Not everyone had such an easy road to Cleveland as Donald Trump.
Flight delays, lost luggage, confusing airport signage luring veteran journalists into abandoned factories, trapping them in dilapidated elevators — what’s a convention without a little drama?
Monday morning. I awake at what I think is 6 AM, in a broken elevator somewhere near the Cleveland city center. I am roused by a ripping noise that a cub reporter trapped in his first elevator might think is rats but a veteran reporter knows to be the sound of copper wiring being stolen.
With the Republican National Convention gaveling open in just 7 hours, I do a gut check and decide my need to break free from this urine-soaked public accommodation is greater than my fear of riling up some thieves.
I swallow deep and yelp, “Governor Kasich, is that you? It’s me! Carl Diggler! I’m not a cop!”
Heartbeat. Heartbeat. Some furtive whispers. Then a voice calls out: “Carlo, that you? Hey! No Name! Admiral Joe! That’s Kinky Diggler! Get him outta the damn piss box, he ain’t no snitch!”
I’m sitting on the metal-strewn shop floor of a decommissioned landmine factory with vagrant Ohio Governor John Kasich and his entourage. They feed me generous helpings of hobo stew while commiserating with me about my future lawsuit against Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for dangerous and unacceptable signage conditions.
“Hell, Carlito, I’ve been tryin’ to get that airport shut down for years now,” spits Gov. Kasich as he cleans his teeth with a fishbone. “Their regulations on folks just trying to charge their phone – NOT griftin’ airfare or nothing – are unconstitutional. Un-con-sti-TUTIONAL.”
As a journalist I’m not supposed to get sentimental towards a source, but in my time on the campaign trail with John Kasich I’ve developed a certain rapport with the homeless ex-Presidential candidate. I predicted his second place finish in the New Hampshire primary, I watched him flee a burning church in Wisconsin, and I didn’t call the police when he danced for quarters on the NYC subway. To say the least, he’s a sight for sore pundit eyes, even if he did snooker me into buying a nonexistent timeshare… twice.
“Thank you for the warm Ohio welcome, Governor. But I need to check into my hotel and get to the convention floor. Are you coming?”
The three of them snicker.
“Carlito, your reservation’s no good no more,” says Kasich. “They’re overbooked! Every damn hotel! And don’t even try [mumbling] in the damn bathroom. Even if it’s so-called ‘public!’
“There ain’t no room at that inn. You’re better off stickin’ with us.”
“You’re not going to the convention?” I ask.
“HELL no I’m not going!” Kasich smashes the bottle of triple sec he’s been sipping on a pile of shrapnel. “All those turkeys have flown, Carlo. If Rubio had been the nominee, there’d be Brooks Brothers suckers as far as the eye can see. But with Trump in charge? There just ain’t no one to grift on.”
“Not to mention Ted Cruuuuuz is there!” squeals No Name, Kasich’s nervy strategist, so called because lost his name in a game of poker.
“You’re better off stickin’ with Cuyahoga Johnny,” says Kasich. “We’ll show you the REAL Buckeye State.”
Tired, dirty, and disoriented, I somehow agree.
An hour-long freight train later and we’re in Cincinnati for the NAACP national convention, where Gov. Kasich is scheduled to speak. No Name failed to hop the rail on account of his bum leg, but Kasich and Admiral Joe are here in high spirits.
“I’m big in the Afro-American community, Carlos,” brags the Governor as he slaps some backs and smoothly delivers a series of complicated handshakes. While Trump’s campaign may dismiss minority voters, it’s clear that Kasich views them as part of the broad coalition that twice won him the Ohio Governor’s mansion.
After filling his pockets with corn flakes from the complimentary breakfast table, Kasich takes the stage.
“Brothers, sisters, how are we doing? Everything crackin’ right now?
“Now, a lot of folks are talking that jive, whether it’s that New York City honkey and his buster walls–you know what I’m talking about!”
The crowd murmurs in confusion.
“This guy knows what I’m sayin’,” Kasich yells, pointing to a man in the audience who stares at him, motionless.
“But when you’re just trying to hustle some copper you found to feed your family, or dropping some bottles off so you can get your old lady off the hook, you don’t want some guy who’s got it out for you. I’m talkin’ 5-0.”
I hear grumbling from the audience. The Governor is losing the moment. Just as Kasich is about to break into an ill-advised “showtime” routine, a commotion breaks out in the first row.
“SIR CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY ARE THESE RIBBONS ARE COUNTERCLOCKWISE ON A NON-REGULATION COMBAT UNIFORM??!”
Kasich’s advisor Admiral Joe is shoving a cracked-screen Nokia phone in the face of an elderly veteran. The man is in a wheelchair, his uniform bearing multiple decorations including a Congressional Gold Medal and three Purple Hearts.
The old veteran explains, hoarsely, “I was in the 332nd Fighter Group out of Tuskegee—”
“SIR, I AM NOT DETAINING YOU,” screams Admiral Joe. “I DO NOT RECOGNIZE THAT PARTICULAR UNIT THEREFORE YOU ARE STEALING MY VALOR.”
Admiral Joe taps one of his epaulettes. “SOME OF US ACTUALLY EARNED THESE IN THE FRONTIER OF WARFARE, NOT ‘TUS-KEE-GEE.’ AS A SOVEREIGN CITIZEN I REQUIRE YOU GIVE ME YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER AND CHECKING ACCOUNT INFORMATION.”
“In 1942, I —”
“SIR, THAT IS NOT A YEAR I RECOGNIZE. I AM A VETERAN OF EVERY ENGAGEMENT FROM THE SUEZ CRISIS TO THE SEALAND INVASION. ARE YOU SAYING I’M NOT?”
