On Thursday morning, Donald Trump — finally — announced the lineup of speakers for the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday in Cleveland. The speakers list affirms something that we've known for quite some time: This campaign isn't really about the Republican party or conservatism. It's about Donald J. Trump.
Go through the list of speakers — here it is in full — and you see that the tie that binds the vast majority of the people together, particularly the non-politicians on the roster, is a connection to Trump, not to the Republican party.
His wife, Melania, will speak. So, too, will all four of his adult children — Donald Jr., Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany. Typically the spouse of the nominee and, maybe, one of his or her children will speak. Separate speaking slots for Melania as well as four of Trump's children is very out of the ordinary. (As Aaron Blake notes, there are as many Trumps speaking at the convention as there are sitting Republican senators.)
Among the non-Trump and non-politician speakers, it's a who's who of people Trump has crossed paths with before. Former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is on the list. So is pro golfer Natalie Gulbis. And UFC President Dana White. All of them are tied to Trump in one way or another. Tebow has long been a fascination of Trump's. Gulbis is a longtime playing partner of The Donald. White credits Trump with helping get UFC off the ground by bringing it to Atlantic City.
How you feel about this decidedly unorthodox lineup of speakers almost certainly depends on how you feel about Trump.
Like him? Then this list of convention speakers is a reflection of his ability to bring together all sorts of high-profile people that typical Republican politicians would have no chance at persuading to speak. People such as Tebow and White are hugely known and hugely popular among average voters, and having them deliver testimonials to Trump is a hell of a lot more effective than having yet another Republican senator do the same.
Hate him? Then the convention speakers list is a mishmash of random B- and C-list celebrities mixed with politicians who, by dint of their circumstances or perch, are willing to speak or can't get out of it. And, always and most important, a healthy serving of Trumps sprinkled over the top of it all.
That debate won't ever get solved. What is inarguable, however, is that this convention is much less about the Republican party writ large as it is about Donald Trump.
Now, all conventions are, to some extent, attempts to introduce the broader public to the party nominee. Every convention features people the nominee has worked with or known his or her whole life — who can tell the viewing audience that this nominee is uniquely suited to the highest office in the land.
But most conventions are also a celebration of the party, a chance for candidates for office and aspiring young stars (Barack Obama in 2004 anyone?) to get a look from a national audience. The convention is, in many ways, a party-building event. It's a chance to reward your major donors and activists with parties and goodies while also exposing them to not just this year's presidential nominee but the future of the party as well.
There's almost none of that at this convention. Much of that is due to the fact that lots of aspiring GOP politicians don't want to go anywhere near Cleveland or Trump. But a decent-sized chunk of it also has to do with the fact that Trump's affiliation with the Republican party is both relatively loose and relatively recent.
The connections he has made in his life have very little to do with his party affiliation because, until relatively recently, he didn't really have one to speak of. As Trump has said many times, he lavished money on both parties to get what he wanted. And if you look at the way he ran in the primary, it wasn't really as a Republican or as a conservative. It was as Donald Trump.
That reality is reflected in this convention lineup. This isn't the Republican National Convention. It's the Trump National Convention.