By now, the Republican National Convention is “old news” — but to the 99 Florida delegates and their alternates—it will never be forgotten. To them, the convention was serious business, but a lot of fun, too. Here is a brief snapshot of their four days together.
Leaving Tampa: Goals
On the plane headed up to Cleveland, I asked some of the Tampa area delegates what they hoped would happen at the RNC. Leaving the convention as a united party topped their lists. They were well aware that a fractured party makes it difficult to win Florida, and that the presidential race in Florida is already projected to be very close (nothing new).
They were hopeful that their nominee, Donald J. Trump, would project a more serious tone in his nationally televised acceptance speech to assure wavering Republicans and independents of his readiness to be president.
Many also were anxious to learn more about Trump’s vice presidential pick — Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana — believing it would give them a good indication of the kind of governing team Trump would put in place, if elected.
And, of course, they wanted to enjoy their time together in a city on the move — still high from the NBA Championship brought home by their beloved Cleveland Cavaliers. They knew attending breakfasts and events together throughout the week would be an important step toward creating a strong well-organized statewide network of party activists. It is essential for conducting effective voter registration drives and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts.
Florida delegates get special treatment
Everyone on the political planet knows it is almost impossible for Republicans to win back the White House without winning Florida. It is the nation’s biggest swing state (29 Electoral College votes) and the most competitive. That status translates into some special opportunities:
- Great seats on the convention floor: Florida delegates sat center-stage, right behind the New York delegation, offering a bird’s eye view of the speakers and terrific photo opportunities. It pays to be a big swing state and one of Trump’s two “home” states!
- The “A team” of speakers at morning breakfast events: Big names that spoke to and mingled with Florida Republicans included Newt Gingrich, Rudi Giuliani, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Col. Allen West, former Ambassador John Bolton, pollster Frank Luntz, and former Clinton strategist Dick Morris.
- Prime time speaking slots for two state officials: Both Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi got prime time speaking opportunities. Both endorsed Trump early on — and both are seen as having higher political ambitions once termed out. Some have even speculated they might get plum appointments in a Trump administration.
Remember the best moments
My informal and unscientific “poll” of delegates headed home identified four “best moments”:
- Roll call of the states: Before officially casting Florida’s 99 delegate votes for Donald J. Trump, state party chair Blaise Ingoglia reminded delegates of the fact that “We are the state that gave LeBron James his first two championships.” James starred with the Miami Heat before returning home to Cleveland to give the Cavaliers the championship this year. Of course, the chair also touted Florida’s role as a vacation paradise, citing Disney World, the state’s beaches, the Keys and the Daytona 500.
- Speeches by Trump’s adult children — Tiffany, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka: These “fearsome four” won the hearts of the delegates with their speaking talents and stage presence. Delegates see them as powerful surrogates on the campaign trail, particularly useful in reaching millennial (18-34) voters. One delegate circled the venue with an Ivanka for President in 2024 sign.
- Acceptance speeches by Trump…and Pence: While news media outlets cast the Trump speech as being overly dark and negative, the delegates I spoke to believed he just told it like it is — Americans are worried about security and the economy. As for Pence, he got high marks for bringing experience and a calmer demeanor to the ticket.
- The balloon (and glitter) drop: Nothing unique here. It is always one of the most memorable moments—for its festive feeling following the official designation of the party’s nominee and for the end of a nearly sleepless four days for many delegates. This is the most photographed event of any convention. This year’s drop of some 125,000 balloons of all sizes and red, white, and blue combinations, made it a spectacular sight.
Another big plus: prayers were answered: Predictions of violence were wrong. Not only did delegates breathe a sigh of relief for their own safety, they were very happy that the City of Cleveland could revel in having been a great host city.
Forget the worst moments
Sadly, from the delegates, there were those troublesome moments they would just as soon forget. Two stand out:
- The plagiarism charge regarding Melania Trump’s speech: Melania spoke the first night of the convention — a speech that was warmly received. Delegates went to bed on a positive note, but woke to the news that portions of the speech were highly similar to those in Michele Obama’s 2008 speech. It was a story that would not die. To delegates already worried about the seeming lack of organization in the Trump campaign, it was verification.
- Ted Cruz’s unwillingness to endorse Trump: The boos that began in the New York delegation quickly spread from one delegation to the next much like a “wave” in a football stadium. The episode on night three once again raised concerns about reaching party unity by convention’s end.
There were also the “lock her up” chants. It is a common tactic at any convention to highlight your opponent’s negatives and contrast them with your candidate’s positives. But, 2016 is a more toxic political year. Constant speaker references to Hillary Clinton’s email and Benghazi actions ultimately resulted in convention-wide chants of “lock her up.” Ironically, it was Trump himself who tried to quell this phrase when it again surfaced during his acceptance speech. He signaled to the delegates to put a halt to it, instead tasking them to “Let’s defeat her in November.”
Bringing home the swag
Florida delegates took home some pretty awesome souvenirs — from a guitar-shaped knick-knack detailing dates and location of 2016 RNC, Make Florida Red Again hats, and large Trump tote bags, to Florida-themed cups and campaign buttons. In the end, what will make these great convention memories ever more long-lasting is a Trump-Pence victory on Nov. 8.
Next week: A recap of the Florida delegation to the Democratic National Convention.
By Dr. Susan A. MacManus
Dr. Susan A. MacManus is a resident of Land O’ Lakes. She is a political scientist at the University of South Florida and was a political analyst for ABC Action News at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Published July 27, 2016