In The Arena: RNC 2016 Recap
This blog was submitted by FIU alumnus Patrick O’Keefe ’12, who was in Cleveland last week along with several other alumni. Patrick is a Maryland-based digital consultant.
He is currently the chief of staff for Maryland State Delegate Christian Miele and the content manager for Dragonfly Digital Marketing, a Baltimore-based digital marketing agency. While at FIU, Patrick served as an FIU in D.C. intern as well as student body president
I graduated FIU in 2012 as a political science major, but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d ever go to a national convention. The 2016 RNC (Republican National Convention) was the first I attended, and it was quite the experience. While at FIU, I took a class with Senator Rubio and was originally on his delegate slate during the primary season. Once he lost, I didn’t think I would go to the convention, but I was invited last-minute as the guest of an at-large Maryland delegate. Many of the events I attended in Cleveland that Tuesday through Thursday were scheduled by a very hospitable Maryland delegation.
Here is what I experienced:
On Tuesday, the Maryland delegation had lunch at Shooters on the Water in Cleveland, which—for the day—was renamed “Tusker’s Roadhouse” in a nod to the Republican elephant. The spot served full barbecue fare for multiple delegations, including Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma. The band Big and Rich played for everyone.
After the concert, I went to nearby Powerhouse to support a fellow FIU alumnus and good friend, Kevin Hernandez, whose organization—the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce—hosted a panel with Ohio Governor John Kasich. While at the event, I ran into additional fellow alumni Steven Cruz and Neri Martinez.
That night, I went to the Quicken Loans Arena to see speakers that included Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchison, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Donald Trump Jr., and Dr. Ben Carson. During Christie’s speech, I had the opportunity to spend time on the floor of the convention and take it—and the roaring chants—all in first-hand!
On Wednesday, my peers and I attended a movie screening, hosted by Newt and Callista Gingrich, for the documentary titled “The First American,” which focused on the life of our nation’s first president: George Washington. While at the screening, I had the opportunity to meet Newt and his wife Callista; regardless of politics, it’s hard to deny Newt’s intelligence, so I was thrilled to meet him.
Later, we visited Media Row across the street from the arena: Television and radio stations from across the country were in Cleveland, so this was an opportunity to meet many well-known figures. Among those I got to meet were Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was in the area for counter-interviews.
While walking around the arena with a Maryland state House and Senate member, a Fox News Radio reporter approached us, and we ended up doing a full interview with them on our thoughts about the convention. That night, Ted Cruz gave his now infamous speech, and a snap I took ended up on the official RNC story on Snapchat.
After the speeches, I met with alumnus Kevin Hernandez, and along our travels, we ran into many well-known figures, including fight promoter Don King. CNN was also filming Don Lemon live at one of the locations, and we had a blast meeting new people.
On Thursday, I joined a handful of FIU alumni to support Steven Cruz, who was speaking on a panel for REVOLT TV on young voters in this election cycle. He was highly knowledgeable on the topic and answered questions from the audience, including one from me. At the panel, I had the opportunity to meet the head of the Institute of Politics at Harvard and the CEO of a disruptive political technology company named Brigade.
In the evening, I attended a recap dinner for the Maryland delegation, where featured speakers included Newt Gingrich and former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took the stage to speak at the RNC on Thursday night. Donald’s speech was the longest in over 40 years, and it definitely felt like it! The crowd loved it though, and the arena was packed to hear him speak.
After the speech, Kevin and I met former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. While Lewandowski has been largely viewed as a pariah by the Trump campaign since he was fired, he was quite popular with the public, and many people asked for pictures with him.
I had an amazing time at the RNC. The city of Cleveland is beautiful, with great food and great people. The people are what I will remember most from the convention: I had the opportunity to meet people from all across the country and all walks of life. I went into the week with a stack of business cards and ran out of them very quickly!
It is nearly impossible to pick a coolest moment. From talking to the chief of staff of a state party while charging my phone to meeting the people I mentioned above, there were many experiences during the convention that I will remember for the rest of my life. Overall my only disappointment was that the convention was not much an issue discussion. In general, it was mostly a pro-Trump/anti-Hillary party, which could be expected, but it would have been nice to see more “how’s” match the “what’s.”
My FIU experience played into my convention experience significantly as much of my time was spent with fellow alumni; I highly encourage FIU students and graduates to consider running for delegate at either the RNC or DNC (Democratic National Convention) in 2020. If you are in the political sphere, the conventions are must-attend events!