CLEVELAND (MEDIA GENERAL) – In Cleveland on Thursday evening, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will tackle one of his largest challenges to date: Igniting his base while uniting the country.
There’s a high-degree of difficulty involved in his RNC tap dance that can’t be overstated.
The Republican National Convention brimmed with fresh invigoration on Wednesday evening as Trump’s keynote address drew nearer.
Chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump” at times drowned out speakers like Sen. Ted Cruz who were perceived to be less than fully supportive of the GOP standard-bearer.
When others like talk radio host Laura Ingraham demanded complete party coherence, delegates stood on their feet and roared with approval.
Knowing that the country isn’t as conservative as the Republican Party’s most ardent supporters in the Quicken Loans Arena, Trump – half candidate, half showman – will likely be tempted to hype up the crowd at the risk of alienating the millions of mainstream Americans watching on television.
So we asked delegates: How should Trump play Thursday night?
“In Louisiana, you know, we’re a very conservative state and so we want to hear from him, honestly, I think, conservative principles,” said Louisiana State Senator Sharon Hewitt.
The southern legislator hopes Trump will hammer home right-of-center principles that support American-made energy, along with specific strategies for “growing the economy and creating jobs.”
Jobs are a common refrain regardless of delegates’ ideological home on the conservative-moderate spectrum.
Cruz delegate Ric Branch of Idaho is hoping for a hybrid speech, saying, “I want something that’s going to ignite the country. You know, give us some ideas on how we’re going to keep the country safe, how we’re going to get the country going again.”
“Obviously he’s speaking to the country,” Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) determined. “Everybody here’s pumped up or they wouldn’t be here. For the most part, people are happy about Trump. And I think what he needs to do is speak to America.”
Others in the base deny that Trump faces a challenge in the least, declaring that he’s already hitting the ideal political sweet spot.
In a nutshell, let Trump be Trump.
Texas delegate Kathy Higher argues, “I think he’s already pretty close to the middle. That’s why a lot of the super conservative people have been hesitant to endorse him until now, because he’s a little more moderate than what a lot of us are in the party.”
The convention struggled to find its footing and enthusiasm during the first two evenings, but picked up steam on the third night with delegates exuberantly embracing the declarations “Hillary for prison” and “Lock her up.”
Still – walking the floor, it’s common to overhear party officials and loyalists privately grumbling about Trump’s unforced errors, but publicly they present a united front.
Now the question is: Can Trump unite the country with his right-of-center party?
Trump speaks in primetime on Thursday evening from Cleveland.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales