CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention was supposed to be a circus.
The party didn’t seem unified around its nominee. Sceptics weren’t convinced that Cleveland would be able to accommodate such a massive convention. Large-scale protests were expected on the downtown streets.
But defying some of the doomsday predictions, the convention went smoothly. Republicans seemed to mostly get behind Donald Trump, booing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for declining to endorse in his convention speech. The protests were much calmer than expected. And RNC attendees praised Cleveland for pulling out all the stops to make the convention a pleasant experience.
I grew up near Cleveland, and I arrived in Ohio a week before the convention officially started. It seemed like everyone I knew in the city was talking about how much of a mess it would be the week the Republicans came to town.
Several people told me they were avoiding the downtown area altogether, expecting that it would be impossible to navigate the city with traffic and security barricades. Reporter friends talked of buying gas masks and body armour in anticipation of intense protests. And a convention media contact recommended taking taxis or public transportation rather than trying to park downtown.
It turned out that getting downtown was quicker and easier than it is on an average workday, and the gas masks and body armour weren’t necessary because protests were largely peaceful.
The media accommodations were also better than expected. A massive “filing center” in the Huntington Convention Center had more than enough space for reporters and press conferences. There were even several places to buy a hot meal (and beer) within the building itself. Air-conditioned shuttles ran every few minutes to the Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field, where the official RNC events were being held.
Security lines weren’t bad, either. The convention had enough checkpoints open to prevent long waits, and the checkpoints were right outside the arena and convention center, so you never had to walk very far to get where you needed to go.
The politics surrounding the convention were still odd compared to past election cycles — many prominent Republicans decided to skip the event, and reality stars took precedent over some politicians during the first night of speeches. But the logistics were nearly perfect.
Cleveland is even starting to shed its reputation as a punchline (or, in Trump parlance, as a “loser”).
Weeks before the start of the convention, the NBA’s Cavaliers brought a championship title to the city for the first time in 52 years. And many months of downtown revitalization efforts obviously paid off. A Sunday-night welcome party allowed guests access to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, one of Cleveland’s most popular attractions, and the event featured local food trucks offering free fare. One side of the venue offered a view of Lake Erie, and another showed off Cleveland’s sparkling skyline.
The RNC was truly a triumphant moment for Trump and for Cleveland. I overheard several people throughout the week remarking in awe at how Cleveland, for the first time, seemed like a city where they might actually want to live.
Contrast all that with the Democrats’ convention this week in Philadelphia.
Immediately on Monday morning, reporters and convention attendees on Twitter began grumbling about the accommodations in Philadelphia — everything from the near-100-degree heat to the media set-up:
Much of the DNC press corps is headquartered in a tent city in a scorching hot parking lot outside the Eagles’ football stadium
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) July 25, 2016
The Democratic convention is, literally and figuratively, a hot mess
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) July 25, 2016
Volunteer tells me she can offer no assistance w directions. “They didn’t even give us a map”
— Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) July 25, 2016
The media set up for the convention is, um, sub-optimal. A 20 minute walk into 95 degree heat with no shuttles.
— Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) July 25, 2016
Everyone says Republicans hate the media, but they didn’ make us march across several acres of treeless parched concrete.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) July 25, 2016
Mark Dent wrote a good overview of the mess at BillyPenn.com:
“Set up this week for the DNC, the trek [to the convention arena] takes longer than what you’d experience for a Sixers or Flyers game. There are curves to follow through stages and other obstacles and then outdoor security, not to mention dozens of other people walking slowly in front of you. Given those complications, it’s about a 30-minute walk and not the most pleasant experience in near-100-degree temperatures. (More than 100 with the heat index.)”
“In the grand scheme of things, the comfort of media and a few thousand delegates isn’t Philadelphia’s biggest problem. But complaints about that walk, WiFi, terrible air conditioning in the media tent and Port-a-potties are affecting the perceptions of the city by the people who are going to be writing and broadcasting about the event to the world.”
While there were some internet issues at the media filing center in Cleveland, we didn’t notice any of these other problems there.
There’s been political turmoil on the first day of the Democratic convention as well.
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced she would resign in the wake of a scandal surrounding leaked emails, and the party on Monday issued an apology to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was ridiculed in internal messages.
Also on Monday, Wasserman Schultz was met with a loud chorus of boos from her home state’s delegation at a breakfast event where she delivered a speech. Then, at an event later that afternoon, a crowd jeered at Sanders when he told his supporters that they must elect Clinton to prevent Trump from winning the White House.
Even with Sanders’ insurgent popularity and Clinton’s email scandal of her own, the Republican primary was widely regarded as the bigger sideshow this election season. But now it seems the script has been flipped, at least for two weeks — Republicans are finally rallying behind their nominee while the Democrats are struggling to present a unified front.
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