As Convention Opens, Platform Underscores a Divided Party

GOP delegates approved a 66-page policy blueprint that follows party orthodoxy on some topics, and Donald Trump on others.

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is surrounded by reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Sunday.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
July 18, 2016, 8:50 p.m.

Sen. John Bar­rasso had a really awk­ward job at the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion.

The Wyom­ing Re­pub­lic­an, who headed the GOP’s plat­form-writ­ing pan­el, took the stage Monday right after an ugly fight between pro- and anti-Don­ald Trump fac­tions over con­ven­tion rules, and did his best to get past it.

“Who’s proud to be an Amer­ic­an?” he said, and praised the work of the plat­form’s au­thors. “What they achieved can be sum­mar­ized simply. We be­lieve the United States of Amer­ica is un­like any na­tion on earth. We be­lieve Amer­ica is ex­cep­tion­al.”

But really, it can’t be sum­mar­ized as simply as Bar­rasso claimed.

The plat­form ap­proved Monday is a mish­mash of hard-right pro­vi­sions com­bined with a few Trump-backed rup­tures with GOP or­tho­doxy on trade and bank­ing rules.

Yes, yes, we know. Party plat­forms don’t really mat­ter, and they’re not bind­ing.

But this year, it’s a sym­bol of the fraught re­la­tion­ship between two power cen­ters in GOP polit­ics: Trump and House Speak­er Paul Ry­an.

Ry­an has re­luct­antly ac­cep­ted Trump, but he kept plenty of polit­ic­al day­light between them as the con­ven­tion began Monday.

The White House nom­in­ee is a con­ser­vat­ive, Ry­an al­lowed in re­marks at a Wall Street Journ­al lunch in Clev­e­land, adding: “He’s not my kind of con­ser­vat­ive, but I come from a dif­fer­ent part and wing of the party.”

Ry­an has been la­bor­ing to drum up at­ten­tion for the House GOP’s policy agenda.

Trump is much less in­ter­ested in de­tails, but he has broadly split with his party on some stances, and has hor­ri­fied GOP of­fi­cials with some of his own ideas (not­ably the pro­posed ban on Muslims en­ter­ing the U.S.).

Some por­tions of the plat­form re­flect the con­ser­vat­ism of Ry­an and more gen­er­ally the pil­lars of the con­ser­vat­ive move­ment.

“Con­ser­vat­ive lead­ers be­lieve this is the most con­ser­vat­ive plat­form we’ve ever had,” said GOP polit­ic­al con­sult­ant Matt Mack­owiak.

On so­cial is­sues, the plat­form is firmly to the right. It at­tacks the Su­preme Court de­cision al­low­ing gay mar­riage na­tion­wide, while call­ing on states to of­fer the Bible in lit­er­at­ure classes.

And so­cial con­ser­vat­ives also got what they wanted, with lengthy sec­tions on fight­ing abor­tion rights on sev­er­al fronts; lan­guage at­tack­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s policies on re­stroom choice for trans­gender people; and more.

Trump, even on is­sues where he now says he agrees with so­cial con­ser­vat­ives, has not made an­ti­gay and an­ti­abor­tion policy a ma­jor fo­cus of his cam­paign.

While Trump’s policy lean­ings are of­ten hard to pin down, he has re­jec­ted calls by con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans to pare back So­cial Se­cur­ity and Medi­care.

On So­cial Se­cur­ity, the plat­form ap­pears to largely punt. While re­ject­ing the idea that it’s a “third rail” of Amer­ic­an polit­ics and not­ing that “we ac­cept the re­spons­ib­il­ity to pre­serve and mod­ern­ize” it, the doc­u­ment of­fers little by way of spe­cif­ics.

“Cur­rent re­tir­ees and those close to re­tire­ment can be as­sured of their be­ne­fits,” it states. “Of the many re­forms be­ing pro­posed, all op­tions should be con­sidered to pre­serve So­cial Se­cur­ity.”

Still, it may leave room for em­bra­cing the kind of over­hauls that Trump has not pro­posed, in­dic­at­ing sup­port for “the power of mar­kets to cre­ate wealth and to help se­cure the fu­ture of our So­cial Se­cur­ity sys­tem.”

When it comes to Medi­care, the plat­form nods to­ward House Re­pub­lic­ans’ re­cent pro­pos­al, em­bra­cing a “premi­um sup­port” pro­gram that would al­low private in­sur­ance com­pan­ies in­to the sys­tem while shield­ing older re­cip­i­ents from dis­rup­tions.

