- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2016

CLEVELAND — Donald Trump’s unconventional convention here will present a difficult target for rival Hillary Clinton and the Democrats when they meet next week in Philadelphia, American Conservative Union President Matt Schlapp said in an interview Wednesday.

With unapologetic, unfiltered attacks on the presumptive Democratic nominee delivered by a list of speakers heavy on nonpoliticians and members of Mr. Trump’s own family, the Republican National Convention already represents an “interesting” experiment in political messaging, Mr. Schlapp said.

“I don’t think Hillary Clinton has any idea what to make of all of this,” he said, “and it’s clear they have no idea how to respond.”

Even with the distraction sparked by the controversy around Melania Trump’s opening night speech, Mr. Schlapp, a former political director in the George W. Bush White House and an influential voice among the party’s conservative base, said the first two days had been strong ones for the party and its nominee.

“They’ve accomplished what they needed to accomplish,” he said. “Hillary Clinton’s negatives are so high, the only question left is, are they ready to vote for him?”

Like many conservatives wary of some of Mr. Trump’s breaks with conservative orthodoxy, Mr. Schlapp praised highly the selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as the vice presidential nominee.

He rejected criticisms that the fervent attacks on Mrs. Clinton from the dais and from the convention floor — delegates have chanted on multiple occasions, “Lock her up” — may be turning off independent voters Mr. Trump will need in the fall.

“The crowd reactions were pretty honest to my way of thinking,” he said. “I’ll admit that at some past conventions there was an effort to soften some of the harder edges and appeal to the middle. That’s not how this is playing out.”

Will it work?

“We’re about to find out,” he said.

Some Republican strategists have expressed concerns about the tone of the first days of the Cleveland gathering. But Mr. Schlapp said the convention lineup reflects the candidate’s confidence in his appeal.

Mr. Trump “is not hiding anything. He’s not afraid to have someone from the NRA, some strong conservative voices in the media addressing the delegates,” Mr. Schlapp said. “That’s not always what was done in the past.”

And he said there was little point in holding back on Mrs. Clinton given the attacks the Democrats are expected to launch on Mr. Trump when they gather on Monday.

“They let it all hang out” when it comes to attack politics, Mr. Schlapp said, “and they make no apologies for it. I don’t expect to see much appeal to the middle when the Democrats get together.”


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