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Republican National Convention Turns Cleveland into a Stage

A small band plays behind a TV reporter's live shot. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
A small band plays a number behind a TV reporter's live shot.

by Nick Castele

This week, a sort of impromptu carnival has sprung up on Public Square, drawing in reporters, demonstrators and performance artists. It’s just one of many spectacles the Republican National Convention has conjured up in Cleveland.

Public Square Draws Demonstrations—and Some Magic

Gilligan Garza, a magician from Old Brooklyn, set up a table at Public Square and performed tricks for journalists and others who pass by.

“I am promoting magic and love and unity, not division,” Garza said. “Make America magical again. I think we need more joy and more wonder and more astonishment.”

He was collecting tips, and also wouldn’t mind if his show led to some more work.

“I’m hoping that maybe some of the delegates, after all is done in the convention center and they’re having dinner somewhere, they’re like, ‘Hey, we need to call that guy we saw down at the square and have him entertain us,’” he said.

In the middle of the square, a religious group held tall signs denouncing Catholics, gays and lesbians, fans of heavy metal and gangster rappers. On the other side of the square, counter-demonstrators waved a banner that read, “Queers Against Racism.”

One man, who gave his name as Nate Puppets, held a ventriloquist dummy in his lap.

“I am a puppeteer,” he said. “And I’ve been a puppeteer most of my life.”

He said he wanted to provide queer representation on the square. The dummy had a persona: Mickey Taylor the fashion designer.

“The reason I like having him out here is he’s kind of a symbol, to me at least, of the old queer community, the ones who came before us and fought for our rights,” Nate Puppets said.

Mickey Taylor held a sign that read, “Even dummies won’t vote Trump.”

“It’s a simple kind of joke,” Nate Puppets said. “I like to keep things light as possible. It’s almost impossible for me to keep it light around here with all this tension. But I’m trying my best. I like when people actually laugh at the sign.”

Dozens of police officers stood in lines throughout the square. Nearby, a man played a djembe. Reporters roved everywhere, filming, doing interviews and taking photos.

GOP Delegates Get Into Costume

There were very different politics at play down the road and past the security barriers inside Quicken Loans Area.

While many delegates and staff wore conservative suits and dresses, Cynthia Love didn’t. She wore a tiara and a red satin sash, “all blinged up,” in her words, with fake jewels that spelled out T-R-U-M-P. She said the outfit had led to plenty of interviews.

“I’ve been working for the Trump team back in Arizona since January,” Love said. “And I make calls all over the country. And friends of mine started calling me the Trump queen, so they decided to get the paraphernalia ready for this convention.”

Outside the Q, Mike Lachs from New Jersey was wearing a plush hat made to look like an elephant’s head, with American flags for ears. The elephant’s trunk poked into the air from Lachs’ forehead. And on the very top of his head he wore a messy blond wig, “for Donald Trump,” he said.

“The hat I bought in 1996 at the first convention I ever attended in San Diego, and it’s been to every convention since,” Lachs said. “This is its sixth convention. It’s falling apart a little. It needs a little refurb.”

There are giant buttons attached to his shirt and the ears of his hat.

“I’ve got a Donald Trump button, and we have a Trump-Pence button, and then we have ‘Hillary for Prison,’” he said.

Lachs has been to many conventions, but he said he’s taken up a new hobby at the Cleveland RNC.

“I do my own Facebook live with any celebrity I can find walking around,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

It’s easy to bump into well-known people at the RNC. Earlier in the week, boxing promoter and Cleveland native Don King walked the halls of the Q, surrounded by a ring of mayhem.

Reporters and others swarmed him, asking questions and taking photos.

One man raised his phone to King with a request.

“Can you do me a favor? One thing,” the man said. “Just tell Rhode Island to make America great again, all right? Ready, go.”

“Iowans, you did it first,” King began, apparently mishearing the man. “Vote for yourself! When you vote for yourself, you vote for Trump to be able to change this system. We want to be able to create a whole new system. We will tear this system apart. America first, and we want to make America great again.”

By the end of the week, the visiting reporters will have packed up their cameras, the delegates will have stuffed their hats into suitcases and Cleveland will start to return to normal again. 

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.