This week’s Free National Movement summit will thankfully be open, unlike Trump’s annointment in Ohio, Richard Coulson says . . .
Last week the US Republicans held their convention in Ohio and this week our Free National Movement (FNM) will hold theirs here in Nassau.
The two have one thing in common: they both mark the “outs” trying to become the “ins”.
As I watched TV snippets of the Grand Old Party’s Cleveland rumpus, I recalled the Republican convention of 1956 in San Francisco, where I was invited to take the big job of donning white coveralls to wield a hose inflating balloons rising from the floor of the vast Cow Palace - I was more visible than most of the delegates.
Sixty years ago America was a different world from today: complacent, tranquil, unthreatened. President Eisenhower, as promised, had ended the Korean War after 30,000 American deaths and was now running unopposed for his second term. Not only around the convention but across the country “I like IKE” buttons flashed on every street. Even the Democratic candidate, the estimable Adlai Stevenson, laughed “I like him too, but” and went down to a predicted crushing defeat.
As in 1956, this year’s Republican convention offered no real suspense. As expected, Donald Trump was quickly awarded the bulk of delegates. Looking only at the thousands of his gleeful, shouting, stomping supporters filling the Intuit Loans Arena, one might think Trump was wildly popular throughout America ... and would be totally wrong. On the first afternoon, an unprecedented near riot erupted on the floor when the Chairman overruled anti-Trump delegates on a crucial rules issue. On Tuesday night, over 700 delegates out of 2,400 voted formally for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio or John Kasich. The speakers’ list was bare of Republican luminaries like the Bush family, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Lindsay Graham - even Sarah Palin, too snug up in Alaska!
Senator Mitch McConnell’s and Congressman Paul Ryan’s dutiful endorsements were lukewarm at best, and Kasich, Republican governor of the host state, gave the ultimate snub by refusing to attend. The pro-Trump speakers were slanted much more anti-Hillary Clinton: “Lock her up!” demanded retired General Michael Flynn, and “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty” declaimed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Then, on the third night, Cruz was cheered on to the speakers’ platform for his expected Trump endorsement and later booed off it when he flatly refused to say the words. Bitter spite between the two would surface soon once again.
Clearly, even within the arena, the vocal enthusiasts did not represent the Republican unity that party leaders had desperately wished. And out across the nation, they lead but one faction of the fractured Republicans, the blue-collar evangelical Christian populists whose interests have been too long ignored by the fancy-pants party chieftains in Washington. And, of course, they barely make a dent in the vast number of traditional Democrats, ranging from blacks, Latinos and big-city unionists to modern career women and “brain” workers.
Donald Trump’s acceptance speech on the final night, warning of national doom that only he could conquer, did nothing to heal any breaches as he was preaching to the already converted. It’s hard to believe that, in November, the angry Trump bloc will prevail. Unpopular Hillary Clinton may be outside her little clique, grossly careless of sensitive e-mails; nevertheless I predict, perhaps rashly, that voters will prefer her. It may be a strange election, decided by cross-overs: Democrats who loathe Hillary so much that they vote for Trump, and Republicans who despise Trump enough to vote for Hillary.
Here in Nassau I meet Trump supporters understandably fed up with “political correctness” - but how could our nation ever feel warm towards a Republican administration of old-line white Americans who, after all these years, still barely accept black people as their equals? To maintain the diplomatic civilities, one wonders who Trump would find to be his ambassador.
Our imminent FNM convention is not a lock-up like what we just saw in Cleveland. We will have an “open” event in which the preference of the 410 delegates may not be known until the final count. We can be sure that this week they are being vigorously canvassed and stroked (I will not say “rewarded”) by both sides, but in the absence of the omnipresent polls that chart every US political trend (why don’t we have at least one professional Bahamian poll-taker?), I have no basis for predicting between the Minnis/Tunquest team and their Butler-Turner/Sands opponents, or even a possible Papa Ingraham surprise.
I have a totally unscientific hunch that Dr Minnis has the edge, having re-created himself as the lively “Roc wit Doc” and overcome the smell of fish delivered by dead-beat Toggie (or is it Toogie?) Bullard. Whatever the result, the winner and the loser and “The Gang of Six” must bury any previous grudges and join forces to present a unified front - and look better organised than when scratching for last-minute cash to pay convention bills. The new leader cannot forget that even today’s wounded Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) can call out thousands of devoted loyalists to cast unthinking ballots.
That man or woman will not have any idea who he or she will face in battling the PLP. The choice made by the so-called People’s Party remains a multi-faced enigma that may not be resolved until their November convention. We read columnists every day who claim that Perry Christie is “delusional” in claiming that he is supported by young Bahamians and that national stability demands him to stay on. But columnists and their literate readers don’t call the crucial shots, which are fired by the roughly 2,400 party delegates entitled to vote. Many of them are long-time “stalwarts” linked to Mr Christie by his warm friendship or by steady jobs. If they stay solid, he will be hard to dislodge.
But even loyal stalwarts may fade away if they sense a true groundswell of national opinion surging against their favourite, and waves of this are already emerging from the traditionally reliable “over-the-hill” constituencies. Mr Christie knows how to keep his ear to the ground, and a major erosion of his power base may compel a graceful retreat suitable for this respected elder statesman.
Then what? Will he simply leave the bones to be fought over by his hungry ministers Davis, Mitchell, Wilchcombe, Gibson and Fitzgerald? Or, Mexican style, will he anoint one of them by pointing a firm-fingered “dedazo”, possibly at his apparent favourite, the tall-but-tarnished Jerome Fitzgerald? He has made amply clear his doubts that any of them can lead his beloved PLP to victory and beyond.
Maybe his dilemma will be solved by the old/new face of his friend Alfred Sears riding in like Shane to save the homestead from the bandits. Already a sure bet to retake Fort Charlotte for the PLP, smooth attorney Sears might ease Perry’s path up to the pleasant sinecure of Governor-General, where he could still enjoy the pomp and circumstance of prominence without the burdens of responsibility. It would take all of Sears’ skill to negotiate the stand-down of the dignified Dame Marguerite, particularly to a politician who delayed her ceremonial cutting of the Independence cake. But anything is possible.
The next ten months will be an exciting time for Bahamian politics. Today, no one knows who will lead either of our two main parties. Maybe the electorate, disappointed with both of them, will turn to the Democratic National Alliance or even elevate the hopeful minority outfits that seem to be springing up like weeds. This time, we will not be accused of clinging to the stodgy politics of the past.
• Richard Coulson is a retired lawyer and investment banker born in Nassau and from a long line of Bahamians. He is a financial consultant and author of A Corkscrew Life - adventures of a travelling financier. Comments and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.