(CNN)The sign adorning the podium at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium — where speaker after speaker addressed the nation on the first night of the Republican National Convention — said it all. On top were the words “Trump 2020.” Below them: “The GOP Convention.”
Monday night’s festivities were a remarkable demonstration of how the Republican Party at this moment is less a collection of like-minded people gathered around a set of common principles and much more a cult of personality built around the man one GOP delegate called “Donald J. President.” Virtually every speaker — Sen. Tim Scott was a notable exception — dedicated at least some chunk of their speech to fawning praise of the President, often in terms that would make the average person blush.I went through the transcripts of the speeches delivered on Monday night and pulled out some — though not all! — of the incredible language used to talk about the 45th president. Here are some examples:* “Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization.” (Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk)* “Once again, as the guardian of America, Donald Trump is shielding the innocent from the selfish ambition of the selfish elites.” (Kirk)Read More* “Donald Trump is a builder — a visionary.” (Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz)* “Donald Trump is hands-down the best president of my lifetime.” (Congressional candidate Kim Klacik)* “Donald Trump truly moved mountains to save lives, and he deserves credit.” (Dr. G.E. Ghali)* “Just imagine what 2020 would’ve looked like, fighting for your life, without Donald Trump fighting for it too.” (Bone cancer survivor Natalie Harp)* “President Trump believes in you. He emancipates and lifts you up to live your American Dream.” (Kimberly Guilfoyle)* “President Trump unleashed the economic might of this nation like no other president in our history.” (Congressional candidate Sean Parnell)* “So if you’re looking for hope, look to the man who did what the failed Obama-Biden Administration never could do and built the greatest economy our country had ever seen — and President Trump will do it again.” (Donald Trump Jr.)Again, this was a small percentage of the laudatory, bordering-on-obsequious commentary offered about Trump by the first night’s speakers. A very small percentage.Now, there’s an element of this sort of gush-fest in every political convention. The goal of these four-day affairs is to shape an image of the president (or presidential nominee) that is appealing to the broadest swath of people. Voters, as history has repeatedly proven, tend to pick a president based in large part on how that person makes them feel. Are they proud of that president? Does he seem like the sort of person who understands their hopes, fears and desires? All that sort of stuff.
THE POINT — NOW ON YOUTUBE!
In each episode of his weekly YouTube show, Chris Cillizza will delve a little deeper into the surreal world of politics. Click to subscribe!
But never before — at least in the modern history of politics — have we seen a party that is so dedicated to blindly following a president, and abandoning many of the bedrock principles upon which it once stood. There was nary a word on Monday night about the ballooning federal deficit. The social conservative wing of the party was also practically nonexistent.Rather than venerating the policies on which the Republican Party was built, the speakers on the first night of the convention venerated Trump. And it isn’t hard to figure out why. This is a President who has made very clear that he likes people who say nice things about him. “Well, I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said last week of the QAnon conspiracy movement, which has been labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat by the FBI.The way you secure a speaking slot at the GOP convention, then, is to show that you are willing to heap praise on Trump to the point where the average person — and even many Republicans — might roll their eyes. Trump isn’t just fighting for the American people, he’s the “bodyguard of Western civilization.” (Side bar: If you don’t hear the dog whistle in “Western civilization” there, well, listen harder.) He’s not just a good president, he’s “hands-down the best President of my lifetime.” Trump didn’t just improve the economy, he “unleashed the economic might of this nation like no other president in our history.”In short: If some praise is good, more is better. A lot better.Which is all well and good for Donald Trump. A man who loves to be adored and applauded was adored and (virtually) applauded on Monday night. It was a win for him.The problem is for the broader Republican Party. At some point, Donald Trump won’t be president anymore — either in 2021 or 2025. What then? An attempted return to many of the principles they have walked away from in pursuit of Trump’s good graces? A hand-off of Trumpism either to a relative (Donald Trump Jr.?) or another politician willing to raise up Trump’s whim and wants to some sort of governing philosophy?Take Donald Trump out of that convention Monday night. What you’ll find is a gaping hole where the “what the party believes in” part should be.