Matt Taibbi visits the GOP convention. We can learn from what he doesn’t see.

Summary: Matt Taibbi is one of America’s most acute political observers. His analysis of the Republican Convention shows his skills at their peak, but (like most on the Left) he cannot see the significance of what he sees — the radical changes altering the US political landscape. We can learn much from his essay, lessons that can help us understand what will happen in the next few years.

2016 GOP convention
Photograph by Carlo Allegri/Reuters.

Trump’s Appetite for Destruction:
How Disastrous Convention Doomed GOP

By Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, 22 July 2016.
Republican National Convention made a joke of American democracy.

“It wasn’t what we expected. We thought Donald Trump’s version of the Republican National Convention would be a brilliantly bawdy exercise in Nazistic excess. We expected thousand-foot light columns, a 400-piece horn section where the delegates usually sit (they would be in cages out back with guns to their heads). Onstage, a chorus line of pageant girls in gold bikinis would be twerking furiously to a techno version of “New York, New York” while an army of Broadway dancers spent all four days building a Big Beautiful Wall that read winning, the ceremonial last brick timed to the start of Donald’s acceptance speech. …”

Liberals refuse to see the substance behind Trump’s campaign, just caricatures they invent — glitzy combinations of NAZI and racist imagery. It relieves them of the burden of responding to his issues. For details see Why they lose: the Left tells us that Trump is like Hitler.

“Thus the area around the convention feels like some other infamous de-peopled landscapes, like Hitler’s paintings…”

Not subtle. But Taibbi has some powerful insights about the convention.

“What happened instead was just sad and weird, very weird. The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research. … The nominee seemed to mine the very bottom of his Rolodex for the exercise, to the point where we even heard a testimonial from Natalie Gulbis, the world’s 492nd-ranked professional woman golfer. … his lineup of speakers, minus the handful of “real” politicians who held their noses through the thing, read suspiciously like an episode of “The Apprentice” or “Flavor of Love”. His celebrity guests were a bunch of D-listers ready to eat snails, walk on coals, swap wives or (in this case) publicly support Donald Trump to keep their fading celebrity alive.”

Taibbi describes the motley crew of speakers at the Convention, but fails to see the significance of this. Where are the neocons? With Hillary. Where are America’s business elites? With Hillary. Where are the mainstream GOP figures? Waiting for Trump to lose, so they can retake control of the GOP. Campaign 2016 has unified America’s elites behind Hillary (for details see Campaign 2016: America passes into new hands). Except big things from the resulting powerhouse if Clinton wins.

“Then, suddenly, in a frenzy of violent hand gestures, Giuliani found another gear. “We must commit ourselves to unconditional victory against them!” he bellowed, with a flourish that could only be described as Hitlerian.”

Like the skill polemicist he is, Taibbi repeats one of his core themes. But it is a cheap thrill that anyone can produce by pointing to foes’ words and intoning how they resemble those of a historical bad guy (Stalin and Hitler remain in vogue for this tired game).

Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump wearing patent leather Nudist sandals by Stuart Weitzman ($398). AP Photo by Matt Rourke.

“The Republican Party under Trump has become the laughingstock of the world, and it happened in front of an invading force of thousands of mocking reporters who made sure that not one single excruciating moment was left uncovered. …Everyone piled on the Republicans, with pundits from George Will to David Brooks to Dan Savage all on the same side now. …Virtually every major publication in America has run with some version of the “Man, has this convention been one giant face-plant, or what?” story …it’s the journalists who are acting like fanatics, buttonholing every delegate in sight for embarrassed quotes about things like Melania’s plagiarism flap.”

Liberals’ response to this is nicely stated by Paul Krugman: “Why Are The Media Objectively Pro-Trump?” They have their delusional version of the Campaign: a racist NAZI inexplicably supported by US journalists, with liberals as noble defenders of the American Way. No wonder Gallup’s poll shows that the US public’s trust in the news media has continued its long decline, and hit a new low.

“We could never quite tell what he was: possibly the American Hitler… the Mussolinian head-bobs, the draped-in-flags Caesarean imagery, and his strongman promises.”

OK, we get the message. The issues are off-limit. Focus only on the authorized smears. But at in eventually Taibbi reveal his full powers of observation and insight.

