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At a disunited Republican convention, the one thing that unifies

Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill talk to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland about Melania Trump’s speech that borrowed portions from a Michelle Obama speech, the striking disunity in the Republican party and the one thing that seems to bring the GOP together.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Happening right now on the convention floor, the delegates are taking the roll call state by state, casting their votes to formally nominate Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for president.

    Our Lisa Desjardins is down there.

    Lisa, we heard a few mild boos a minute ago. What was that all about?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That’s right.

    What those boos are, Judy and Gwen, are the cracks in the Republican surface coming to bear. Some of these states have divided delegations, Judy and Gwen. And some of them are voting not majority for Trump.

    Other delegations say they’re not able to cast their votes the way they want. You might have a delegation where the primary went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, but a delegate in their own heart says, I don’t want support Donald Trump, and they’re trying to vote a different way.

    So that fracture is coming to surface, as some of these delegates are trying to object to the way this roll call is being handled. I will also say, even though those boos were allowed, it’s a minority so far of the delegates, but it’s very significant.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Lisa, I was reading a little bit of the noise from Ohio and a little bit from Colorado. We can explore that as the night goes on.

    But, right now, we want to bring in our regulars who are joining us every night here at the convention, Mark Shields, who is a syndicated columnist and also with the “NewsHour,” David Brooks, columnist with The New York Times, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    To all three of you, we’re waiting for Donald Trump to be nominated, but today has been pretty much consumed with a lot of conversation about what his wife said in her speech last night and whether there was any similarity with the speech given by Michelle Obama in 2008.

    David, is this something that is going to put a blemish on the whole affair?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think so. It was plagiarism. I thought it was pretty clear.

    I think it says a couple things. First, the staff is not that good. This is an outsider campaign. They haven’t hired the best people, the professionals, and so that showed. Whoever did it, it was a big mess-up that no professional would do.

    Second, they couldn’t admit it. They couldn’t just say, OK, we messed up, we’re firing somebody, we admit it, we’re moving on, because that’s not Donald Trump’s persona.

    And, third, I have a feeling that the shoe is yet to drop, that somewhere in this country, Donald Trump is sitting there, wanting to defend his wife’s honor, wanting — getting mad because people are attacking his family, and, somehow, he is going to riff on this.

    And it might be Thursday night in the hall or it might be somewhere else, but there will be another little mini-bomb, when Donald Trump reacts.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Late last night, we were sitting around here at this table and we were talking about missed opportunities on the opening day of the convention.

    Is this another one, Amy?

  • Amy Walter,

    The Cook Political Report: Absolutely.

    And we talked yesterday about the unity, and we were talking to Lisa Desjardins right now about, is this party unified?

    Right now, we’re having an instance where the campaign isn’t even unified. Part of the problem with the speech and the reaction to the speech was that the campaign started pointing fingers at each other. And it became a circular firing squad. This is the thing that David is talking about.

    In professional campaigns, this is not supposed to happen. So it is one more example of a campaign that is yet to get on message. They’re going to get their take two on unity tonight, but they still have not nailed that down.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, how do you see this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, what happens at conventions, historically, Republican and Democratic, nobody speaks a word that hasn’t been vetted and hasn’t been re-vetted.

    It isn’t spontaneous. You don’t get up there and chat. This should have been, and it wasn’t. And this was the introduction of the candidate’s wife, who is not a public person, who made a positive contribution, who was quite appealing. And it turns out that she’s — and said she had written the speech herself.

    And it turns out that large segments and large paragraphs borrowed directly from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. And you’re right. Somebody has to go. But Donald Trump has never admitted. He refused last week to admit it was a mistake to say that John McCain wasn’t a hero.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Here we are the night of the big nomination, when usually it’s just our candidate is so fabulous. There is nothing that could possibly go wrong.

    And, instead, we have mild boos. We have people who still feel like they have been shut out of the process. Is that where this party is now, or are we just looking at something that is going to blow over?

  • Amy Walter:

    That is the definition of this party right now. It is not a unified party. In fact, the only thing that is unifying this party — and you’re going to hear it, I think, again tonight — we heard it yesterday — is deep dislike of Hillary Clinton. Take that away, and on policy, on strategy, on direction for the country, this is a party that is just literally splintered.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I guess that raises the question, David, is that going to be enough? We certainly heard over-the-top language about Hillary Clinton, she should be in prison and a lot other tough words about her. Is that going to be enough?

