Best and worst of #GOPinCLE

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CLEVELAND -- So I’ve struggled to find a truly original way to open this column summing up my time at the Republican National Convention, but I think I’ve finally nailed it.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Been done? Blame my speechwriter.

Honestly, my best-of-times list is pretty long after five days in Cleveland. If you enjoy the spectacle, rituals and absurdities of American politics, a national political convention is a candy shop that never closes.

Dull moments were in short supply here. Drama ruled, from Monday’s raucous convention rules fight through Melania Trump’s plagiarism woes and on to Wednesday night’s cascade of boos raining down on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who spoke at Donald Trump’s party but refused to endorse the nominee. Remarkable.

And then, on Friday, Trump took center stage.

“Together, we will lead our party back to the White House and lead our country to safety, prosperity and peace,” Trump said in his long, thundering acceptance speech. Predictions Trump would tone down his trademark outrage for a national audience were mistaken.

“We cannot afford to be politically correct anymore,” he said.

It’s was an unforgettable week in an unbelievable campaign.

“Donald Trump is an unconventional candidate. This is a very unconventional convention, I guess,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who attended his ninth convention, and has mastered understatement.

But it was the worst of times that seemed to take up so much of our time in Cleveland.

“Our world is virtually imploding. And why is it doing that? Because we have a lack of leadership at the White House right now,” said Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst a week ago as delegates gathered. She pointed to terrorism and Russian cyberattacks and live-firing Chinese.

“Things aren’t going to get better. They’re going to get worse,” she said.

Wherever Iowans went, there were warnings of debt, danger, death and looming socialism. We heard of rampaging ISIS radicals, now hiding in all 50 states, and the undeserving who grasp for “free stuff.”

“The world is on fire,” longtime Iowa Republican David Oman told fellow delegates, prefacing a question to U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told Iowans presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would appoint Supreme Court Justices who believe the Constitution is “meaningless.” Also, her election would usher in the end of our constitutional republic.

“We are going to lose who we are,” Santorum said. “If Hillary Clinton is elected, we will not be a constitutional republic in your lifetime.”

“If that can’t fire you up, you’re in the wrong place,” he said. “It is time to save the republic.”

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich conjured other nightmares.

“My worry is one morning we’re going to lose an entire city,” Gingrich said during a talk on a Lake Erie excursion boat called the “Good Time III.” He went on to explain his plan for killing terrorists when they start a car or use electricity.

“How ruthless are we willing to be?” Gingich asked.

Very, when it came to Democrats, especially Clinton. She repeatedly was dubbed as a corrupt liar at best and a criminal, perhaps even a murderer, at worst. Republicans chanted “Lock her up!” on the convention floor nearly every night. Her ties to Lucifer also were explored.

It was a lot to take in, a heavy diet of gloom, served from a 24-hour buffet of doom. This week, in Trump’s Republican Party, the fear was put on steroids.

Maybe they could have thrown in a few puppy videos, just an idea.

It is true America is dealing with really tough problems, huge challenges and frightening threats at home and abroad. Reality is daunting enough without embellishment. Americans are anxious.

The problem in Cleveland is all this deeply dire talk of crises and threats was rarely matched with messages of aspiration or hope. Dark clouds were many, but precious little sunshine shone on solutions. New ideas seemed as scarce as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ducked the whole thing. Promises to do better, but how?

If Ronald Reagan brought us “Morning in America,” in Cleveland, the clock was stuck at midnight.

Solutions? Simply elect Trump and get out of the way.

New ideas? Build high walls and close the gates.

Hope? Pray it works out all right.

“Donald Trump without a doubt I think would come in and shake things up,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. And here I thought our constitutional republic clearly was set up to stop one guy, or woman, from marching in and shaking things up.

Or maybe not.

“Nobody knows the system better than me. I alone can fix it,” Trump said.

In reality, our system requires cooperation and compromise, giving and taking and working together. But our politics now requires portraying opponents as harbingers of Armageddon who will destroy America.

It’s really weird problems don’t get solved, and anxiety grows.

Clinton did recklessly mislead us about her foolish handling of emails. She is too cozy with Wall Street, where she gave-high dollar speeches and won’t tell us what she said. Legitimate questions about her foreign policy judgment loom. But in Cleveland, the legitimate and reasonable often were buried under an avalanche of loud prime-time partisan bile.

Clinton’s flaws can be explored without blowing past the last few remaining tattered boundaries of civility. Bernie Sanders pushed her to the brink not because he viciously attacked her, but because a lot of Democratic voters, especially young ones, liked his ideas and hopeful message better.

Surely Democrats are preparing to aggressively target Trump in Philly next week. But if they think that’s enough, that simply stoking our fears of what he’ll do as president will win this thing, they’d better think again.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Iowa delegates that Americans are indeed deeply pessimistic, with more than half believing our kids will be worse off than we are and 44 percent saying the country’s best days are behind it. They’re fully familiar with doom and gloom.

What they don’t know is what our leaders are going to do about it. They want peace of mind, Luntz said, and candidates with a plan to deliver it. Can we hear them over all the insults and shouting?

Looking for evidence of something more hopeful, I spoke with the youngest Iowa delegate, Westhenry Ioerger. He’s a bright, engaging 19-year-old farm kid from Alden and student at Drake University.

I asked him if he’s worried about all the problems we face.

“Well, I see it more as a challenge,” Ioerger said. “We have a lot to fix, and we better get started. That’s why I’m here.”

Maybe I’ll come back to a convention someday to hear his acceptance speech.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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