“…the Trump convention itself was, after all, a historic revolt. Thirteen million and three hundred thousand Republican voters had defied the will of their party and soundly rejected hundred-million-dollar insider favorites like Jeb Bush to re-seize control of their own political destiny. That they made perhaps the most ridiculous choice in the history of democracy was really a secondary issue.

“It was a tremendous accomplishment that real-life conservative voters did what progressives could not quite do in the Democratic primaries. Republican voters penetrated the many layers of money and political connections and corporate media policing that, like the labyrinth of barricades around the Q, are designed to keep the riffraff from getting their mitts on the political process.

“But it wasn’t covered that way. What started a year ago as an amusing story about a clown car full of bumbling primary hopefuls was about to be described to the world not as a groundbreaking act of defiance, but as a spectacular failure of democracy.

“The once-divided media class now came together to gang-troll flyover America for its preposterous decision, turning the coverage of the convention into a parable on the evil of letting voters make up their own dumb minds. This was the Fatal Attraction of political coverage, a warning disguised as a story: Look what happens, you rubes, when you step outside the lines.”

Matt Taibbi
Photo by Griffin Lotz for Rolling Stone.

In this essay we see Taibbi attempting to grapple with this complex revolt by so many Americans. He despises their choice of candidates and many of the issues driving their revolt. He admires some of their issues and the power and cohesion of their movement. He seems befuddled by it all.


For all his brilliance, Taibbi shows no awareness that roughly 45% of likely voters (perhaps an even larger fraction of adults) support Trump. That gives a different perspective on his analysis. While liberals see only Trump’s buffoonery and racism, millions of American’s see populism. It has escaped from the bottle, and no dreams of US elites’ will contain them.


For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Campaign 2016, about ways to reform America’s politics, about Matt Taibbi, about the Republican Party, and especially these…

  1. What the press won’t tell you about Trump and populism — See Walter Russell Mead’s famous essay about Jackson.
  2. Why the Left is missing the rising populist movement.
  3. The Right struggles to understand Trump and populism.
  4. Liberals look at Trump and populism, but see only their prejudices.
  5. Populism arises amidst workers abandoned by the Left, seeking allies.
  6. Professor Mark Blyth explains the real roots of Brexit & Trump.

See Taibbi’s books. They’re worth reading.

Available at Amazon.
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
Available at Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Matt Taibbi visits the GOP convention. We can learn from what he doesn’t see.”

    1. wkevinw,

      What a weird rebuttal, as it does not remotely describe Matt Taibbi. Taibbi is the opposite of the isolated intellectual who thinks in abstract terms. Taleb’s natural environment is on the street, and he sees the world in terms of people and physical things. He has written from Moscow and Buffalo, he has covered the crime and sports beats, and usually adopts a ground-level view of the world.

      Also, how much of what you read on Zero Hedge is fiction? A lot of it. I could write a daily post about ZH’s misinformation and exaggerations (which they package as profitable clickbait). Here are a few examples. Did you believe these when you read them?

  1. Ed., I’ve been dumbfounded by the Republican Elite’s endorsement of Sen. Clinton as the alternative to Trump. I understand their opposition to him, but can’t understand why they would not endorse Gov. Johnson as an alternative. Theoretically, any republican should find more in common with Gov. Johnson than Sen. Clinton. Is there truly so little difference between the elites of the two parties that they now don’t even mind showing their cards? Or will they not endorse Gov. Johnson in fear of siphoning off Sen. Clinton’s votes thereby getting Trump elected. I’m guessing this is obvious to you, but I find it hard to reconcile an endorsement of Sen. Clinton with what I thought Republicans stood for.

    1. Dell,

      See this analysis by the always-interesting Michael Tracey — “Why Movement Conservatives Are Rooting for Hillary: Her victory is their only hope of preserving the status quo” at the American Conservative, 19 September 2016.

      Also, Johnson’s “libertarian” views are several steps beyond odd. Political tactics aside, someone has to actually run America’s government.

      “Theoretically, any republican should find more in common with Gov. Johnson than Sen. Clinton.”

      I doubt that’s correct. Trump and Clinton have a large overlap of views, as GOP and Dems usually have due to the high degree of social cohesion in America. Which is one reason our politics are so personalized. When candidates differ on issues, they can debate issues. When they agree on so many, they tell us their opponent is Satan.

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