  • David Brooks:

    To unify the party?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To unify the party.

  • David Brooks:

    I don’t think so.

    You have got to remember how many people are not here. It’s really striking. You hang around the press areas at these conventions, there’s usually a lot of people to schmooze with who are, like, at the Republican Conventions every year — or every four years — and you see them and you get some information from them.

    The hallways are sort of empty, because those people are not here. Second, a lot of people are not in the hall. I had coffee with a delegate today who sort of had his credentials sort of ripped away. And so that’s — a little of that is happening. And…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why were his credentials taken away?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, he said some unfortunate things in the press, I guess. And so that sort of thing is happening.

    And then so there is still a lot of people — you know, President Bush apparently, reportedly, wondering whether he will be the last Republican president. So, that stuff is happening in the party.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    You know what? If they start taking away credentials, David, from people who have said unfortunate things in the press, we will be keeping an eye on you.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    We will watching you very carefully.

    But, Mark Shields, is there where we are now? And is there a way for the GOP to reposition itself? We saw the governor of Ohio is off worrying about down-ballot races, as are so many other Republicans. Is that the salvation?

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    No, obviously, and Mitch McConnell is here tonight, who has spoken openly, and not a man known for speaking openly, about his serious problems with Donald Trump, and Donald Trump’s slurring of large groups of people, and his insulting of his opponents, his defeated opponents.

    And that’s what Mitch McConnell is all about, is preserving the Senate majority and hoping desperately for ticket-splitting to reemerge. I think that — I think the delegate thing is quite overstated. I will be honest with you. I have great respect for Lisa, but the reality is delegates lost their standing and conventions lost their standing in 1972.

    That’s when we went to direct primary election — nomination of presidential candidates. Donald Trump won 3,700. He is the nominee. He is the commanding figure in this party. So, someone can stand up and say, I object. Fine. God bless them. But the reality is, he really did win a compelling victory.

    You could get in a car in Concord, New Hampshire, and drive all the way to Shreveport, Louisiana, and never go through a state that Donald Trump didn’t carry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, he may be the commanding figure, but there clearly are clearly elements of the party, which is what we’re talking about here, who are not happy that he’s the commanding figure. They don’t want him being the face of the Republican party.

  • Amy Walter:

    This is what is going to be interesting to watch for tonight.

    You have not only the Senate majority leader, but you have the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, coming up and speaking, and Kevin McCarthy.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Who is the chairman of the convention.

  • Amy Walter:

    Who is the chairman of the convention.

    And Kevin McCarthy, who is second in command in the House. They are all very concerned about what happens to down-ballot races. Listening to how they are going to thread the needle, as they have had to do throughout this campaign, between supporting the ticket, wanting to support their nominee, making sure that turnout doesn’t go down, but also, as Paul Ryan has talked about, allowing his members to — quote, unquote — “vote their conscience.”

    If they don’t want to support the person on the top of the ticket, they don’t have to, if they think it will help them.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    I think every single conversation we have had with a Republican in this booth, when we ask them about the issues, they have always turned it back to talking about Hillary Clinton.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    And that does seem to be the most persuasive argument, David, that Republicans in this room have, which is, he may not be everything we want him to be, I may not have voted for him, I may not have endorsed him until last month, but we really, really, really can’t have Hillary Clinton.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. No, I think that’s part of it.

    It’s funny. In talking to — when you run into a senator or something in the hallway here and you ask them about Trump, it’s like they want you to know they really don’t like Trump, so — but they can’t really say it, so they got this little dance they do, this body language.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And these are the ones who are here.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, exactly, right, but sort of a squirming little thing.

    But…

  • Gwen Ifill:

    I want to see that again.

  • David Brooks:

    And then the other thing, the Republicans here, and a lot of people who are Trump delegates, they’re party institutionalists.

    They believe in this party. And it would be hard for them not to be themselves and not be loyal to it.

  • Gwen Ifill:, beginning at 8:

    Well, we’re going to pick up where we left off here, because there’s going to be a lot to talk about tonight.

    Stay with us00 p.m. Eastern time, for our special NPR/”PBS NewsHour” coverage of the Republican presidential convention here in Cleveland.

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