Conventions give candidates a second chance to make a first impression, even candidates who have been covered by the media as obsessively as Donald Trump.
The Republican convention in Cleveland gives Trump that chance. Here are six things to watch this week:
1. Will the Cleveland convention stick to a script?
Successful conventions drive home a message relentlessly, with every speech, video and testimonial designed to highlight the strengths of the candidate and minimize his weaknesses. Trump has shown that he is allergic to this kind of discipline. Even the rollout of his vice presidential pick was shambolic and off message. Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, told the Washington Post that one goal of the convention is to make Trump more “likable.” After all, electing a president is more about “Like” Q than IQ.
Trump has promised to add some “showbiz” to what he says is the usual boring convention formula. He’ll have a lot of eyeballs this week. Most analysts predict record audiences, and viewers are expecting something pretty fantastic from the king of reality TV. A boring convention packed with B-list celebrities could drive voters away, or motivate Trump to do or say something even more outrageous to keep their attention.
2. Does Trump expand his message?
Trump has shown time and time again that he’s more comfortable with a spontaneous stream of consciousness rant than reading a speech from a teleprompter. And he’s been phenomenally successful at capturing the emotions of people upset about a way of life they feel is being eroded by wage stagnation, demographic change and terrorist attacks.
The convention gives him a chance to lay out an actual agenda, to explain with specificity what he would do to improve their lives. The Trump campaign sees its path to the White House running through the Rust Belt — boosting turnout of white-working class men to historic levels. But the message for those voters may clash with what Trump needs to do to attract swing-state voters, suburban women and minorities. The convention will give us a good idea of whether Trump feels he has to modify his message to reach both his base and beyond — or not.
3. Breakout stars?
Conventions can give a rising star a chance to break out. That’s what happened in 2004 when Barack Obama electrified the Democratic convention in Boston. The absence of so many leading Republicans in Cleveland may give others a chance to shine. We’re watching to see if there is a 2004 Obama in the GOP lineup — maybe Ivanka Trump? Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator? Pro-golfer Natalie Gulbis?
4. Will Mrs. Trump connect?
Wives are the best validators a candidate has. They can humanize a politician — the way Ann Romney and Michelle Obama both did in 2012. Melania Trump, with her unusual background as a supermodel, could come across as affecting or too exotic.
5. Unity — will it happen or not?
“Never Trump” is nevermore, but there is still less enthusiasm about the nominee than at any modern presidential convention. Trump himself has been ambivalent about whether he really needs a unified party, but he has acknowledged that he doesn’t have it yet. And he has admitted that party unity was the reason he chose Mike Pence as his running mate.
Polls show that Trump is getting the support of only about three-quarters of Republicans, a very low number. Conventions are often derided as four-day infomercials, but they serve an important purpose — getting an entire political party fired up behind the nominee. Will Cleveland do that for Trump?
6. Will Trump get a bump?
The average convention poll bounce for Democrats since 1964 is 6.8 percent; for Republicans, it has been 5.3 percent, according to Gallup. Sometimes a candidate gets no bounce at all. Romney didn’t in 2012.
Trump is currently running a few points behind his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Cleveland gives him a chance to close that gap.