Donald Trump and self-doubt: a proper noun and a human reality that have no business in the same sentence.
To be The Donald is to possess The Confidence. Its to revel in your own appeal. That hair, that birtherism who could resist? Certainly not the Republican Party, at least not in The Donalds objective estimation. So when the first round of speakers for the partys late August convention leaked out Sunday and he wasnt on it, he fretted not a whit. In due course he would surely get his summons to participate.
I know they want me to, he said on Monday on Fox and Friends. Ill see what happens.
So will we. The giddy excitement of Convention Season is here.
The Republicans go first, in Tampa, while the Democrats follow a week later, and just as humidly, in Charlotte. In the matter of convention sites, neither party gave much thought to global warming.
But the lineups of speakers: thats an issue of the utmost deliberation and sometimes consternation and enormous, epic consequence. All party stalwarts agree on that, until they think about it a bit longer and realize that, well, theyre really not so sure.
On Monday I talked to two prominent Republican strategists in a row who said that Mitt Romneys choice of keynote speaker, not yet determined, was essential. Then they tried to recall who that essential choice from the 2008 Republican convention was, and came up blank.
I myself had to Google it: Rudy Giuliani. There are some things you really do force yourself to forget.
One of the strategists asserted that Romneys greatest mistake would be to emulate the Democrats in 2004, when the keynoter, a certain Barack Obama, shone brighter than the nominee, John Kerry, perhaps making him look duller in contrast. The strategist did not admit per se that Romney had a luminescence problem. There are some things you really neednt say.
He recommended that Romney take a page from the Republican grand master of stagecraft, Ronald Reagan, and select a keynote speaker of restrained wattage.
Do you know who did the 1980 keynote for Reagan? he asked.
I said I was mortified that I didnt. I wasnt being entirely truthful about the mortification part.
Guy Vander Jagt, he said.
Exactly, he said. Reagan understood what it meant to be the star, and he had seen All About Eve.
Has Romney? And does Eve ride in an Escalade with Florida or New Jersey plates?
Those are the home states of the other strategists suggested keynoters, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. This strategist said that a real dynamo was just what the convention and Romney needed, and that Rubio and Christie qualified. Bear in mind that everything is relative, and that the dynamo yardstick includes Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt.
The conventions indeed speak volumes about each partys anxieties and stratagems, two words that fittingly bring us to Bill Clinton.
He was among the first speakers confirmed for a prime-time slot during the Democratic convention, proving that all is forgiven when everythings on the line. And hes meant, clearly, to remind Americans of the sustained prosperity during his administration, a Democratic one.
Another confirmed speaker, Elizabeth Warren, symbolizes the partys supposed taming of Wall Street, while the chosen keynoter, Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, underscores the importance Obama places on the Latino vote.
Over recent presidential elections, that vote has grown while the Republican share of it has shrunk. George W. Bush got 44 percent in 2004, John McCain just 31 in 2008. According to a recent poll, Romney is poised to get 23. Thats a dismal projection and disastrous trend line.
And Republicans will try to counter or at least camouflage it with convention staging. The first list of confirmed speakers includes Susana Martinez, the New Mexico governor. Theres not an iota of doubt that Rubio will be added to the roster, and theres a chance that Ted Cruz, the Republican nominee for the Senate from Texas, will be, too.
Will that help?
Well, said one Republican strategist, Bob Dole chose Susan Molinari as his keynote speaker and proceeded to lose the womens vote by 16 points. That was in 1996, the year of Clintons re-election, when the health care debacle was receding from memory and Monica Lewinsky had not yet sidled into view.
Im less heartened by whom the Republicans have included than by whom they havent, at least so far: Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain. It suggests a limit to the partys enthusiasm for carnival barkers.
And it doesnt bode well for The Donald. He may have to make do with the Statesman of the Year award that hes inexplicably receiving from the Republican Party of Sarasota County a day before the convention and an hours drive down the road.
Though if he re-emerges as El Donald, with fluent Spanish, all bets are off.
Frank Bruni is a columnist for The New York Times.