The 2016 Republican National Convention gets underway on July 18, and it’s expected to be a lively few days, to put it mildly. With a number of protest groups expected to turn up to voice their displeasure at presumptive nominee Donald Trump, many are fearful that violence could occur. There’s also an expectation that sparks could fly within the convention itself, with the Republican Party far from unified.
College Writer and Multimedia Producer Tom Porter spoke with Associate Professor of Government Jeffrey Selinger .
Listen to the interview (audio may take a few seconds to load)
Edited interview transcript
Tom Porter: Quite a few people seemed worried about the possibility of violence at the convention. You’ve written a book about political violence (Embracing Dissent, 2016). What are your thoughts on this?
Jeffrey Selinger: Yes, this is a very real concern I think. It’s not common that there are very public concerns expressed about people staying safe at the convention of a major American political party. We haven’t heard anything like this for quite some time. The last time there was actual rioting and a significant spell of it was in 1968. The kind of violence that I discuss in my book focuses first and foremost on threats of violence that pose a challenge to the structure of government – for example, threats of secession or participation in foreign wars that may provoke civil war or mobbing that the federal government cannot control.
I don’t think anyone is really in doubt about uncontrolled violence (at the convention), but there is good reason to have cause for concern for the safety of the people that are going to the convention. It’s expected there will be active and vocal protesters from the left, and from the far right as well. Among others there will be the Bikers for Trump who like to carry and show their arms. Ohio is an open carry state so there’s going to be a lot of provocative words being exchanged between groups of angry people and some of them are going to be very well armed. It’s going to be a particular challenge for law enforcement officials so there is very good reason to have concern for the safety of people who are going to be attending or protesting at the convention.
TP: What are your thoughts on the choice of Indiana governor Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate?
JS: It’s a surprisingly safe choice for such a risk-taker. Mike Pence is a fairly well-known quantity. He served in Congress for some time in the leadership among congressional Republicans. He then went on to serve as governor of Indiana. He hasn’t been so popular of late and some have speculated that he’s looking for a place on Trump’s ticket because he doesn’t want to stand for re-election in Indiana. But it seems to be a kind of pick that is not going to really change the essential makeup of the race with Hillary Clinton. It’s hard to make the case that Mike Pence is going to appeal to undecided voters. Undecided voters tend to be some mix of either political moderates, or moderate suburban Republicans who aren’t particularly conservative on social issues. There are also those on the left who were (Bernie) Sanders supporters, and there may be some who are white working class. Mike Pence is going to help strengthen or unite the constituency of voters who are already aligned with Trump. I think evangelicals have gotten behind him and this may strengthen that support. It may help Trump a little bit in some battleground states, Indiana, of course, and maybe Ohio, but it’s certainly not a game-changer.
TP: What’s your reaction to the choice of speakers who will be on the stage at the convention?
JS: The lineup of speakers is more significant for who is absent. It’s really been striking, but not surprising, that George W. Bush is not on the list, of course Mitt Romney is not there, (Arizona Senator) John McCain is also absent, so the past nominees for the Republican Party are not there. That is an historically significant turn, and outside of politicians, not only do you not have A-list familiar faces, maybe not even B-list, I mean you have the president of the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting … I don’t know what the ‘C’ is…
TP: Ultimate Fighting Championship, I think.
JS: Yes, but you know he (Trump) said we were going to hear voices from the “real world.” I don’t know if the UFC is a useful, helpful proxy for the real world, unless we’re entering a really dystopian universe where the UFC becomes an important employer in the United States. But yes, there are some marginal figures, some interesting, curious characters. Probably the most important in the Republican Party beyond Trump, Paul Ryan, will be speaking. There are some senators and some legislators who will be there. But I think the story either pertains to who is not on that list and what’s happening outside.