Andrew Tobias is an American journalist, author, and columnist. His main body of work is on investment, but he has also written on politics, insurance, and other topics. Since 1999, he has been the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee.
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I’m politics reporter Andrew Tobias of cleveland.com. For the last year, I’ve covered the preparations — from security to protests to politics — for the Republican National Convention. I’ve been at the convention every night. AMA about the RNC and how I think it went. I'll be answering questions here Friday from 11 a.m.-noon.
(UPDATE: Whoops, should have put this here: Time is up so I'm going to attend to some other stuff, but I'll be checking back throughout the day for your questions. If you want to keep talking elsewhere you can hit me up on Twitter, @andrewjtobias, or email me at atobias <at> cleveland dot com
In your opinion, what was the most unexpected part of this year's RNC?
The most surprising thing to me was how universally people I spoke with enjoyed Cleveland, particularly the media. Reporters can snark and complain with the best of them, and Cleveland is an easy target. But everyone I've spoken with — and everything I've seen — is that people had a great time here in the city.
As a corollary, I was a little surprised about how subdued the protest activity was. As far as I know, there was no property damage, no concerted efforts to impede the convention, no major fights. Particularly in light of the advance media coverage and general concerns that people had, all in all the atmosphere was pretty calm.
Hi guys, well time's up, so I'm going to take off. But I'll be checking back in on this thread periodically during the day so keep the questions coming. If you want to talk more, you can follow me on Twitter, @andrewjtobias, or email me at atobias AT cleveland dot com
Trump unexpectedly left during part of the convention. What reactions did this cause other convention-goers to have?
I don't think people were expecting Trump to be in Cleveland all four days. In fact, often times candidates will hold rallies and campaign events in other states while the convention is going on. I don't think this was really an object of concern or even great note for anyone.
Did the convention appear as scary from the inside as it does from the outside? A republican here, but Trump on a rant reminds me of some not great world leaders of the past.
The salutes didn't help.
It was a little heavy, tbh. But I believe that even though people disagree about politics, people are fundamentally good people, and our system is bigger than any one candidate.
What was the overall atmosphere like at the convention?
As someone who lives here, the atmosphere was sort of surreal. There were a lot of people who were here who just didn't look and act like Clevelanders, and the presence of the police, metal barricades, helicopters, mixing with communist activists, suit and tie Republicans, street vendors, reporters, new neon lighted signs, etc. — It all created for a very energetic and eclectic atmosphere. Not nearly as bad as someone might expect based on coverage of protests, which are concentrated in narrow areas.
Good Morning! What is like around the Q today with the convention over? Is it still crowded near 4th and Prospect? are the barriers still all up? Or has it settled down as quickly as some thought it might?
Things are starting to calm down finally. I haven't been over to The Q yet, but I was near the Cleveland Convention Center about an hour ago. They are still in the process of removing barriers and barricades, but a lot of stuff is already gone and I'm told it will be completely gone by Saturday.
An area that has emptied out is Public Square, a central area of the city that just got upgraded into a really nice, modern green space. It had been packed with demonstrators, journalists and gawkers for days, but is now pretty empty. Here's a fun picture:
There were a few moments where speakers seemed to break with the GOP rhetoric concerning the LGBTQ community, both Thiel's comment on the bathroom issue and Trump's comment about protecting LGBTQ folks from terrorism (and the "glad to hear you applaud that" line afterwards).
What kind of response did those moments get from your vantage point? LGBTQ politics didn't come up a whole lot but given the hot button nature of the issue, what were you hearing from attendees on the matter?
There definitely was a strong influence by social conservatives in the committee that drew up the GOP platform. There has been some effort from the party establishment to try to be more moderate or at least conciliatory on social issues, including LGBTQ stuff. But the conservatives won out. The Republicans were very adamant about not focusing on "identity politics" — which they view as dividing America up into groups and then pitting those groups against each other. But cloaked in that I suspect is some people who are just uncomfortable with or opposed to gay people.
In the convention hall, there was not a lot of enthusiasm about LGBTQ issues. But there are individual delegates who are pro LGBTQ, including a lesbian platform committee member who fought for more inclusive language, and who had some support on the committee. (A minority for sure, but it shows there is not a unanimous view on these issues within the party.) I wasn't there for Peter Thiel's remarks, but found his presence there to be very interesting.
