Republicans picked the wrong Trump

Story highlights

  • The Republican Party's convention is taking place this week in Cleveland
  • Tim Stanley: Convention is tonally all over the place

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)Tuesday's session at the Republican Party convention had the feeling of "family time" about it, although the message was mixed. In between two young Trumps talking about their father's kindness came family friend Chris Christie calling Hillary Clinton a liar and butcher of justice. The goodwill vanished in a chorus of "lock her up!"

The biggest revelation of the night was Donald Trump Jr. It turns out the Trumps have an actual conservative in the family. And a very articulate one at that. He gave what sounded like a traditional Republican speech, albeit with an unusual degree of conviction. The passages on the importance of education and the Democrats' opposition to free market reforms were compassionate and coherent -- and delivered in just the kind of righteously angry tone the convention has been missing. His father is fixated on the wall and his own business record. Trump Jr., by contrast, appears to have an intellectual hinterland. Conclusion: The convention nominated the wrong Trump.
Timothy Stanley
Tiffany Trump was sweet but hardly even a distraction. Critics will doubtless be checking to see if any of her speech was plagiarized from Betty Ford or Mamie Eisenhower. (Apologies for the cynicism, but this was the day in which the Republicans tried to defend Melania Trump from charges of copycatting by quoting from "My Little Pony").
    Yes, it is a surreal convention -- a convention that is tonally all over the place. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave speeches they could just as easily have given if nominating Jeb Bush or Calvin Coolidge. Arcane, empty, uncomfortable. By contrast, Chris Christie -- who, for all his faults, "got" this Trump thing from the very beginning -- knew how to whip up the crowd. He read a list of indictments against Hillary Clinton that did what it was supposed to do. It reminded a fractious Republican Party that it probably hates her more than it feels anxious about Trump.
    CNN Opinion commentators on the RNC

    Some people have found the convention's plea for unity rather odd, but have misunderstood who it's aimed at. It's not about uniting America. It's about uniting the Republicans, not least because the nominating procedure was not as straightforward as some might have expected. Some states wanted to rebel and demonstrate that their delegations backed Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. The RNC had to choreograph things to smooth over these differences and allow the roll call to build to the point when Donald Trump Jr. put his father over the top on behalf of the New York delegation. Even after that, Alaska registered a complaint about the rules.
    The big question from Tuesday night, of course, is whether junior's speech will have won around any Never Trump people? Possibly. Remember, something important happened today: Trump Sr. graduated from presumptive to actual nominee. This is real, this is happening. Suddenly Republicans of all stripes have to think very seriously about whether they can tolerate the thought of Hillary Clinton in the White House. Presuming they cannot, they have to stick with the nominee.
    All that said, I'm increasingly convinced that this convention will be a long-term problem for the GOP. Thus far, it has done nothing effective to soften Trump or imply there's a hidden dimension to him. What's stood out? Giuliani going nuts. Melania's speech being cribbed. And Christie almost leading a posse to go get themselves Hillary Clinton's head on a stick. Trump Jr. was the most positive thing -- and positive mostly for conservative voters.
    What will moderates think? That Trump is Trump. Love him or loathe him.