The RNC convention—and by extension the Republican Party these days—is a giant puzzle.
I'm particularly flummoxed by those who speak like Democrats, vote like Republicans, and selectively navigate the rhetoric to cheer Trump. I question them trying to suss out what moves and motivates them. What aspects of Trump resonate? What facts must they ignore? How do they square voting for a candidate that runs counter to their own best interests?
It's the most peculiar thing, perhaps the first presidential race in history where the candidate's supporters are actually hoping he won't deliver on all his promises, where supporters regularly begin by saying, "Well, I don't agree with all of agenda, but…"
I get the delegates who are gung-ho yahoos to the far right. Sort of. For the straight, white, born-again, small-businessman from Heartland, U.S.A. who is fearful of change and anything different—I've noticed that the polite way for midwesterners to get their digs in is to call someone "different," as in, "Well, you know how Bob's daughter is, she's different"—so voting for a candidate that promises a retro future of good ole days America, making America great again, etc. makes a kind of sense.
And I get the Republicans who see that Trump has made a hot mess of things and worry that he will lose the general election and set Republicans back for eons. These are the Republicans like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and dozens of others who have taken a stand by refusing to endorse Trump or even show up at the convention.
But the people in the middle confuse me in the same "Curiouser and curiouser!" way Alice pronounced after stepping through the looking glass.
On Tuesday, armed with a coveted and hard-to-come-by hour-long floor pass, I stepped through the looking glass onto the delegates' floor where they were preparing for the state-by-state vote count. The delegates from Washington state wore foam trees on their heads and danced wildly. The Alaska delegates, dressed in matching blue, huddled over a battle-plan to have their discounted votes tallied. A Wisconsin delegate dressed in army fatigues and a cheese-head hat stood solemnly as the national anthem played.
I meandered and chatted, interviewing people—or trying to—over the cacophony of voices, music, announcements, anthems, pledges, etc.
Over in the Maryland seating area, I tried to talk to a delegate but she couldn't hear me very well. She agreed to step out back into a staging area where she settled on a folding chair and talked about her reasons for being there.
JoAnn Fisher, 69, lives in Oxon Hill in Prince George's County and has been a Republican for 20 years—though she fell off the wagon once; she voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
She is a Navy veteran and member of a slew of veterans organizations, including the Maryland Joint Veterans Committee, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and a women's veterans organization that she founded.
She is also one of approximately 80 African-American delegates out of 2,472 total, according to The New York Times. (The Republican National Committee told the New York Times it couldn't provide "definitive counts of delegates by race" and that the 80 "was based on an informal crowd count that might have included people on the convention floor who were not delegates." Fred Brown, chairman of the National Black Republican Council, told the Times he'd been attending conventions since the '70s and this was "one of the whitest in memory.")
But Fisher said she likes this convention because the people around her have been friendly. "I'm black, they're white—and they're talking to me." Her roommate at the convention is also black and she said other delegates are friendly to her, too. "They look us in the eye, like this, and say [at the hotel], 'Oh, JoAnn, are you coming downstairs?' 'Oh, JoAnn, how are you?' I like that."
As one of 38 Maryland delegates, she intended to join them in an hour or so as they cast a unanimous vote for Trump. "I was selected by people in my area and I'm supposed to represent them," she said, but clarified that this is not a reluctant vote on her part. She has been supporting Trump for a while.
Why? She likes his immigration policy, she said, summarizing it thus: "I would like the immigrants to come here and become American citizens. I don't want them to just come into American and work and go home." She did not mention the wall. She did not mention anti-immigrant sentiment.
She went on to say that the Black Lives Matter movement is important to her. "We're talking about what's in our community, what's in our lives," she said. "I'm deeply concerned about that."
Fisher said she appreciated the work that so many young people were doing with Black Lives Matter. "They've shown how blacks are seen in America," she said. "That [issue] should be in the forefront."
At this point, Fisher picked up my cell phone where I was recording our interview and spoke directly into the mic; she had a message for her neighbors who might object to her support of Black Lives Matter: "Don't come to my house, don't come to here to picket. Don't raise no hell with me."
Does she believe Trump feels similarly, that he will be receptive to the concerns of Black Lives Matter?
"That is something I will have to see," she said. She objects to those who are pushing for more money for police. "They're asking for money to address the issue, but right now, I see it as a behavior issue that has to be addressed as far as how blacks are seen instead of just throwing money mindlessly into the community for the police," she said. "And I question how police are actually trained. Who is training them as to how to respond to people and also those who are leaders and in leadership positions as to how they train police. That is a deep concern for me."
She said she liked the way President Obama was dealing with police brutality issues and appreciated the town halls and discussions he was conducting. "I expect the next president to come, when Trump comes in, I expect the same thing to happen."
Fisher felt confident.
She was also confident in the candidate's wife and said her speech was "fine."
"I heard Michelle Obama's speech, too, which I thought was lovely," she said, referencing the recent scandal when Melania Trump cribbed parts of Michelle Obama's convention speech.
Though the plagiarized bits have been set up side by side on media sites across the country, Fisher wasn't buying it. "I heard two separate speeches," she said. "I didn't hear what other people heard. Maybe there's something wrong with me because I didn't hear it."
As cheers erupted in the background, Fisher rose to hustle back onto the floor for the state roll call of votes—and I hustled back through the looking glass to return my press pass.