Trump is running one of them but not the other.
CLEVELAND — We’ve just spent four days in Cleveland, and we know the question everyone is asking: Just how divided is the Republican Party?
We think the answer is: More than you can see on television.
There is not one convention happening here in Cleveland. There are at least two: one pro-Trump and the other at best ambivalent about him.
The first is the one everyone mostly sees on television. It’s the one Donald Trump is running. It’s the official business of the party. That convention has revealed some signs of internal conflict, but those are relatively limited.
Yet there is the rest of the Republican Party. Some of those people never came to Cleveland. But a lot of them did. These partisans are largely absent from the stage, but their presence and lack of enthusiasm is palpable.
During the primetime speeches Tuesday and Wednesday night, there were many empty seats, some presumably vacated by people who are in Cleveland but not interested in Trump’s message. We’ve spoken with several partisans here who quietly disavow what is going on up on the stage. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who doesn’t have that option, just avoided talking about Trump much at all in his speech on Tuesday.
There have been some direct public displays of disunity. The Ohio delegation (all John Kasich delegates) has cheered every time Kasich’s name is voiced, and Alaska insisted that its original votes for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio be at least observed, if not counted. And, of course, Cruz provoked boos by pointedly not endorsing Trump. The pro-Cruz movement is the largest and the most organized. But much of the opposition to Trump is coming through simply as a lack of enthusiasm.
The Trump faction, which is well-represented on the primetime stage and is enthusiastic, is not exactly a well-defined one. It’s not the Tea Party, and it’s not the establishment. It’s not libertarian Republicans or country club Republicans. There’s long been a splinter of the party that prioritizes law and order, nationalism and authority. Trump’s core faction is roughly that splinter, plus those elements of the rest of the party whose dislike of Hillary Clinton is strong enough to bring them along.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party is going through a slow-motion unofficial walkout that started months ago. They are not marching across the street to form their own party, the way Theodore Roosevelt’s followers did in 1912. They are not making a big display the way Southern Democrats did in 1948 and 1964. They are instead simply not cheering enthusiastically, sometimes not even attending the evening program, and instead already thinking about 2020.
This other convention is also internally divided, of course, but there is little reason for conflict. They have accepted that they have lost their nomination this year and are girding themselves to fight in other arenas. Those worried about the party’s white male image are still working to recruit women and minority candidates. Movement conservatives are still thinking about how to nominate “true conservatives.” Everyone is still thinking about mobilization strategies. They are looking to weather this storm.
Taken together, the Republican Party is actually very potent. In every level but the presidential, its electoral record is impressive. The party holds 56 percent of US House seats and 54 US Senate seats. In state government, it holds complete control of government (the governorship and majorities in all legislative chambers) in 24 states, compared with only six for the Democrats. Little of that strength is on display here in Cleveland, but a lot of it is being built at delegate breakfasts and in gatherings outside the arena.
Political scientist V.O. Key once said, “In a fairly real sense, the national convention is the national party. When the means develop for uniting people in support of a nominee, the essence of party comes into being.” In 2016, the many pieces of the party are here, but they have not come into being.