A Guide To Watching The Republican Convention

Four days of soap opera stars, operatically dressed delegates, and a whole lotta Trumps

The Republican National Convention starts today, and it promises to be... memorable? Confusing? A living embodiment of the dumpster fire GIF that has already become an overused symbol for a presidential election that’s still more than 100 days away?

It's destined to be something. Here's a pocket guide to help you make sense of the madness.

Will I Recognize Anyone?

Unless you're already a news junkie, probably not. First of all, the Republican convention is traditionally lighter on the presence of the truly famous. Hollywood leans left, and that's why the Democrats get the really big stars (in years past: Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Kerry Washington) and the Republicans get Kid Rock and The Oak Ridge Boys. This year, RNC organizers were working under a time crunch, a tiny budget, and a few different obstacles specifically related to their nominee. Donald Trump has already offended a bunch of people who might otherwise consider coming, and he seems reluctant to share the spotlight.

Despite Trump bragging that this will be a "showbiz" convention, the speaker lineup looks more like a Trump corporation board meeting than the Oscars. Six Trump family members will be speaking. The party also managed to snag two soap opera actors and Scott Baio for speeches.

No musical acts have been announced for the convention proper, but a few are performing at RNC-related events: Stalwart Republican Kid Rock again, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Martina McBride.

If you're desperate for some celeb-spotting, you might look for coverage of the protests outside the convention. The Roots are scheduled to play one event; the Prophets of Rage supergroup (featuring members of Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, and Rage Against the Machine) will perform at a Cleveland venue on July 19 and have promised to "cause a ruckus."

What Speakers* Should I Actually Watch?

If you're looking for train wrecks, well, stay tuned. The speed with which this event came together might give the evening keynotes a little more drama than they would otherwise have. Not only are many of Trump's supporters new to the political arena (like the candidate himself!), several are untested for this level of scrutiny — Astronaut Eileen Collins and Tiffany "the other daughter" Trump come to mind.

Equally cringe-inducing for different reasons, but likely fascinating, will be Ted Cruz's speech. Try to resist punching the screen and instead listen closely: Cruz has been dancing around an actual endorsement of his erstwhile rival; this moment in the spotlight will be the place to plant his flag for 2020 — either as a loyal soldier or a reluctant dissenter. He also might rip off his mask and reveal his true form at last.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

And obviously, you're going to want to watch Trump himself. This will be his official debut on the national stage as a presidential nominee — a chance to convey a level of seriousness and sobriety that’s been lacking thus far in his public persona. His attempts in this arena to date, where he's used a teleprompter and toned down his rhetoric, have been marked by his own visible boredom and frequent ad-libs. Will the heat of the national spotlight melt his resistance to tradition, or fire him up?

*Subject to change, apparently.

What Kinds of Delegates Will I See?

Former Cruz supporters: Marked by tight smiles, evangelical paraphernalia, and flat, dead eyes. Will say things like, "I'm just trying to do the best thing for my country" and "I'm a big Mike Pence fan."

Almost-Libertarians: Twentysomethings with faded Rand Paul t-shirts. Will exchange wistful glances with the protesters. "Legalize It" lapel pin.

Never-Trumpers: Look for defeated, slumping shoulders. Will perk up when they hear the sound of a journalist approaching (they're the only ones still paying attention to them).

Texans: No, seriously, they get their own category. Tend to wear matching outfits. This year, will also probably have guns (more on that later).

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trump supporters: Broad grins, outsize egos, a bounce in their step.

Who Won’t I See There?

A number of establishment Republicans have found better things to do than trek up to Ohio and listen to a bunch of boring speeches. But not because of Trump or anything — they're just, uh, busy! There's no time to offer an alternate vision for the GOP or pretend like you adore the nominee if you already had plans to sort your stamp collection this week. Here are the top 10 reasons politicians gave for not being able to attend, ranked.

10. "I'm going to stay home and work."

9. “Grandchildren coming east for that week [and I] don’t like large crowds.”

8. "I can watch it on TV.”

7. I'm taking the kids to the beach.

6. I'm going to build houses and go to a kayaking fundraiser.

5. “I’ll have my fly rod in my hand with my wife in Montana.”

4. I need to fly around Alaska in a bush plane.

3. I have to visit the Grand Canyon instead.

2. "I've got to mow my lawn."

1. "Will instead take his kids to watch some dumpster fires across the state."

How Should I Prepare for the Protests?

Everyone is expecting things to get messy, given that the tensions between Trump and all the groups he has pissed off this election cycle have grown ominously fraught. Observers have already said that this convention will be exactly like the textbook case of a convention gone horribly awry: the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Or maybe like the 1964 Republican convention where everyone fought over Barry Goldwater?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Most likely, the 2016 convention is going to be its own brand of fractious insanity, and all sides are prepared for the worst. Time reports that 500 local police officers and more than 2,500 out-of-town law enforcement officials will be patrolling Cleveland, which has been decorated in endless security fencing for the occasion. The federal government gave the city $50 million to outfit those thousands of officers in riot gear, 10,000 sets of plastic handcuffs, and plenty of other stuff that makes clear what Cleveland thinks is going to happen this week. Tennis balls, slingshots, swords, rope, bicycle locks, water guns, glass bottles, and canned soup are all banned from the protest and event area. Guns, however, will be permitted in the protest area, because Ohio is an open-carry state.

The protesters won't all be united against a common enemy, either, which could make the situation far more volatile. Black Lives Matter, Stand Together Against Trump, and a number of pro-choice and immigration groups are all scheduled to appear on the parade trail, or at least outside the convention area, but plenty of pro-Trump forces are planning to show up to even the playing field. Bikers for Trump told USA Today, "We do intend to show a force. We don’t want these out-of-towners coming to our city and causing trouble. We have to stand up and defend our city." The Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting funerals and hating all gay people, is sending protesters to Cleveland. Several white supremacist groups also plan on making an appearance to make sure that someone is "arguing up against the leftists." Expect the usual contingent of anti-abortion, antiwar, anti-poverty, and Tea Party protesters too.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Throwing all of those combustible ingredients into one tiny space has Amnesty International worried. The group is, for the first time, sending observers to the conventions to make sure that no human-rights violations take place. Doctors at nearby hospitals have been told to reschedule their vacations. Journalists set to cover the protests have prepared by doing training worthy of war correspondents. A few news organizations have bought gas masks — although these items are banned from the protest areas.

Inside, the factions of #NeverTrump who prefer more administrative methods already lost, but still might try something dramatic this week.

I Spy: Republican Convention Edition

Conventions are an unruly assault of red, white, and blue swag. Here are a few things to look out for as you watch:

I spy cowboy boots, scarves, and feather boas, all patterned like the flag. A fuzzy hat, a cowboy hat, and a star-spangled bag.

I spy a button that says “Make America Great Again” and one that says "Hillary for Prison."

Another proclaiming "We Shall Overcomb" and one asking, “If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we send Hillary?” for maximum derision.

I spy 100 posters wishing Reagan were still alive, 120,000 balloons, floating from the sky.

A fetus sign in the clouds, Mike Pence totes, and dancing from grandmas so bad you want to die.