Surely, though, Trump has resisted being subsumed in a larger "Republican System". Do you have a sense of how this might compare to the "individual" vs. "the system" during elections in the past? And surely there are world leaders who history firmly determined to be "not good people".
There is uncertainly between whether this is a Great Historical Moment or just a gaffe.
Trump will definitely run as an outsider, and this will be an effective message against Hillary Clinton, who is the consummate political insider. People are frustrated with how the federal government works and this is where candidates like Trump came from.
If Trump is elected it would truly be a wildcard, and it's impossible to predict where things would go from there.
Did you feel safer knowing those armed citizens with open carry permits were keeping law and order during the convention?
I think that everyone will want to take credit in some manner or another why the event was safe. Cleveland officials will credit their planning, second amendment people will credit the folks who were openly carrying, etc. Even though firearms can frighten people or at least be unsettling to people who are unaccustomed to them, I know that gun activists have great respect to the rule of law, so I never felt unsafe at any point during the event.
What was the city like for the victory and the parade?
How has mood in the city changed since then?
What's your favorite thing you've seen at the convention thus far?
How does it compare to your favorite thing you saw in the aftermath of the Cavs victory?
I was at the official watch party outside Quicken Loans Arena when the Cavs won the NBA Finals. It was an incredibly lively and energetic atmosphere. People were honking their horns, dancing in the streets, endless high fives between people of all walks of life, etc. I also was at the parade. It was a little different because there were more than 1 million people packed downtown, and the parade was delayed because of the massive crowds, but it was similarly festive and diverse.
I think the afterglow of the championship — which lingered for maybe a couple weeks — has finally worn off, and people are back to life as usual. But it was tangible, as weird as that may sound, especially to non sports fans.
I was in the convention hall for a lot of the RNC this week, so maybe I didn't see as much stuff as some of my colleagues who were out in the streets constantly. But it was really fun seeing the cable networks setting up on East Fourth Street, people wondering in and looking on, seeing random famous people, etc. Some of that lively atmosphere was similar to the fun that surrounded the Cavs victory, and also LeBron James' first game back in Cleveland back in 2014. Cleveland has a chip on its shoulder sometimes but it is fun feeling like the center of attention.
What's the status of investigative journalism at the Plain Dealer/NOMG? Is there a dedicated team or budget? Who do you see as your biggest competitor in Cleveland news?
Just like always, there is a tension between performing investigative journalism and caring to day to day news developments. Especially in the digital age, where we are writing more frequently with fewer staff than back in the day when the industry was more stable, this is even more challenging.
I can't speak with an insider's knowledge about what Plain Dealer does. A lot of people don't understand this — it's complicated — but cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer maintain separate operations, although we do coordinate and occasionally collaborate.
We do have an investigative team on cleveland.com, and it has focused this year on investigating bail reform (among other issues.) You can find out more about that here. http://topics.cleveland.com/tag/justice-for-all/
An investigative story that I am particularly proud of is my series of articles last year about the CEO of a local travel company for students who was found by an internal company investigation to have coerced disadvantaged Asian staff members into sexual acts.
You can read more about that here:
I believe that we are the authoritative news source in Cleveland, but there are plenty of good journalists in the city who do great work. We all compete for scoops but especially given how the industry is today, I view reporters with other outlets as colleagues and not competitors. Especially with how people consume media today, you aren't forced to choose one outlet.
Cleveland seems to have prepared for and expected visitors to venture beyond the immediate event area -- to the flats, University Circle, or even simply to restaurants beyond E. 4th St. But this greater exploration of our city seems not to have happened. Did you pick up on any chatter from out-of-towners about visiting any sites beyond the immediate event area?
I think that especially with all the road closures, people pretty much stayed downtown, other than planned expeditions to places like Great Lakes, the Arts Museum, Jacobs Pavillion, etc. These planned events are probably good for business but I really doubt that places saw that much more traffic than usual. I was so busy working in the convention even I didn't get to West 25th, which is where I live. But I heard that things were pretty dead there, and same for UC.
I did speak with the director of University Circle Inc last night. He believes that even if business was slow, the long-term payoff of influential people being impressed with the area, and the positive media coverage, it's a long-term good play for the neighborhood and other areas of Cleveland.
