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As Republican National Convention Ends, Some Note A Lack Of Policy Discussion05:05
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana as confetti and balloons fall during celebrations after Trump's acceptance speech on the final day of the Republican National Convention. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana as confetti and balloons fall during celebrations after Trump's acceptance speech on the final day of the Republican National Convention. (Matt Rourke/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Thursday night in Cleveland, the balloons came down and Republicans celebrated, after Donald Trump stated his case to be the nation's next president. Trump laid responsibility for lawlessness at home and terrorism abroad on Hillary Clinton — and promised to return the country to "safety, prosperity and peace."

The speech capped four days of political surprises, divisions and drama. But for all that went on at the Republican National Convention this week, some say there was little talk of real policy.

Among those who say there was a notable absence of detailed policy proposals is John Sivolella. He's a Massachusetts delegate who supported Marco Rubio — and a political scientist with Boston's libertarian Pioneer Institute.

"When you're in a situation, you have most of a week to talk about the party and talk about the candidate. Part of that week should be set aside to mention some policy specifics," Sivolella said.

But for the most part, he says, that didn't happen. And he says the dearth of policy detail reflects the party's new leader.

Sivolella says Donald Trump offers a lot of emotion and big goals, but few policy details.

"You know, he's taken the macro-approach, kind of the broad political leader approach of changing paths," he said.

For example, in his speech Thursday night, Trump promised to make America safe again, but didn't really explain how to get there.

"My plan will begin with safety at home, which means safe neighborhoods, secure borders and protection from terrorism," Trump said to the crowd in Cleveland. "There can be no prosperity without law and order."

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Another observer who believes that this convention was relatively short on policy proposals or debates is Ken Rudin, a former political editor for NPR and host of the Political Junkie podcast.

"You didn't hear that at the convention. There were questions about uniting behind Donald Trump and certainly attacking Hillary Clinton — that was the big two themes here," Rudin said. "He was against the war in Iraq from the beginning — that was questionable — but he picked Mike Pence who was for the war, and you say, well is there going to be a little mini-debate. You didn't hear any of that in the convention in 2016."

Rudin says by contrast, many past conventions offered big policy discussions and debates: In 1964, Republicans debated Barry Goldwater's foreign policy. In '68 the Democrats debated Vietnam. And more recently, in 2008, they debated the war in Iraq.

"Those kind of policy questions -- Vietnam, the economy, Iraq, things like that — in previous conventions, were big, big issues," Rudin said.

But Lou Murray, a delegate from Quincy, argues that modern conventions aren't the place to get bogged down in policy details because it's not what the voters want.

"And it's not the time for PowerPoint plans like Mitt Romney was constantly pulling out of his back pocket. You just come off as dull and robotic, and that's what the American voter ultimately thought of Mitt Romeny," Murray said. "Unlike Mitt Romney, when Donald Trump talks about 'We're going to make America first again, we're going to make America secure again,' the people know what he's talking about, and we don't need a brochure left on our seats here on the convention floor to tell each and every step of the way he's going to do it."

But Sivolella, Murray's fellow delegate, disagrees with that. He understands that Trump is leading a populist movement and not a policy seminar. But he says Democrats are talking about some policy specifics — like how to make college more affordable and health care more available. And says Republicans should get specific, too.

"And you need these proposals — to put them out there — to get a robust discussion going, to kind of connect the dots between your grassroots and between the goals you want to reach," Sivolella said.

On the convention floor Thursday night, one prominent Republican rejected the idea that this convention lacked policy specifics: It was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who spoke Wednesday night. He became defensive that the question was even asked.

"I gave a speech that was as definitive and authoritative on national defense and the war with radical Islamism as you're going to hear. Somehow that doesn't count," Gingrich told me.

I asked if he could respond to folks who say there's not a lot of policy being discussed.

He said: "I suspect by the time they get done with Pence's speech and now with Trump's speech — you go through Pence's speech, he talked about policy after policy. Listen, I assume that the elite media is the other team's offensive line. I don't ever expect you to be fair to us or to ever give us a break."

And with that, Gingrich ended the interview before I could make the point that the question had come from a fellow Republican.

This segment aired on July 22, 2016.

Related:

Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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