Trump aide should have partied like it’s 1996, San Diego

July 24, 2016 GMT

Last week, Paul Manafort probably wished he had stepped into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and landed in San Diego, 1996.

That’s when Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and manager of the GOP convention in Cleveland, was the manager of the Republican convention here.

The San Diego convention that nominated Sen. Bob Dole was orderly, without noticeable dissent, and, frankly, kind of boring.

Things that the Trump convention was not.

The proceedings were so dull and lacking in news that Ted Koppel, then the anchor of ABC’s popular “Nightline” news show, collected his crew and departed before the convention was over. There was little expectation of exciting political developments going in, but Koppel et al made their move with considerable fanfare, protesting the heavily scripted events national political conventions had become.


No news folk dared leave Cleveland. Who knew what would happen next?

Conventions then and now are essentially four-day advertisements for the candidate and his or her party. Only once in a generation or two, it seems, does one open with the prospect of unpredictability.

In San Diego, Manafort did not have to deal with an open floor revolt against the expected nominee and he certainly didn’t spend two days talking about the speech by the nominee’s wife and whether any of it was plagiarized — from the incumbent first lady. He didn’t have to face questions about why prime-time speakers weren’t endorsing Dole. The Dole camp simply kept dissenters off the stage.

One of the biggest controversies wasn’t what did or didn’t happen at the convention, but with the site itself. The San Diego Convention Center was small compared with other locations.

The city sought the 1992 GOP convention, but it went to Houston, in part officials said, because the convention hall was too small, the ceiling too low and the pillars potentially messed with the TV sight lines.

“Those pillars are killers,” one RNC staffer quipped during a visit as the party was weighing its options.

Size matters in such cases, but it’s not the only thing that counts. Houston ponied up more money and word was that presumptive nominee and then-Vice President George Bush wanted his coronation in his adopted home state.

The size concern came up during the next convention competition, but the San Diego prevailed and put on a successful, if bland, event that nevertheless showcased the city nicely on national TV. But then we know that our pretty face goes a long way, and distracts from our shortcomings.


Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the San Diego convention didn’t fully surface until years later, according to RealClearPolitics, which referenced “The Control Room: How Television Calls the Shots in Presidential Elections” by Martin Plissner, the late CBS News political director.

There was a rumored walkout by some delegates during the speech of Colin Powell, who had served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administration of the first President Bush. Some conservative party members wanted to protest his support of abortion rights and affirmative action.

Manafort said that he filled the aisles with other delegates near the potential protesters.

“They were locked in their seats, couldn’t move,” Manafort told Plissner. “No walkout. No way, too, you guys could get to them.”

Perhaps the convention center’s tight quarters helped Manafort’s strategy achieve success.

Many city leaders were ecstatic in the aftermath of the 1996 Republican National Convention. Not only did it run smoothly, but several felt San Diego got all the great exposure they could have hoped for.

The city is still paying the price, however. Officials back then shorted the city pension fund to help finance several things they wanted, the convention being among them.

That action contributed to the still-huge pension system deficit that nearly bankrupt the city years later and forced the resignation of Mayor Dick Murphy.

A proposed $205 million bond to build 18 fire stations in the city of San Diego seemed destined to go before voters in November, after it received initial backing from the City Council.

But a subsequent vote to declare the bond a necessity was required and that needed a six-vote majority. That didn’t seem to be a problem, given the six of the nine council members voted for it the first time around.

When the council took the second vote Tuesday, Councilwoman Lori Zapf flipped and voted against it. Though Zapf is among the broad consensus that agrees more fire stations are needed, she said she shifted her position because of the ongoing cost to staff them. The bonds can’t be used to hire and pay for the firefighters needed for the station, which could cost up to $25 million annually out of the general fund.

Zapf said she preferred to prioritize a handful of the most-needed stations and pay for them out of existing capital funds.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, the lead proponent for the bond, later cried foul. She told KPBS the bond was defeated because she refused to engage in a vote-swapping scheme with Mayor Kevin Faulconer. She said Faulconer’s chief of staff Steven Puetz promised her six votes for the firehouse bond if she would help block an election reform proposal from going on the ballot. That measure would require city elections to be determined in November, thus doing away with the ability of candidates to win outright in the primary if they gain a majority of votes.

Emerald said she wouldn’t do it. A response from Zapf, a Faulconer ally, was not included in the article

Faulconer’s office rejected Emerald’s accusation, telling KPBS in an email: “Her comment is untrue.”

Goes to Matt Pearce (@mattpearce) of the Los Angeles Times

“CA GOP has suffered declining registration, electoral impotency + Sandusky exile during #RNCinCLE. And now norovirus”