RNC's first night: Tasteless, tacky and great TV

Story highlights

  • Tim Stanley: At RNC Melania Trump's story of achieving immigrant American dream brought a tear to his eye
  • But this warred with theme of fear of terrorists, immigrants coming to kill Americans, reflected in Giuliani speech, he says
  • Stanley: Trump is in control of convention, and it's great TV

Timothy Stanley, a conservative, is a historian and columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)On Monday night, Melania Trump told us why she married billionaire Donald Trump. He is, apparently, a very kind and compassionate person -- the kind of man who would marry a struggling supermodel and help her complete the classic American dream of rising from Milan to Paris to New York via the fashion industry. As I listened, tears came to my eyes.

Timothy Stanley
But I was confused because the bigger message of the first night of the Republican Convention seemed to be that foreign people want to kill us. Speaker after speaker recounted deaths at the hands of Islamist terrorists and illegal immigrants -- culminating in a humdinger of an oration by Rudy Giuliani.
    Fists pounding, eyes narrowing, mouth snarling, Giuliani said America is coming after the terrorists and will truck no abuse of its police force. Strong words. An even stronger visual image of rage that I suspect will come back to haunt the Republicans. The moment was reminiscent of Pat Buchanan's culture war speech in 1992, a speech that caused a temporary bump in the polls but that later was blamed for the GOP being labeled nasty and extremist.
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    Giuliani's speech was pure Trump and showed that The Donald is in charge of this convention. Earlier that day the forces of moderation tried to fight back and failed. The plan was to get enough states to rebel -- seven were needed -- to demand a proper roll call vote on the convention rules, to free delegates to vote for an alternative nominee.
    About 3:30 p.m., news broke that they had nine states willing to do just that. I was in the hall when I heard the game was afoot -- so jumped up to head to the Never Trump headquarters to ask them what the state of play was. I took a wrong turn on Superior Avenue and ended up down by the waterfront.
    I retraced my steps, dripping with sweat in the ugly Ohio heat, and finally found the Never Trump HQ in the top of a tall building. The two fellows sitting in an otherwise large and empty office said they'd gained two more states' support and were on their way to being able to trigger a ballot on the floor. So I headed back to the convention center.
    By the time I crawled into the convention hall it was 4.30 p.m., and the revolt was already over. Trump's people whipped the rebellious states into line and the number prepared to rebel had fallen to six -- below the necessary threshold. The rules people ruled there was no contest.
    The Never Trump delegates stormed out of the hall. The chairman tried to proceed with the convention business but isolated pockets of delegates kept shouting "Roll call! Roll call!" So the Trump people staged a counterdemonstration, crying "We want Trump! We want Trump!"
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    No need, really. They had Trump -- and Trump now has the nomination.
    They were never going to take it away from him, they just wanted to show that some semblance of old fashioned Republicanism still exists. It's strange to be at a GOP convention where the anti-establishment candidate this time is front-and-center, rather than stuck in some sad theater with a handful of diehard fans 10 minutes outside the convention site. And this dominance has been achieved by the Republican establishment either caving in or running away.
    Who is not here? Mitt Romney. John McCain. The Bush family. Who is here? Scott Baio, the guy who played Bugsy Malone in a '70s movie musical.
    This is a reality-TV convention, one designed to celebrate Trump and showcase his variety of "straight-talking" politics. In between the stars talking about things they know nothing about are widows of men killed by foreigners, showing genuine tears and in need of compassion rather than air time.
    It's great TV and will probably get great ratings. And the revelation that Melania Trump's speech was, allegedly, part-plagiarized from one by Michelle Obama shows that Trump may be willing to steal from the best parts of America's political show business history to win votes. If you're going to steal, why not from a winner?
    That's what makes Trump so shamelessly effective.