On stage Kasich pleads with the crowd. “No, no, we don’t need any of that. I, uh, I —”
I can see it in Kasich’s eyes. He’s facing the crowd, but his eyes are turned flounder-like to the banquet of roast chickens being prepared backstage. I know he won’t last long.
The people around the veteran are yelling back at Admiral Joe. A struggle ensues for his decade-old cell phone, which clearly cannot record video. Kasich takes this opportunity to bolt stage left. He starts snatching up as many of those chickens as he can fit in his tunic.
I blink and both Kasich and Admiral Joe are gone. There’s a minute of confusion in the hall until NAACP President Cornell William Brooks takes the stage. Mr. Brooks apologizes for the argle-bargle and announces that there has been a recall on Perdue chickens sourced from central Ohio due to a salmonella outbreak. Yet fortunately for the convention-goers, all of the tainted chickens prepared for the convention had been purloined by Governor Kasich, who had the foresight to personally authorize state funds to take every attendee to Applebee’s.
A slight smile comes over my face. Classic Johnny.
With Kasich and Admiral Joe long gone, I hitch a Greyhound back to Cleveland.
I finally make it to Quicken Loans Arena by mid-afternoon. I practically kiss the ground beneath me. After elevator crises, hobo stew, and stolen valor, I’m ready to treat myself to a four-day vacay of politics.
John Kasich was right on one thing: my room at the Marriott is overbooked, and I don’t have a place to spend the night. But that doesn’t matter now. I can hear the banging of the gavels and din of points of order wafting from the convention floor. Cheesesteak in one hand, Blackberry in the other, I practically float towards the center stage like a Tex Avery cartoon.
Immediately I spy Virginia delegate and Christian #NeverTrumper Ken Cuccinelli on the floor.
“Where is the Senator?” he yells to Mike Lee (R-Utah), a noted Tea Partier.
“We didn’t agree to this, Ken. The Speaker is our best bet,” the Utahan shoots back.
“He was convicted. Meanwhile, the Senator wasn’t technically —”
“Senator Craig’s bathroom scandal was years ago. People have already forgotten him. Speaker Hastert is at the very least on the public’s mind!”
It’s fascinating to watch two of the RNC’s top principled conservatives try to draft a plan on the fly to challenge Trump. As I watch the two men and their staffers argue about the relative merits of Larry Craig versus Dennis Hastert as the Never Trump candidate, two large men in sunglasses and neon green hats come down to spoil the fun.
“Mister Priebus says you gots to scram, Cuck-inelli,” says one of the heavies.
“That is not my name!” protests Cucinelli.
“What the hell is this? These jagoffs are saying they’re pledging for Dennis Hastert? Guy’s a chomo!” says the other lug, his buzzcut constricting as he clenches his jaw.
“Speaker Hastert served for several years as —,” Senator Lee tries to interject.
“By rule 84 of da Republican National Convention charter, youse guys’ delegates is stripped. Go protest vote that, guy.”
Cuccinelli, in an act of defiance reminiscent of Tiananmen Square, throws his credential lanyard on the ground. For those who don’t know, a credential lanyard to a politico is like a lawman’s gun, or samurai’s katana. To toss it on the ground is the ultimate act of defiance.
Unfortunately, Trump and Priebus’ thugs fail to see the incredible symbolism of Cuccinelli’s brave act. As they manhandle the rogue delegates and their bowtied aides de camp, a halfwit earpieced goon turns to me.
“No food on the floor, fatso.”
At this moment, all my memories of the Wellesley Debate Team, all the motions in family court, all the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings I reported on flood back to me. They aren’t picking a fight with Carl Diggler, Polk Award-nominated father-journalist.
They’re taking on Carl Diggler, parliamentary procedure expert.
“Ad hominem notwithstanding, sir, the ‘no food rule’ on the floor is non binding. Ex parto and prima facie, I demand a floor vote.”
The legions of bowtie-clad staffers stop scuffling at once, entranced by the promise of another floor motion.
“Roll call! Roll call!” I shout.
“Roll call! Roll call! Roll call!” the staffers echo, though their chorus is syncopated as they reach into their vests for their asthma inhalers.
Sensing that they’re going to be annihilated by procedural experts, the henchmen resort to the only language they know: violence.
One of the larger men crashes into a trio of particularly frail staffers, unfairly exploiting their hollow bones and sending them flying. Before I can duck into a combat stance, I am put into a headlock from behind.
“Try eating that fuckin’ hoagie with broken teeth, mustache.”
“It’s actually a hero, not that you’d know one of those if he slapped you in the face,” I retort under duress.
Infuriated by my bon mot, the man pummels the top of my head and belly with brutal punches. Luckily, the top of my head is uncommonly hard due to Dutch Calcium Displacement Disorder (sometimes disabilities can be superpowers). But for however resilient the top of my skull is, my gastrointestinal system is fairly vulnerable.
It isn’t a dozen unanswered blows before my Habsburg Diarrhea Syndrome rears its soupy head. Though painfully embarrassing and just flat out painful, my liquid shame causes the violent cretin to lose his footing. Tearing my pants off as I run, I hear him yell.
“This freakin’ guy shit everywhere! I think he’s one of those Muslims who shaves da beard, dat was a suicide attack!”
His shouts are lost as I make as clean a getaway one can make while smeared with excrement.
I don’t know where I’ll sleep or bathe tonight, but I do know that tomorrow — and every day of the RNC — I’ll be ready to give my readers the play-by-play analysis only a veteran journalist can give.
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years and is the host of the Digcast, a weekly podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at [email protected] or Tweet to @carl_diggler.