Fox News' Chris Wallace: Trump Will Make GOP Convention 'More Surprising Than Usual'
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23: Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, seen on the set of his show at the Fox offices near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 23, 2015. Wallace will be hosting the first debate in the Republican presidential primary and is working on his preparations for the task. Wallace said that his goal is to engage candidates in conversation with each other and avoid a scene that feels like ten separate news conferences. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
I attended my first presidential convention in 1964 as Walter Cronkite’s gofer, and since then, I have covered 17 more. This time, I’m going to be a “wise man,” and along with Brit Hume will help put the Republican convention in perspective for viewers. We’ve seen a lot of conventions, so if we say we’ve never seen something before, it hasn’t happened in a very long time.
As an NBC floor reporter in 1980, I was party to one of the most dramatic moments at a convention, when it was very much up in the air who would be the vice presidential running mate for Ronald Reagan. He was trying to work out a deal for a kind of copresidency with former President Gerald Ford. When that fell apart on the night of the nomination, I broke the story that George H.W. Bush would be Reagan’s running mate.
Today’s conventions are more produced to make good TV. Since the ’90s, the primaries have settled who the presidential nominee will be well in advance of the event, and the nominee plays a big role in deciding who will speak each night. What’s so exciting this time is that there’s such division inside the Republican Party that the convention’s delegates may go off script and not give the votes to presumptive nominee Donald Trump. News might happen at the Republican convention for the first time in about 20 years.
I tend to doubt, however, that we’ll see signs of the “Stop Trump” movement on the floor. Unless the Republican National Committee changes the rules, which would be dramatic but pretty unlikely, almost all the delegates are legally bound to vote on the first ballot for whomever won their state’s primary. If they do, Trump has that sealed up. So while there is at least the possibility of a revolt at the convention to try to change the rules and nominate someone else if Trump continues to make highly controversial remarks, it is doubtful it will succeed. If Trump is the nominee, I think the delegates will probably confirm his vice presidential choice as well.
You could still see some fights among the delegates on his platform. Much of what Trump is calling for, whether immigration, trade or the U.S.’s role in the world, is different from traditional Republican doctrine. I suspect we’ll see some battles on that. But while we pay great attention to the party platform before and during a convention, once it’s over we promptly forget about it. In the general election, you don’t vote on the party platform; you vote on the candidate.
Outside the arena, I believe it will be pretty wild in the streets of Cleveland. You’ve got to figure that thousands of people are coming to the city to express their discontent with Donald Trump. I hope they will be peaceful First Amendment protests, but given what we’ve seen so far this year, you certainly can’t count on that. Violent demonstrations helped Nixon in ’68 and ’72, and I suspect they would probably help Trump.
What’s also interesting this year is that we’ve never had a convention that’s been managed by someone as unconventional as Donald Trump, a guy who doesn’t seem to know from one day to the next what he’s going to do. He’s on record as saying that political conventions are boring and he’s promised one that will be more exciting and compelling. It’ll be more surprising than usual, but you never know whether things are going to be entertaining. Four years ago at the Republican convention, Clint Eastwood had a conversation with an empty chair. The organizers thought it would be gangbusters and it turned out to be a disaster. Whatever happens, it is fair to say the event will be one of a kind. As a newsman who doesn’t like talking points and politicians who follow scripts, that’s going to make it much more interesting for me to cover.
The most important thing if you don’t have a lot of time to watch the convention is to watch the candidate’s acceptance speech. That gives you a sense of the nominee and the issues he’s going to run on as he tries to become the next president of the United States. —As told to Ileane Rudolph
America’s Election Headquarters, Monday–Thursday, July 18–21, 10/9c, Fox News Channel
Fox News Sunday Sundays, 2/1c, Fox News Channel.