How has the past week changed the city of Cleveland?
We're still the same city, with the same problems. (Crime, poverty, racial inequality, housing vacancies, population loss, etc.) But I think one thing is that people always kind of expect that Cleveland will screw things up, and I think this bleeds into the media narrative about the city, and even how Clevelanders perceive the city themselves.
The fact that the RNC was successful, the Cavs parade was successful and the fact that the Cavs won a championship helps create a counter narrative to the river-burning, sports-losing stuff we've been hearing for all these years.
Have you noticed a significant up-tick in the number of escorts (male and female) since the convention kicked off?
I'm not extremely plugged into the escort scene, so you're probably asking the wrong guy. There's always whispers of this sort of thing accompanying political conventions for either party, or even large events like Olympics or Super Bowls, etc.
Sounds like a crazy few weeks. Thanks man!
Crazy is the right word. But we made it through, and I am looking forward to taking some time off.
I thought of something else cool. I got a backstage tour of the RNC last night a couple hours before it began. Here's a picture I took of the area where folks wait behind the stage before they walk out to speak. I like to think of Donald Trump sitting here, classily sipping on a bottle of water. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cn-tsR7XgAAinZk.jpg
What do you think about how the convention is being reported by the media?
There was an inordinate degree of coverage of the continuous low-level arguments that were taking place between ideologically opposed groups. I would compare it to when I was in college, street preachers would show up and yell at people, and then very outspoken liberal people would show up and yell back. Then they would leave when they were done. It was kind of like a performance piece. But ultimately harmless, and contained in one small place. I talked to people who arrived in town yesterday who were surprised how chill things were compared to the media coverage. I will say that reporters in conversations with me have been very complimentary of how Cleveland police handled security issues, and how welcoming people were. I'm not sure to what extent this might reflect in general coverage, but there is some stuff out there like that. Take this for example:
As for the political side, again things veer toward the dramatic. But there were some really dramatic moments. Overall, I have my complaints, but I think the coverage has been solid.
Were you on the convention floor during Ted Cruz's speech? If so, what was the atmosphere like, and was it true that some of the delegates threatened Cruz's wife?
I was not on the floor, I was watching from a press area (100-level section, which would be pretty great seats for a Cavs game, for example). It was an incredible political moment, and people really turned on him.
The report about Heidi Cruz was a little overblown, but it was definitely a hostile, angry environment and there were reports that someone yelled at her as she left.
Thanks for the great answer!
I remember reading some reporters tweets saying that there were a lot of things that happened in the convention that didn't translate the same way to TV, so the people attending the convention in person might have experienced some things differently than people who watched it on TV. Did anything like that seem to happen for you at this year's convention?
You know, I still haven't watched the convention on TV so I can't say for sure. But you definitely get a more acute sense of audience reaction, etc. than the people watching at home.
I think that Trump's VERY long speech was more interesting to watch in the arena because of the audience reaction, etc. than people who were sitting at home.
I live 90 minutes southwest of Cleveland and I had friends who drove up for a day just to people watch. They took a lot of pictures of the cable booths and the various politicians in attendance. If this wasn't your first convention, could you speak to whether or not there was a difference this year in the number of nonpolitical celebrities attending?
It was actually my first political convention. But it's no secret many GOP figures — the Bushes, Mitt Romney, John McCain — stayed away from the convention. On the other hand anyone who's anyone in media was there. And even the politicos who don't like Trump were there if nothing else to network, go to free parties, etc.
Did you see PFTCommenter there?
No, I was very disappointed. I did see him at the Republican debate last August.
I don't know you - I know you cover the RNC, but where do your beliefs lie politically? And if they are Republican, how comfortable are you with someone like Donald Trump being the face of the party / country?
I don't publicly discuss my political beliefs, but I do feel comfortable saying that my life experiences have informed my goal of being respectful of and fair to people from all walks of life. As for Trump, his being the face of the Republican Party has the potential to dramatically change what it means to be a Republican, but we'll see how it all plays out.
If Trump wins, can I please have tickets to the inauguration?
Don't know how many cases of Trump Wine you would need to buy in order to get on the list. But maybe you should buy some just to play it safe.