Inside the RNC: a 24 yr old independent’s take on the RNC speeches

I came to the RNC with Vocatio, hoping to see what was happening/what discussions were being had around issues of concern to millennials, with a particular eye toward issues of higher education, alternative education, student debt, and millennial unemployment and underemployment. These were my takeaways from the speeches of the week. You can find my profile of interesting young people I encountered here, and my general impressions from the week here.

There’s no policy happening  It was empty and insufficient back when politicians would toss some superficial policy talk of taxes, regulations and reforms in with their rally cries, inflammatory remarks, condemnations of the opponents and pandering to the “hard-working blue collar America” they only pretend to know. Now, however they seem to have done away with the policy stuff altogether, and all that remains is the

Not only did I not hear any policy proposals for the issues I was hoping to hear about, I didn’t really hear an policy proposals about anything in the vast majority of the speeches.

The thesis for most of the speeches seemed to be that Barack Obama is awful and Hillary should be in jail and we need America to prosper again. And the police and military are totally infallible, and racism isn’t a problem. Oh, and “radical Islamic terrorism!” [raucus applause]

(For real, they cheered every time the phrase is spoken)

One republican who had been in politics for a long time lamented to me, “republicans individually come across as nuanced and smart and willing to have real discussions and be critical of the party. But when you get a bunch of them together, there’s this huge pressure to conform and fall back on the same old BS.”

Objectively, it is stupid for them to call Clinton a continuation of the Obama presidency—Obama’s approval numbers are much higher than either Clinton’s or Trump’s. It may sound great in a room of republican delegates to tie her to him, but in the general population, Obama would beat either of these candidates easily, so they’re better off just criticizing her based on herself (there’s plenty of fodder).

No jokes or cultural references

I think “Where’s the beef” might have been the most recent cultural reference I heard from speakers or pundits. The closest things they had to mainstream celebrities speaking were golfer Natalie Gulbis, Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, and the CEO of UFC. Most of the speeches were serious, vague, and kinda scary.

There was almost no youth presence

As far as young people, I saw a share of college-republicans types. There were also plenty of interns and whatnot in the media tent. But there were almost no youth-focused events, only a couple speakers under 40, and very little messaging specifically relevant to young people. Most of the young people around were using the convention as an opportunity of some kind, either for money, attention, or goodwill, as I mentioned above.


The Speeches

Rudy Guiliani – someone gave Rudy a little too much Mountain Dew. He screams and shakes his fist for about half an hour to kick off the prime time Monday speeches, experiencing some directional challenges along the way.


Chris Christie – Christie’s speech was mildly entertaining, in a “watch your uncle rant” kind of way, but the entire focus was on Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State. This man loves hearing his own little pet names for people. “Apologist of Al Qaeda,” “Coddler of Castros,” and who can forget “Feckless Weasel.”

With people’s perception of lawyers, I’m not sure using loud, over-the-top lawyer rhetoric is going to sway anyone. We also get the witch-hunt-like “Lock her up” chants from the crowd. I don’t see how any of these speeches would make an undecided turn to Trump.

Melania Trump – in the moment I thought she did fine. I wasn’t blown away but she came across as intelligent and composed and didn’t make any huge gaffes. I thought it was a little funny to praise Donald’s loyalty when you’re his third wife. And the passive structure of saying “we’re having our children raised with these values blah-blah-blah” was funny.

Turned out afterward though that she plagiarized much of it from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. And not like borderline similar-thoughts plagiarism; full-fledged cut and paste plagiarism. The kind that gets you kicked out of college. Nothing is surprising anymore. And then they denied it, turning it into a huge news story. Best option would have been to say “Michelle is an exemplary person and a wonderful first lady, and Melania is inspired by her, and wanted to allude to the excellent speech she gave in 2008, which spoke of ideals that we also hold.”

David Clarke, sheriff from Wisconsin

Seems like the Republicans, rather than listening to the experience of millions of people of color and examining the legitimate grievances about unequal treatment, police misconduct, and police unaccountability, just went out and found a PoC who agreed with them.

It seems like something both parties could get behind, especially if you look at it from a individual rights vs big bad government standpoint.

You can be both pro-Police and pro-Black Lives. Seeing police officers as a commendable, heroic occupation means we should hold it to a high standard, and when gross misconduct happens, we should hold perpetrators accountable and condemn injustice so that police as a whole can retain/regain credibility in all communities and demographics. Police organizations and unions should be at the forefront of instituting training policies around unconscious bias and prejudice, weeding out racist cops, and creating citizen review boards, so that police can become credible and trusted in all communities.

Natalie Gulbis and Tiffany Trump on Tuesday night are the the first people under 45 allowed to sniff the stage. Gulbis talks about how Trump encouraged her 15 years ago and helped her overcome sexism by “thinking like a businessperson.” I can’t help but think of how creepy Trump must have been when he took a “special attention” to the famously hot 18-year old Gulbis.

Tiffany did very well. She was impressively composed, well-spoken, and down to earth, and she did an admirable job trying to make growing up in the Trump household sound like a normal childhood. In representing my generation on national TV, I wish she would have used an adverb other than “so.”