Trump has cri­ti­cized his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans’ en­ti­tle­ment-re­form plans be­fore, par­tic­u­larly Ry­an’s. At a Phoenix rally last month, Trump put his po­s­i­tion simply: “We’re go­ing to save your So­cial Se­cur­ity without killing it like so many people want to do, and your Medi­care.”

The sec­tion on crim­in­al-justice re­form, an in­creas­ing fo­cus for Ry­an, goes fur­ther than the 2012 plat­form, not­ably by voicing at least lim­ited sup­port for re­vis­it­ing the prac­tice of man­dat­ory-min­im­um sen­tences.

“Modi­fic­a­tions to it should be tar­geted to­ward par­tic­u­lar cat­egor­ies, es­pe­cially non­vi­ol­ent of­fend­ers and per­sons with drug, al­co­hol, or men­tal health is­sues, and should re­quire dis­clos­ure by the courts of any ju­di­cial de­par­ture from the state’s sen­ten­cing re­quire­ments,” it states.

But else­where, there’s a nod to Trump—who op­poses NAF­TA and the pro­posed Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship—in the plat­form’s re­treat from full-throated back­ing for free-trade deals.

While it avoids men­tion­ing NAF­TA or the pro­posed TPP by name, it states: “We need bet­ter ne­go­ti­ated trade agree­ments that put Amer­ica first.”

And while Trump’s ef­forts to dir­ectly shape the doc­u­ment ap­pear to be lim­ited (Bar­rasso told the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner that Trump “has really not tried to in­flu­ence the dir­ec­tion” of it), it non­ethe­less bears his clear stamp in oth­er areas too.

On im­mig­ra­tion, where Trump has been ex­tremely hawk­ish and dir­ectly at­tacked Mex­ic­ans, it strongly en­dorses build­ing a bor­der wall.

And in a sur­prise move Monday, Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Man­a­fort re­vealed that the plat­form also called for re­in­stat­ing Glass-Steagall, the De­pres­sion-era law re­pealed un­der Pres­id­ent Bill Clin­ton that im­posed a fire­wall between com­mer­cial and in­vest­ment bank­ing.

It could be a move by Trump to ap­peal to sup­port­ers of Bernie Sanders, who cam­paigned ag­gress­ively against Wall Street and wants to re­vive Glass-Steagall, and out­flank Hil­lary Clin­ton, whose own plans to in­crease fin­an­cial reg­u­la­tion don’t in­clude that idea.

But at the same time, it’s an­oth­er rup­ture with Cap­it­ol Hill Re­pub­lic­ans, who are gen­er­ally loath to adding new reg­u­la­tions. Ry­an’s aides did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a ques­tion about the pro­vi­sion.

For one ma­jor con­ser­vat­ive group, the plat­form is a mixed bag.

Jason Pye of Freedom­Works lamen­ted the GOP’s “Trump-ific­a­tion” on trade.

“Re­pub­lic­ans have al­ways been very good on trade, and it’s really frus­trat­ing to see those winds shift a little bit to be­ing sort of hos­tile to trade—maybe not com­pletely against it, but hos­tile for sure,” said Pye, the group’s com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or.

Still, the crim­in­al-justice lan­guage gives him reas­on to smile. The party’s form­al em­brace comes just a few days after Ry­an pledged, in an in­ter­view on NPR, to try and bring crim­in­al-justice-re­form le­gis­la­tion to the floor in Septem­ber.

Trump, mean­while, has re­cently boas­ted of be­ing a “law and or­der” can­did­ate, and Man­a­fort has ex­pli­citly com­pared Trump’s mes­sage at this con­ven­tion to that of Richard Nix­on in 1968 on that front.

Some law­makers back­ing a stalled, bi­par­tis­an Sen­ate bill that would ease harsh man­dat­ory-min­im­um sen­tences in some cases and boost anti-re­cidiv­ism ef­forts have been hop­ing that House ac­tion could cre­ate mo­mentum. For Pye, the lan­guage is one more tool against a group of con­ser­vat­ives like Sen. Tom Cot­ton who op­pose the bill.

“For us to have this kind of lan­guage in the plat­form is a big deal. It is a vic­tory over someone like him,” Pye said.

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