Donald Trump Needs His Convention to Get Better

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves the stage with his wife, Melania, after she spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 18. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Never mind that "We Are the Champions" is an anthem from a 20th-century band whose lead singer, Freddie Mercury, died of AIDS and was as flamboyant as the songs he produced. Even at a Republican National Convention that found it necessary to add a platform plank on the use of birth-gender restrooms, the song by Queen proved irresistible for Donald Trump. He's been using it throughout the presidential campaign, so it made sense that when the man of the hour marched onto the stage at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena in silhouette on Monday night, the song thundered, and fog shrouded the stage. The candidate was there to introduce his wife, Melania, who was there to vouch for him but now must explain why her speech seems to have been plagiarized—from Michelle Obama no less.

The question that won't be answered for some time is whether all the dry ice is helping or hurting Donald Trump's campaign. Conventions in the modern era have little to do with selecting a nominee and everything to do with selling him or, as in the case of Hillary Clinton, her. It's a multi-day infomercial, and usually it helps the candidate at hand. Bill Clinton's 1992 convention displayed a New Democrat and a united party; George W. Bush's 2000 convention underscored his compassionate conservatism. The Clint Eastwood chair? Not so much.

This time, of course, it's different. Not only is the Bush family and about half of the Republican members of the Senate avoiding the Trump Show, but the convention began Monday with an old-fashioned floor fight. Anti-Trump forces tried to "unbind" delegates to vote for whom they wanted, a move that could cause a wave of dissent to mar the convention. Their efforts to get a roll call vote on the floor were thwarted, which led to wild discontent. Former New Hampshire Senator Gordon Humphrey, a rock-ribbed conservative, referred to the RNC leadership as "brown shirts"—a reference to Hitler's brigades. Eventually, the insurrection was tamped down.

That kind of dissent is unlikely to make a huge difference in the success of the convention. The real question is whether the presentation of speakers and short films and zesty music make the party of Trump seem like a party a swing voter in Akron would want to join.

Monday night's speakers would suggest mixed success on that front. Most of those who addressed the hall kept to the night's theme of "Make America Safe Again." The fellas who wrote that 13 Hours book about Benghazi were there to join the bash-Clinton chorus. And there were painful words from the mother of a contractor who perished in the September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomats and intelligence personnel in the Libyan coastal city. Most of the speakers, though, were over their skis, implying Clinton chose not to respond to the attack even though the Republican House and Senate reports on the incident focused on the failure to beef up security at the U.S. facilities in the months leading up to the attack.

Rudy Giuliani delivered a feisty speech, attacking the Clinton-Obama record on foreign policy. It definitely had its moments, including a riff on how the police don't see color when saving people. "When they come to save your life, they don't ask you if you're black or white—they just come to save you!" Giuliani yelled. He did not linger on the complaints of many African-Americans that they are treated differently by law enforcement. He did mention "sexual orientation" as one of the things police ignore when they're coming to save your life, a pointed reminder after the Orlando, Florida, shooting. The word orientation stood out in a Republican crowd that tends to use lifestyle, as if it were a choice. But for the most part, the former mayor, looking a tad like a figure in a wax museum, had the volume turned up to 11, which gave his talk a bit of a "We're all going to die" tone that might be off-putting to swing voters.

Melania Trump brought her soft-spoken style to the podium to stand as a character witness for her husband. She's generally stayed off the trail, but the Trump campaign thought it wise to put her out before the country. Her speech, delivered in the accent of her native Slovenia, didn't exactly roll off the tongue, but it at least had a note of graciousness as she applauded the 17-plus candidates who her husband defeated along the way. Earlier that day, Trump's campaign manager slammed one of them, Ohio Governor John Kasich, as embarrassing himself for not coming to the convention. If wooden, Melania Trump's extended hand and graciousness seemed welcome after a day of shouting and insults and declaring, "We are the champions!" Reports in the wee hours of Tuesday morning suggesting that her speech was uncomfortably close to Michelle Obama's 2008 speech seemed like another self-inflicted blow for a campaign that can ill afford them. It would likely dominate the news cycle and raise questions of sheer competence. As the Queen song goes on to say, "No time for losers."