smith

"The Democrats have to make quite clear that Donald Trump is, despite his protestations, not presidential - he isn't. Donald Trump doesn't have an idea that is consistent over a period of time."

Smith's advice for a Democrat win points to the 1964 satirical comedy for inspiration.

"If I'm Hillary Clinton, let us say, Donald Trump you are really Dr. Strangelove, that's who you are."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Marc Apollonio, Julian Uzielli and Ines Colabrese.