Donald Trump Jr. —  First off, all the Trumps have the same hand motions, so maybe it’s genetic. Lil’ Don is a much more tolerable speaker than his dad. Overall his speech is good. He did say, however, that his dad “Doesn’t have to use data analytics or a focus group to form an opinion.” This is a attempted dig at Hillary (I think?) but he said “data analytics” in a disgusted enough tone to make it sound like data is stupid and his father makes all decisions on whims. Even if he’s talking down to the crowd and doesn’t really mean it, it’s a dangerous idea to be perpetuating, and not something I want to hear about a potential president.

Rick Scott tells Americans to “put partisanship aside,” and…vote for his party? He gets the crowd going on Hillary again, with more “lock her up” chants. I really don’t think that translates outside of the room.  Factual attacks based on how she broke the rules, circumvented FOIA rules to keep correspondence hidden from the American people, tried to delete evidence, then lied to the American people would be highly effective. Instead, they keep trending toward the “She’s a witch! Burn her” type of over-the-top rhetoric, costing themselves credibility for all the legitimate criticisms of her.

Phil Ruffin says he’s done construction with Trump in “many of America’s finest states: Chicago, New York, Miami…”

Michelle Van Etten makes one of the first direct mentions of young people, in the first 3 days, saying “Millennials, over 50% of whom have entrepreneurial spirit,” in the context of promoting a more small-business friendly environment.

Scott Walker mentions some actual policies, including the curtailing of college costs in WI during his tenure.

Reince Priebus touched on some actual issues, and youth-concerning ones to boot — education, skills training etc, in the most substantive speech yet. He resorted less to fear mongering and Dem-bashing, and had a little more optimism. I was impressed.

Ted Cruz says directly that the constitution still applies to you whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Athiest; that it still applies if you’re a member of the LGBT community.   These things are obvious, but saying them explicitly seems like progress given some of the speeches so far. He mentions Alton Sterling’s name in passing but only to commend his family members’ reaction to the Baton Rouge cop shooting.  This seems even worse, to some degree, to commend their reactions without really acknowledging Sterling’s unjust death. He also mentions the Charleston victims’ families’ forgiveness of the Charleston shooter.

There was a big ruckus for him not endorsing Trump. A republican tried to feed me a metaphor about the party being like a football team, where Ted Cruz, by refusing to endorse Trump and only addressing the conservative wing of the party, had shown selfishness and “betrayed the team.” Now, I can’t stand Ted Cruz, and I don’t know or really care if it was a smart move politically, but it’s good that a person doesn’t put their party affiliation ahead of their actual beliefs (hamming it up selfishly on prime time TV was a bit of a jerk move, but did we expect differently from Cruz?).

Endorsing someone after you’ve spent months viciously fighting them (a la Christie) makes either your former or current position highly disingenuous and reeks of political opportunism or of putting the party before your integrity. These are the qualities I (and most young people) hate most about politics.

Peter Thiel – Thiel might have been my most anticipated speaker, because he’s such a multi-dimensional guy. Right out of the gate, he mentions the rising cost of college as one of the country’s biggest problems. He says he’s proud to be gay, and receives a warm cheer from the RNC crowd. That was good to hear. He also mentions that the transgender bathroom stuff is dumb, which apparently riles up some NC delegates. He makes fun of the defense department’s use of floppy disks, and says “our government was once high tech too.”

Ivanka Trump calls herself a millennial and says, “Like many millennials, I don’t consider myself categorically to be a Democrat or Republican.” She says her father has always championed women in the workplace and that “he will fight for equal pay for equal work” as president.

The Donald: Trump’s speech went on forever, so he touched on just about everything, often in a rambling back-and-forth fashion. I thought he did a little too much fear-mongering around crime, acting like it’s on the rise when I don’t think much data supports that. A couple highlights, however:

“58% of African American young people are unemployed” -Trump identifies an issue, and seems to be at least trying to talk to people not in the room. He says “we’re gonna fix that,” but moves on before saying anything about how he proposes doing so.

Trump gets into some stuff about defending the victimized & standing up for justice, which appeared to be heading somewhere promising, but instead he only relates it to Hillary’s email scandal.

He makes an overture to Bernie supporters, saying “the [Democratic] primary was rigged; he never had a chance” and that Bernie’s supporters were going to come to support Trump.

His vocal tone turned increasingly into a scream throughout the speech; he gives a Schwarzenegger-like Do It Now! toward the end.

He then gets back to young people with a quick 5 second statement about young people starting their adult life in debt, but then moves onto mumbojumbo about a bigger military.

Jul-18-2016 22-26-44

He stole the Undertaker’s entrance for his first appearance at the RNC

Check out my general impressions from the RNC, and my profile of impressive millennials from the RNC.

Head to Vocatio’s Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages for more from last week, as well as commentary from this week’s DNC!


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Vocatio is a career discovery and exploration platform and media network, designed to help young people discover their talents, find careers in which they best fit, and connect with employers looking for high-match candidates. Join our mailing list here to join the Vocatio movement.

Matt Gwin is Vocatio’s Editor and Community Manager. He is originally a rural Ohioan and is a 2014 graduate of Princeton University. He previously worked with the North Lawndale Employment Network, helping formerly-incarcerated individuals on Chicago’s west side learn job skills and secure employment.



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