Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention

Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention
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Like all political conventions in the United States, the Republicans’ (virtual) gathering last week was an exercise in spin, with star turns by Trump children, in-laws, members of his base, and the president himself. To anyone who follows politics, however, many once-avid supporters who know a lot about Mr. Trump and his policies were conspicuous by their absence.

A short list of these individuals includes (and speaks volumes about Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp”): Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsGOP senator on Trump pardons: 'It is legal, it is constitutional, but I think it's a misuse of the power' Nothing becomes Donald Trump's presidency like his leaving it Pardoning elected officials sends the wrong message MORE (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, who pleaded guilty to insider trading charges and making false statements to federal law enforcement officials; Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who pleaded guilty (twice) to lying to federal investigators; Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortNo pardon for Trump Michael Cohen predicts people Trump pardoned may testify against him Roger Stone thanked Trump for pardon during exchange at West Palm Beach club MORE, Trump’s former campaign manager, who was convicted of bank fraud and tax fraud; Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenEx-Trump lawyer Cohen to pen foreword for impeachment book Trump tells aides not to pay Giuliani's legal fees: report Trump in new legal jeopardy after Capitol riots MORE, Trump’s former personal attorney, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations; a trio of former Cabinet officers — former HHS Secretary Tom Price, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — who all resigned in the wake of allegations of ethics violations; and Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonTrump has sought Bannon's consultation to overturn election results: Bloomberg Facebook's 'stop the steal' ban misses 90 groups promoting election misinformation: analysis YouTube temporarily bars uploading of new content on Trump's channel MORE, the architect of Trump’s campaign and chief strategist in the White House, who has been charged with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. 

Also haunting the Convention was the specter of the unprecedented number of high-level former administration officials who have publicly criticized the president. Their assessments provide as yet undecided voters a relevant perspective on claims about Trump’s judgment, values, and performance in office:


When he nominated Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTillerson: 'We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea' State Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies Lawmakers express concern about lack of young people in federal workforce MORE, the former CEO of Exxon, as Secretary of State, Trump declared that his “career is the embodiment of the American dream… I can think of no one more prepared, and no one more dedicated to serve as Secretary of State at this crucial time in our history.”  Tillerson, Trump added, “is a world class player.”

While in office, Tillerson told colleagues (depending on the account) that the president was a “moron” or an “[expletive deleted] moron.” After Tillerson was fired, he claimed that Trump was “pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t like to get into details,” and wanted to take actions that violate the law.

When he tapped former Marine Corps General John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE as his Chief of Staff, Trump declared, “He is a Great American… and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my administration.”

In 2020 Kelly advised Americans, “to look harder at who we elect… put them through the filter and ask ‘What is their character like? What are their ethics?’”

When he announced the appointment of James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog to probe extremism in US military | FBI chief warns of 'online chatter' ahead of inauguration | House conservative bloc opposes Austin waiver Conservative caucus opposes waiver for Biden's Pentagon pick Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE as Secretary of Defense, Trump lauded the retired Marine general as “strong, highly dignified” and “the closest thing we have to General George Patton.” 


In 2020, outraged by Trump’s response in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and his use of the military to disperse protestors, Mattis asserted, “We must reject and hold to account those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.” Trump, he added, “is the first President of my life who does not try to unite the people — and does not even pretend to try.”

While John BoltonJohn BoltonAfter insurrection: The national security implications McConnell won't reprise role as chief Trump defender Cyber czar to draw on new powers from defense bill MORE served as National Security Adviser, Trump told reporters “John is very good. I get very good advice from John.” 

In 2020, Bolton revealed that Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBill Burns knows Russia inside out — and that will be critical to Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? Overnight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home MORE played Trump “like a fiddle”; White House meetings resembled “food fights,” he said, and Trump was obsessed with giving the dictator of North Korea a DVD of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”

“Hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations,” Bolton has concluded that Trump is “impulsive,” “stunningly uninformed,” “sees conspiracies behind rocks” and is “unfit for office.”

Since the GOP Convention was promoted as a “family affair,” it may be appropriate to conclude with the assessment of Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s older sister, who has known him longer than any living person. In remarks recorded by her niece, the retired federal judge bemoaned “the change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying.”

“All he wants to do,” she said, “is appeal to his base. He has no principles. None. None.”

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."