Republicans launched into their national convention promising an upbeat take on the country’s prospects and a compelling case for why Donald Trump deserves four more years in the White House.
Portions of the program seemed to deliver on that upbeat promise, as when, on the first night, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, the sole black Republican in the Senate, argued that the US is not in the grip of a crisis of bitterness and bigotry.
“America is not a racist country,” reassured former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, once the country’s first female Indian American governor, in a separate address.
But as Tuesday’s second night approached, the party seemed increasingly unable to resist the lure of more ominous themes, of the kind that have animated Trump’s political base since he used his 2017 inaugural address to warn of an incipient “American carnage”.
Trump has once again set out to pitch himself as the strongman savior of a country beset by insecurity, rancor and a health crisis – hoping somehow to avoid responsibility for what critics say have been costly lapses in leadership.
The convention was scheduled to continue on Tuesday with an anchoring speech by the first lady, Melania Trump.
“I can tell you every word from this speech is from her,” Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff, told reporters. Four years ago in Cleveland, to huge controversy, Melania Trump’s speech turned out in parts to be remarkably similar to remarks by Michelle Obama.
This year, also controversially, the first lady was to speak from the White House grounds, in violation of both tradition and federal law dictating a divide between political activities and the conduct of elected office. Footage of Trump at the White House was likewise broadcast on Monday.
Additional controversy brewed as the reporter Yashar Ali said Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former friend and adviser of Melania Trump, “taped the first lady” making “harsh comments about Ivanka Trump, the president’s elder daughter and a senior adviser”. Wolkoff has a book coming out in September.
In a further departure from norms separating politics and government, Mike Pompeo was scheduled to become the first sitting secretary of state to address a political convention.
Other speakers slated for Tuesday included Eric and Tiffany Trump, the president’s children; Kentucky senator Rand Paul; Iowa governor Kim Reynolds and Nicholas Sandmann, a teen who successfully sued media organizations after an interaction with a Native American activist.
That was to follow an appearance on Monday night by a couple who have also featured prominently in the culture wars, Mark and Patricia McCloskey of St Louis, Missouri. They face felony charges for brandishing firearms at anti-racism protesters earlier this summer.
“Make no mistake, no matter where you live,” Patricia McCloskey said, “your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America. What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country.”
The most animated speakers of the convention’s first night, including Donald Trump Jr, the president’s oldest son, warned about the supposedly destructive intentions of Democrats everywhere; the threats facing “western civilization” that only Trump could repel; the perniciousness of “cancel culture”; and the danger “quiet neighborhoods” face from “anarchy and chaos in our streets”.
“What you heard was a parade of dark and divisive fear-mongering designed to distract from the fact that Donald Trump does not have an affirmative case to make to the American people about why he should be re-elected,” said Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager of the Joe Biden campaign.
But after a virtual Democratic national convention that won praise for its relatable nature in a connected age, political analysts on both sides of the aisle credited Republicans for interweaving traditional set pieces – including the official roll-call vote to nominate Trump – with unexpected moments.
Some speakers appeared on the verge of being carried away with zeal.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” shouted Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top fundraiser and Trump Jr’s girlfriend, in a clip happily lampooned online. “Leaders and fighters for freedom and liberty and the American dream: The best. Is yet. To come!”
In his own unnaturally energetic speech, Trump Jr warned that the left was trying to “cancel the Founders”.
“Joe Biden is basically the Loch Ness Monster of the swamp,” Trump Jr said of the Democratic nominee and Washington DC, a supposed “swamp” of iniquity and corruption his father has promised to drain.
“For the past half century, he has been lurking around in there. He sticks his head up every now and then to run for president.”
One of Trump’s greatest political liabilities, disapproval over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, was treated as an asset, with a set piece in which frontline healthcare workers and emergency responders credited Trump with saving lives.
Source: The Guardian