Presumptive Republican party presidential nominee Donald Trump is heading to the party convention in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18 – confident that his brand is working despite major misgivings by the party establishment.
Trump has deferred to the latter to draft the party platform to deflect any last-minute revolt against him, but he is likely to continue to chart his own course leading to the November election.
He defied conventional wisdom by being the “politically incorrect” non-politician during the primary season, winning the most Republican delegates in a crowded field of relatively well-known Republican politicians.
He used insults against his opponents, plus offensive language against Muslims, Hispanics, and others to score points with a major section of the Republican party base that were upset over the inability of politicians to get things done in Washington and who were fearful that the country was “changing for the worse”.
The right candidate for GOP?
While such tactics and antics worked to get him over the top in terms of winning delegates, his comments worried establishment Republicans who feared that he would hurt the party’s chances to win the White House and jeopardise the party’s control of Congress.
For example, House Speaker Paul Ryan (Republican from Wisconsin) said Trump’s comments disparaging a United States district court judge for his Mexican heritage was an example of “textbook definition of a racist comment”. And this was the day after Ryan had endorsed Trump for president.
Many Republicans fear that Trump will hurt their party’s chances to win over minority groups, who are a growing segment of the population, and are urging him to stop making outrageous and offensive statements.
At the same time, many other Republicans are upset that Trump is simply not conservative enough, and have staked out positions that are against Republican party orthodoxy.
The combination of Trump's appeal to disaffected elements of the American electorate, Republican anger over Clinton, and her vulnerabilities are likely to make the US presidential election in November a closer contest than most observers believe.
On foreign policy and trade issues, Trump has bucked the Republican consensus. He has repeatedly called the Iraq war of 2003 (led by Republican President George W Bush) a “dumb war” and a “disaster” that should never have been fought.
He has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for being a strong leader, has celebrated Saddam Hussein for his so-called efficient “killing of terrorists”, and has been sharply critical of free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
On domestic issues, Trump has also worried Republican conservatives because he previously supported Democratic party positions on gay rights and abortion. Many of these conservatives still don’t trust him even after he changed his positions.
Boycotting the convention
Hence, several prominent Republicans have decided to boycott the convention. These include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush – who lost to Trump in the primaries – his brother and former President George W Bush.
Other figures, such as former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain – a former prisoner of war in Vietnam whom Trump insulted for not being a war hero – and others are also boycotting the convention.
Jeb Bush stated that “I can’t vote for Hillary Clinton and I can’t vote for Donald Trump, and it breaks my heart.” He added that if Trump wins, he would be “worried”.
Therefore, coming into the Republican convention, much of the party faithful are unsure about Trump.
To stave off a potential party revolt against him at the convention, Trump cleverly allowed establishment Republican politicians and their aides to draft the party platform, which has become a very conservative document.
This exercise also has the effect of bringing about party “unity”. But Trump is likely to ignore the document once the convention ends.
Anti-Clintonism as unifier
The only unifying message for Republicans is being anti-Clinton. Even many of Trump’s detractors in the Republican party are putting out the line that they must vote for him in order to deny her the presidency.
At the Republican convention, nearly all of the speakers are expected to lambast Clinton for her “untrustworthiness” and “unethical and illegal behaviour”.
Although Clinton was not indicted for her email usage on unclassified computer servers while serving as secretary of state, there was enough information released by the FBI director in his public testimony about her “negligence” to give ample fodder to Republicans.
House Speaker Ryan has even published an opinion piece in The Washington Post saying she should be denied access to classified briefings as a presidential candidate because she “recklessly mishandled classified information”.
And old allegations about her not doing enough to save four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in a 2013 terrorist attack are likely to resurface.
The combination of Trump’s appeal to disaffected elements of the American electorate, Republican anger over Clinton and her vulnerabilities are likely to make the US presidential election in November a closer contest than most observers believe.
Still, Trump’s high negative ratings are such that he will have to tone down his offensive rhetoric in order to beat Clinton, but that is not in his ego or personality.
Gregory Aftandilian is a lecturer at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and is a former staffer of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.