CLEVELAND, Ohio — The sun baked the plaza outside the Quicken Loans Arena, as the lines grew for cool beer and ice-cold bottled water. I was walking through in my dark suit, weaving through plastic tables, trying to reach the media center — and air conditioning — as soon as possible.
An elderly woman called me over to her table, where she had draped her cane across the edge. She recognized me and offered me a hug — of course! A former campaign volunteer from my Illinois run.
She was thrilled with the convention, she told me. She had been to several, and this was the best.
There was one big difference this time, she observed: fewer politicians in the delegation, and fewer bigwigs. The Senator, the Representatives, and all the other people trying to get re-elected were terrified of being associated with Trump.
That meant more seats on the convention floor for ordinary people — for the party grass roots, the rank-and-file, even the Tea Party activists.
It also meant fewer freebies. “There’s no money in it this time,” she said. Because the politicians weren’t coming, the lobbyists stayed away. The accommodation was cheaper, the parties harder to find.
That suited her just fine. It was the people’s turn.
A couple from Indiana settled in at the next table. I scanned the man’s name tag for anything I might recognize. Was he some kind of official? “I’m a farmer,” he said. “Corn and soybeans. 6,000 acres.”
That’s who came to Cleveland for Donald Trump.
Who else came? Gay people, and young people, who packed Milo Yiannopolous’s party with Breitbart on the second night of the convention, most of whom probably had never attended anything with the word “Republican” in it until he came along.
And who else? Black people, and Hispanic people, and Jewish people, and veterans, who weren’t walked across the stage in a kind of symbolic show of diversity for the cameras, but who proudly waved their Trump signs from the convention floor.
Who didn’t come? The usual suspects — the politicians who frequent the Sunday morning shows, who rarely say anything new, and whose appearances onstage at past conventions were the equivalent of a giant “intermission” sign — a cue to kibbitz.
They thought they were helping the party by refusing to endorse Donald Trump. They were right: the convention was so much more interesting without them. We heard from, and saw, people that the party gatekeepers had kept at bay for years.
Donald Trump executed a hostile takeover. He saw an undervalued asset — opposition — and a failing business model. The party narrowly rejected Ted Cruz’s competing bid. Thanks to both, the shareholders won. And they’re not selling and walking away — at least, not most of them. They have a stake. And the hostility is fading, because the investment is paying off.
Trump has thrown the party wide open, raised the big tent and torn off the roof.
Peter Thiel sent beanie propellers spinning in left-wing Silicon Valley by daring to be gay, and proud, onstage — and by winning applause for it.
Ivanka Trump spoke directly to mothers who want equal pay and maternity leave — without needing or wanting the government to force someone to give it to them.
The families of people murdered by illegal aliens had the ear of the nation for the first time, thanks to Donald Trump.
As Thiel said, you don’t have to agree with everything. (I don’t even agree with Thiel, who took a swipe at the wars in the Middle East.) That’s the point of a big tent.
What united everyone in the room was the fact that everyone put “America first.” Donald Trump took that dusty old slogan, wiped away the grime of Second World War isolationism, and presented it to the nation as something new — what his friend Tom Barrack called the “diamond” at the heart of the American self-image.
Look beyond the media filter, and the snark of social media, and talk to someone who was there. This was the people’s party.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, will be published by Regnery on July 25 and is available for pre-order through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.