'It's a Trap': What If the Convention Chaos Is All Planned?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

In a series of posts, I’ve been arguing that the well-publicized chaos of the Republican National Convention provides cautionary evidence on how the Trump organization might handle the scaled-up challenge of running a national campaign.

A reader on the West Coast says there is another possibility (and extends the kayfabe analysis from a previous reader ):

I’ve been enjoying the past few days of convention meltdown because I love the idea that we may be watching a Donald death spiral. However, a new theory struck me this morning: This might all be a trap (if I’m wrong it’s because I’ve watched too many episodes of Game of Thrones). Here it is:

Theory: Some or all of the chaos at the Republican convention is intentional / staged.

Evidence: According to NPR, Cruz didn’t go off script. That is, Trump knew what he was gong to say and he let him go up there anyway. Therefore this is no surprise slap in the face as it’s being portrayed.


  • Attention: Trump has consistently shown an ability to profit from attention, and chaos drives more attention. Everyone will be paying attention to his speech tonight.
  • It makes it all about Trump: For instance, Cruz overshadowing Pence is being portrayed as a problem, but if you’re creating a cult of personality, it’s actually a feature not a bug. Now Trump can ride in as the savior.
  • Lowers expectations: You remember how W played this to great effect. In other words, a moderately good speech turns into the turnaround of the century.
  • Sets a trap: Trump can use all the attention on the horserace (which is a media obsession) to paint himself as the outsider candidate: “All the media cares about is the soap opera, meanwhile I’m gonna make America great again! Let’s get rid of these jokers who have been driving this country into the ground.” For a public that hates the political class, the right speech tonight could be a big breakout moment. Bonus is that Hillary will look totally wooden when she pulls off an organized convention. Old narrative: well organized conventions are key to a successful presidential bid. New narrative: conventions are the band camp for political losers

I hope I’m wrong, but worry I hear the Rains of Castamere playing in the background.

For analytical completeness, it’s worth comparing this possibility with “Trump’s Razor,” as explained most recently by Josh Marshall at TPM.  (Premise of the razor: “Ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts.”)

My life experience inclines me to razor-style, as opposed to trap-style, interpretations of most events. But no one knows anything for sure right now.