Trump's 'Bizarro World' convention

Story highlights

  • Donald Trump has always acted as a dramatist, staging events to promote himself, his brand or his business.
  • Michael D'Antonio: The Republican National Convention was Trump's greatest production yet.

Michael D'Antonio is the author of the new book, "The Truth About Trump." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)It was the kind of political convention you might expect in the 1960s comic book called "Bizarro World." The headliners included a 1980s TV star who tweeted a grossly obscene message about Hillary Clinton, a former male underwear model, a soap opera actress and a multi-layer marketer who hawks vitamins.

More remarkable was the way that the GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump shamelessly deployed his family to give him praise and testify to his greatness. (Their service was needed, in part, because most leading Republicans, including two presidents, two recent nominees and most senators, stayed away from the gathering.)
    With precious few personal anecdotes, other than recollections of playing in his office while their father worked, Trump's kids generalities strained credulity. Nevertheless, they delivered key elements of the argument in favor of the Trump candidacy. One by one, they attempted to reassure skeptics and soothe voters' concerns about a candidate who has incited racial animosity, inflamed fears about Muslims and endorsed torture as a form of interrogation.
    Michael D'Antonio
    Donald Jr. insisted that his father was not part of the national "elite," nor was he a member of the modern "aristocracy." These claims were made despite the fact that the elder Trump was raised in one of the richest families in America, attended an Ivy League college and has marketed his real estate with a pitch that references the Astors, the Whitneys and the Vanderbilts.
    Ivanka Trump said that her father "taught my siblings and me the importance of positive values and a strong ethical compass." One wonders if these lessons included the example of Trump University, which used high-pressure techniques to charge up to $35,000 for information that could be obtained at a public library, or the grotesque public scandal that ended Trump's first marriage in a blaze of tabloid headlines.
    For her part, Tiffany Trump provided the crowd in the hall and the audience at home with the image of Donald as a loving parent. However, there was a hint of melancholy in the message, as she noted that "he keeps it short" when he contacts her. Nevertheless, she said, "In person, my father is so friendly, so considerate, so funny and so real."
    Trump's son Eric testified to the courage it took for his father to set aside "a company" and "a global brand" in order to pursue the presidency.
    In addition to his four adult children, Trump enlisted his wife Melania to soften his image. "He is tough when he has to be, but he is also kind and fair and caring," she said. "This kindness is not always noted, but it is there for all to see." Delivered with poise, Melania's speech won her praise until it was discovered that several lines had been lifted from a 2008 address given by Michelle Obama. Campaign and convention officials made things worse by insisting there was no plagiarism. Their arguments even drew on the cartoon show "My Little Pony."
    The plagiarism dust-up created a distraction from Melania's message and contributed to the idea that the Trump convention was an amateurish affair. This impressive gaffe was reinforced when a longtime employee of the Trump Organization, Meredith McIver, came forward to say that she was responsible for much of what was in the text and that she had failed the candidate and his wife.
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    The McIver incident revealed much about the planning and execution of the convention. Having no previous experience in politics, and no credible resume as a writer, she was nevertheless entrusted with a vital piece of work because she was a loyalist who had served the Trumps well over the years.
    This mistake, which shows that Trump favors personal commitment over talent and experience, is ample evidence that the convention was managed according to the candidate's style and preferences. If you are looking for someone to blame for the stumbles at the convention and to credit for the high points, look no further than the candidate himself.
    And if you have any doubts that Trump was in charge, look no further than Ted Cruz's non-endorsement. Everyone in politics was aware of the bad blood between Trump and Ted Cruz. During the campaign, Trump had dubbed his rival "Lyin' Ted," mocked his wife and suggested Cruz's father knew President John F. Kennedy's assassin. When Cruz denied Trump his support and advised, "Vote your conscience," boos and catcalls emanated from the crowd. Trump then turned to his daughter Ivanka and, according to a lip reading expert asked, "Did I make a mistake?"
    It was a mistake for Trump to give Cruz a platform and expect it to go well. But the drama built into the moment when Cruz appeared is consistent with the candidate's theatrical impulses. These gifts were evident in Trump's address, which ended the convention. Standing beneath his name, spelled out in huge gold letters across a Jumbotron, Trump shouted for most of his 75-minute address.
    He spoke in apocalyptic terms, saying, "Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country." He made clear that America's safety and security could only be ensured by a Trump presidency, and that upon taking office he would "restore law and order to our country."
    Trump's subsequent claims about crime contradicted data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has shown a steady decline in violent crime since the 1990s. But he didn't offer his frightening vision in order to identify a verifiable problem. Instead, he was setting up a drama, which he could resolve as a hero. "I am with you," he promised. "And I will fight with you, and I will win for you."
    Throughout his life, Trump has acted as a dramatist, staging events to promote himself and his businesses or to make a point about an issue. It is no surprise that his greatest production, the convention, would turn out to be something worthy of the "Bizarro World" comics.
    Trump has, himself, acknowledged the cartoon quality of his life. "I am the creator of my own comic book," he wrote in a 2004 book "How to Get Rich," "and I love living in it."