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To hear the Laura Ingrahams and Jeanine Pirros of the world tell it, last week the Democrats held a convention marked by darkness and pessimism — a monomaniacal four-day rant about Donald Trump in which their own candidate, Joe Biden in case you’ve already forgotten, was defined only by his not being Donald Trump. And to hear those same pundits tell it, rather than resorting to the same sort of name-calling that the Democrats wallowed in, this week’s Republican Convention was going to be a more positive affair, celebrating the power of America and hope for the future.
After one night of the Republican Convention, is the GOP living up to the promised better angels of their nature (to quote a Republican president who would be baffled by today’s Republican Party, but also probably Twitter, Hamilton and Sour Patch Kids)?
Depends on which direction you choose to fixate on, I suppose.
The first thing to know is that the Republicans dispatched with the actual convention portion of their convention earlier in the day. Before the morning was over for half of the country, the Republicans had done a roll call unanimously nominating Donald Trump — a more traditional roll call, before the Republicans made a flimsy attempt to mimic the Democrats’ Zoom roll call around America in under two primetime minutes — and they’d already decided not to bother with a platform this time around. So Monday’s opening night got to be almost entirely speeches, mostly taking place at a podium at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington.
Almost everything, with a couple of exceptions, happened in the same room, which allowed the Republicans to avoid occasional lags and glitches that the Democrats experienced last week, doing their convention without a centralized hub. One speaker after another took the stage, backed by a wall of flags, and they were able to address the same multi-camera set-up, one that never acknowledged the speakers were talking to an empty room. The mistakes of the set-up for Kamala Harris’s third-night speech, in which she was constantly scanning vacant seats, were corrected in Biden’s direct-to-camera address and that was all the Republicans went with.
Were there positive speeches accentuating the potential of America?
Probably? Heck, I’m generous. Yes.
Hershel Walker was offended that anybody would call the Donald Trump he knew — from that time Donald Trump actively destroyed a professional football league — racist, and spoke to his version of the American Dream and how it related to Donald Trump. Nikki Haley, who moderate Republicans still hope might be the future of the party, talked about her journey as the daughter of Indian immigrants and praised what she portrayed as Donald Trump’s successes on the international stage.
And Tim Scott closed the night — a night that ended a solid 10 minutes ahead of the end of primetime on the East Coast — by sharing personal anecdotes and attempting to dismantle Joe Biden’s history of problematic statements and actions on matters relating to race. He did it, for the most part, without ever acknowledging Donald Trump at all, perhaps the night’s only speech that wasn’t dominated by the president.
There was no risk that you’d ever forget this was the Donald Trump Convention and not the Republican Convention. Trump had already dropped by the North Carolina portion of the convention earlier in the day for an impromptu series of barely connected talking points and easily disprovable statements. Then Trump appeared from the White House in multiple awkwardly staged conversations with ordinary Americans.
Over on Fox News, where experts cut away from minor speeches and RNC videos at every opportunity to talk about how well everything was going — Pirro’s rhapsodizing about how the evening proved that “optimism can exist!” as Fox News left Steve Scalise muted in a tiny on-screen box was especially fun — they referred to these Trump appearances as “surprise” even before they occurred, which is possibly the worst surprise possible.
These two conversations were meant to be Trump’s response to several DNC interludes with Biden talking to the citizenry and made one thing very clear: Donald Trump is an absolutely atrocious interviewer. Maybe this is why he never won an Emmy for hosting The Apprentice. It’s hard to argue that Trump cares what people — none wearing masks, none socially distancing — have to say and then watch him interrupting first responders and urging former international detainees to talk about all he did for them. He didn’t care about the questions he was asking and didn’t listen to the answers he was given and absolutely nobody is going to care, so why even bother critiquing?
The Democrats thought this election could be won by hearing how Joe Biden helped a young boy with his stutter or how he’s constantly calling to check in on his granddaughters. The Republicans know nobody’s going to vote for Donald Trump because he’s “just another family man,” even if one speaker referred to him that way.
Heck, Trump’s own son gave a squinting, red-eyed rant that literally did not give a single personal detail or insight about his father. Rather than praising his dear old dad, Donald Junior tried to prove he was his father’s son, running through various nicknames for Biden, including “Beijing Biden” and “the Loch Ness Monster of the Swamp.”
If Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro thought the Democrats were negative, wait’ll they hear about that speech, which hit the night’s real Republican talking points, namely blatant and unabashed fear-mongering. If the radical Democrats, with their defunded police departments and tax hikes, don’t get you, the cancel culture will. You wouldn’t think a political convention would be a time to whine about social media platforms, but at least three Monday speakers warned that we were all on the verge of having Twitter accounts suspended. Or that they were.
Donald Junior wasn’t even the loudest or most threatening speaker from his bedroom. Kimberly Guilfoyle, weaned on TV and entirely capable of vocal modulation to some degree, got to that podium and shouted one chilling warning after another about “human sex drug traffickers” and California as “a land of discarded heroin needle parks.” Guilfoyle, getting louder and louder as her speech went on, whipped the empty room into a frenzy with her cautions that Democrats will enslave us, warning “Don’t let them destroy your family, your lives and your future.” She closed her rant about a Democratic administration with the promise “The best is yet to come,” which I guess allows Pirro to call it optimistic.
When speakers weren’t saying that Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi and The Squad are out to kidnap babies and burn down suburbia — St. Louis gun-brandishers Mark and Patricia McClosky tried to leave no doubt that that’s already happening — they were rewriting history, or at least rewriting the mainstream media narrative. Donald Trump saved millions of lives from the coronavirus! Donald Trump has eliminated racism in America! And in one utterly bizarre speech from Natalie Harp, Donald Trump even became the hero of It’s a Wonderful Life, a movie I’m pretty sure Natalie Harp only remembers from a period of childhood where the nuances of the movie were lost to her.
And guess what? I’m sure the night played like gangbusters. The Democratic Convention was not, no matter what the Fox News crowd might say, about gloom and doom. It was about trying to make some unenthusiastic Democrats feel OK — if not necessarily “great” or “awesome” or “energized” — about voting for Joe Biden. It probably worked. This was about getting Trump’s base foaming at the mouth. I’m betting it also worked.
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