Analysis: Hits and misses from the final night of the Republican National Convention

Below, my hits — and misses — from the night that was.

* Ivanka Trump: Yes, liberals (and Twitter) don’t like her. But the eldest daughter of the President is also probably his single best surrogate. Some of that is tonal; Ivanka has a light touch — a major change from the shouting and anger of many of the Republican convention speakers. Some of it is experiential; she is the only person in the country who can credibly talk about her father as a father and as a president. (She is the only Trump child who works in the White House). And she is also the only person in the country who could get away with saying this about the President: “I recognize that my dad’s communication style is not to everyone’s taste. And I know his tweets can feel a bit unfiltered. But the results speak for themselves.” One last thing I was struck by: According to Ivanka, she was at her father’s side for virtually every major decision that he has made in his first term. And not just that. She kept saying “we” made this decision or “we” accomplished that. For people saying she won’t run for elected office in her own right, I say “HA!”

* Fear: Mobs rioting and looting in your suburb. ISIS kidnapping your child. Socialism on the march. The final night of the convention focused heavily on trying to scare the absolute crap out of voters who might be on the fence about Donald Trump. The message was clear: You may not like what Trump says (and even some of the things he does) but the alternative is your worst nightmare. Literal chaos and the collapse of democracy. “Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free reign to violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals who threaten our citizens,” Trump said in his acceptance speech. Why the scare tactics? Because fear is a hugely powerful motivator when it comes to voting. And Trump and his team knows he isn’t winning this race on, uh, hope and change.

*Alice Marie Johnson: Johnson, whose pardon became the cause célèbre of one Kim Kardashian, gave a terrific testimonial to the power of redemption and second chances. Johnson spent more than two decades in jail despite being a first-time, non-violent offender. Trump pardoned her in 2018. As Johnson recounted: “When President Trump heard about me — about the injustice of my story — he saw me as a person. He had compassion. And he acted. Free in body thanks to President Trump. But free in mind thanks to the almighty God.” Whether or not you like Trump, the story of how Johnson’s youthful mistake didn’t doom her was inspiring.


* Donald Trump: The billionaire businessman won the White House, at least in part, because of his free-wheeling style and his uproarious campaign rallies. He didn’t win the White House by reading speeches off of a teleprompter. And his acceptance speech Thursday night proved why. His delivery — particularly in the first 30 minutes or so of this way-too-long speech — was without emotion and decidedly flat. As for the speech itself, there just wasn’t all that much new to it. Trump spent the first 35 minutes rattling off his accomplishments in his first three years in office — repeating long-disproven claims about how he built the greatest economy in the history of the country and how he has done more for African Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. Anyone who caught a Trump speech or a Trump TV interview over the past year (or so) would have recognized virtually every line in his acceptance address. “This speech is pretty standard issue so far for Trump, absent the lyricism and poetry — and just different rhetoric — of many convention speeches,” tweeted Washington Post politics editor Cathleen Decker. And then there was the second half of the speech, which was entirely dedicated to promulgating the idea that, in Trump’s words, “no one will be safe in Biden’s America.” But again, the vast majority of these attacks were rehash. Taken in total, the speech felt like a mash-up of a State of the Union address and an opposition research dump. And one that you’d seen and heard before.
* Social distancing: More than 1,500 people were in the audience on the South Lawn of the White House to hear Trump’s speech. Judging from all of the pictures coming out of the event, the attendees were packed cheek to jowl, with nary a mask in sight. This is, of course, what Trump wanted all along — a big crowd whether or not coronavirus was still rampant in the country. It’s why he tried to pull up the stakes in North Carolina after the state’s Democratic governor refused to suspend social distancing rules for Trump. If you were looking to the White House to set an example of proper behavior during the pandemic, well, it was another swing and miss Thursday night.
* The official business/politics barrier: Trump emerged, with first lady Melania Trump by his side, from the Truman Balcony, descended the stairs of the White House and delivered his acceptance speech from the South Lawn. Wow. The average person may not change their vote based on that fact, but Trump’s willingness to use his office as a campaign crutch is simply stunning. And something that no other president — Republican or Democrat — would even dream of doing. In a way, the decision to use the White House as a backdrop is a perfect metaphor for how Trump has handled the presidency: With total audacity — and no regard for how his actions will change the lines of acceptable conduct for whoever follows him in the office. I dare you to make a big deal of this, Trump seemed to be saying to those who would attack his use of the White House as a political prop.
* Dana White: The president of the UFC got a very long time to talk on the last — and most important — night of the Republican convention. And he turned it up to 11, literally. White shouted his entire speech, which wound up sounding more like a pro wrestling promo than an address at a national party convention. Weird.

* Bill de Blasio: Man, I missed the part of the Democratic presidential primary where the mayor of New York City became the party’s nominee!! Not only was there an entire video montage dedicated to savaging de Blasio over the city’s rising crime rate but former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani dedicated a chunk of his speech to going after de Blasio too. Like, why?

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