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 CollinsFormer GOP lawmaker and Trump ally Chris Collins begins prison sentence Federal prosecutor opposes delaying prison time for former Rep. Chris Collins Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention 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 ManafortDOJ veteran says he's quitting over Barr's 'slavish obedience' to Trump Bruce Ohr retires from DOJ Don't forget: The Trump campaign gave its most sensitive data to a Russian spy MORE, Trump’s former campaign manager, who was convicted of bank fraud and tax fraud; Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenMichael Cohen writing second book on Trump administration's Justice Department Bruce Ohr retires from DOJ Trump again asks Supreme Court to shield tax records 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 BannonSunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 Feds investigating if alleged Hunter Biden emails connected to foreign intelligence operation: report Democrats' cowardice must end: It's time to teach the GOP a lesson 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 TillersonOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Gary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November Kushner says 'Alice in Wonderland' describes Trump presidency: Woodward book 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 MattisJohn Kelly called Trump 'the most flawed person' he's ever met: report Biden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies Trump says he wanted to take out Syria's Assad but Mattis opposed it 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 BoltonJohn Kelly called Trump 'the most flawed person' he's ever met: report Bolton: North Korea 'more dangerous now' Demand for Trump-related titles sparks expected record year for political books 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 PutinBlessing for Trump: a campaign devoid of foreign policy Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict adds to Putin's headaches, West's worries Trump's hunt for foreign policy wins hits Russian wall 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."