CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The two most powerful Republicans in Congress last night presided over the formal nomination of Donald Trump as the GOP’s presidential candidate for the 2016 election, and of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate. But on a night when the party was supposedly coalescing behind its new standard bearer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, seemed to struggle to even utter Trump’s name.
Party conventions are traditionally full of hyperbolic praise of the party’s nominee, and there was no shortage of that here last night. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama called Trump “the singular leader that can get this country back on track.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had been on the short list as Trump’s choice for VP, called Trump not only a “strong leader but a caring, genuine and decent person.”
Two of Trump’s children, Donald Trump Jr. and Tiffany Trump, were effusive in their praise for their father. But the men who a President Trump would actually have to work with in order to get things done in Washington were far more reticent when it came to the new nominee.
In his nearly 13-minute formal address, Ryan, the chair of the convention, mentioned Donald Trump’s name exactly twice.
“Next time there’s a State of the Union address, I don’t know where Joe Biden and Barack Obama will be. But you’ll find me right there on the rostrum with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump,” he said near the beginning of his speech.
At the end of his remarks, riffing on the set of “Better Way” proposals that he had been rolling out over the past few weeks, Ryan said, “Only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a ‘better way.’”
Along the way Ryan made comments that seemed to reflect something like resignation, such as “Democracy is a series of choices. We Republicans have made ours.” Ryan’s second-in-command, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, delivered a much shorter speech, which may be why he only mentioned the word “Trump” once.
“In these difficult times I remember the words of President Ronald Reagan when he described America as that shining city upon the hill,” McCarthy said, concluding a speech that consisted mainly of a recitation of complaints about the Obama administration and generalities about the Republican agenda. “Together --- by electing a Republican Congress --- Donald Trump --- and Mike Pence. We can build a better America and make that shining city upon the hill bright again.”
McConnell mentioned Trump’s name five times, but that included an almost mantra-like repetition of the phrase “Trump will sign it” in reference to Republican legislative priorities like Obamacare repeal and the construction of the Keystone pipeline.
“With Donald Trump in the White House,” McConnell said, “Senate Republicans will build on the work we’ve done and pass more bills into law than any Senate in years.”
Now with McConnell in particular, the lack of might not seem too surprising. The dour Kentuckian isn’t exactly known for either his oratory or for gushing praise of other lawmakers. But compare his remarks about Trump last night to his 2012 convention speech in support of Mitt Romney, which contained remarks like these:
“We're here this week for the simple reason that our nation is in desperate need of leadership. And we believe Mitt Romney is the man for the moment. I tell students all the time the only way to fail in America is to quit. I truly believe that. And I know Mitt Romney does too.”
“Mitt Romney has spent his entire life finding ways to solve problems. Mitt Romney has never been resigned to what someone else said was possible. He cut his own path. That's why he believes in his heart that America has a future full of opportunity and hope. And that's why when Mitt Romney looks down the road, he sees a country that's ready for a comeback.”
“It is time for a leader who will lead. That leader is Mitt Romney.”
There was nothing resembling that kind of praise from McConnell last night. In fact, taken as a whole, the remarks from top Congressional leaders in support of Donald Trump last night sounded like the words of men going through the motions -- doing what was expected of them, even though their hearts weren’t really in it.