Troubling Trump takes charge

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, center, gives a thumbs up as he talks with production crew during a walk through in preparation for his speech at the Republican National Convention, Thursday, July 21, 2016, in Cleveland. At right is is daughter Ivanka. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Critics have often decried modern U.S. political conventions as so predictable that they are boring. This week’s Republican Convention in Cleveland broke that mold.

And Donald Trump’s powerful populist appeal breaks ranks with the fundamental conservative principles that have been touted by GOP candidates for at least half a century.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s lengthy (75-minute), aggressive and at times belligerent Thursday night speech accepting the party’s White House nomination, serious questions persist about his presidential merits, regardless of ideological considerations.

Mr. Trump began the address by stressing the need for “law and order,” striking a fear-mongering tone about “recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities.”

He made typically sweeping, self-praising promises, following the boastful pattern he used to win the GOP nomination.

He reversed longtime GOP — and U.S. — trade-policy focus, pledging:

“I am going to turn our bad trade agreements into great ones. America has lost nearly one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997, following the enactment of disastrous trade deals supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Remember, it was Bill Clinton who signed NAFTA, one of the worst economic deals ever made by our country.”

But numerous analyses of the North American Free Trade Agreement refute that assessment. That doesn’t mean flaws in it shouldn’t be renegotiated.

Still, protectionism has never been a sustainable economic model. And we can’t tariff our way to prosperity.

Nor should we undermine NATO security by threatening fellow members, as Mr. Trump did again in Thursday night’s speech. He re-asserted reckless remarks from earlier this week about abandoning NATO members to their fates if they don’t pay what he deems a “fair share” for their defense. That’s a frightening scenario since Mr. Trump has frequently expressed admiration for expansionist Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Mr. Trump’s running mate, did give an impressive, solidly conservative acceptance speech on Wednesday night. It reflected well on Mr. Trump’s decision to put him on the ticket.

That positive performance, however, was obscured in part by Sen. Ted Cruz’ refusal earlier that night to endorse Mr. Trump in his speech. Delegates loudly expressed their scorn at that defiant stance by the Texas senator, who finished second to Mr. Trump in the primary race. It was more fallout from Mr. Trump’s troubling, take-no-prisoners style. On Friday, Sen. Cruz again cited Mr. Trump’s “maligning” of his wife and father during the primaries.

Yet perhaps the most troubling aspect of the GOP convention was an abundance of conspicuous absences: Numerous prominent Republicans, including some from our state, didn’t show up.

Only one former GOP presidential nominee, Bob Dole, did. The other four — George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney — voted with their feet by not attending.

And Mr. Trump, re-confirming his distance from GOP tradition, failed to once mention Republican icon Ronald Reagan in his acceptance speech.

Mr. Trump did, however, finally stop making it all about himself long enough to state this resounding case late in Thursday night’s speech:

“My opponent asks her supporters to recite a three-word loyalty pledge. It reads: ‘I’m with her.’ I choose to recite a different pledge. My pledge reads: ‘I’m with you — the American people.’ I am your voice.”

And on Nov. 8, Mr. Trump could become our president.

He has tapped into a deep well of voter frustration. He is a quintessential outsider running against an all-too-familiar insider at a time of overwhelming public disdain for politics as usual.

So before banking on forecasts that Mr. Trump has scant chance of beating Mrs. Clinton, consider this line from his speech Thursday night:

“Remember, all of the people telling you that you can’t have the country you want are the same people telling you that I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”

Remember, too, that the best news the Clinton camp got in the last month came when she learned that she wouldn’t be indicted for what the FBI director called “extremely careless” handling of classified material.

And remember that voters still have more than three months to decide who will be our next president.