Night One of the 2020 Republican National Convention saw President Trump and his campaign team set a tone of calm composure in stark contrast to the emotional frenzy and dark paranoia that dominated the preceding week’s Democratic convention. But it also highlighted a continuing theme of Trump’s first term in office, the perplexing outreach to establishment figures in the Republican Party who adamantly oppose his populist-nationalist agenda.
Republicans were granted a considerable advantage by having Democrats kick off the unprecedented virtual show one week earlier. They were able to learn from Dem mistakes. As a result, they pieced together an event on Aug. 24 that felt more in the moment and less like a pre-recorded, tightly scripted television program.
The overall message of strong, competent leadership and standing up for the silent majority amid the turmoil washing over America today was dulled, however, by the long list of speakers crammed into the two-hour prime-time window. Having average citizens speak out for a presidential candidate is not a bad idea, of course. But by featuring too many people who are unfamiliar to most of the nation, the overall effect was diluted as the various figures got lost in the wash.
Regular Folks Who Sparkled
A couple of performances did manage to stand out in this crowd. Cancer survivor Natalie Harp, an adviser to the Trump campaign, lavished praise on the president, saying, “I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for you.” She excoriated Democrat health care policies for limiting her options rather than extending them. “You know, the Democrats love to talk about health care being a human right, but a right to what?” Harp astutely stated. “Well, I’ll tell you. To them, it’s a right to marijuana, opioids, and the right to die with dignity, a politically correct way of saying assisted suicide.”
“I was told I was a burden to my family and to my country and that by choosing to die early, I’d actually be saving the lives of others by preserving resources for them rather than wasting them on a lost cause like myself,” Harp added. It was a highly effective personalized criticism of the dark side of socialized medicine as championed by Obamacare Democrats.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the heavily armed St. Louis couple who were shown protecting their home from Black Lives Matter protesters in a video that went viral on social media, also shined. The McCloskeys ably bolstered a law-and-order narrative that Team Trump is seeking to emphasize while embodying an image of regular Americans standing up to radical leftist bullies in the streets. “Not a single person in the out-of-control mob you saw at our house was charged with a crime,” Mark McCloskey said. “But you know who was? We were. They’ve actually charged us with a felony for daring to defend our home.”
“On top of that, consider this,” he continued. “The liberal activist leading a mob to our neighborhood stood outside of our home with a bullhorn screaming, ‘You can’t stop the revolution!’ Just weeks later, that same activist won the Democrat nomination to hold a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
“The radicals are not content just marching in the streets,” Mr. McCloskey declared. “They want to walk the halls of Congress. They want power. This is Joe Biden’s party. These are the people who will be in charge.” It was a story tailor-made to appeal to Trump’s grassroots base.
Red Swamp Spotlight
But it was among the well-known speakers where Night One faltered. Trump has often baffled his staunchest populist supporters by bringing the likes of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, each avowed neoconservatives dedicated to a strongly interventionist U.S. foreign policy, into his administration. He has also endorsed Republican candidates who oppose cornerstone policies of his on trade, tariffs, and immigration, such as Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC).
The Monday schedule for the convention once again highlighted this confusing political trait. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), an eloquent advocate of Trump’s America First vision, spoke early while Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), neither of whom share that agenda, were granted plum slots in the valued 10 p.m. window that comes with national network television coverage.
Jordan honed in on the chaos erupting in Democrat-controlled major cities and ripped Dems for implementing harsh and inconsistent social curbs in the name of combating the Coronavirus. “Democrats won’t let you go to church, but they’ll let you protest,” he said. “Democrats won’t let you go to work, but they’ll let you riot. Democrats won’t let you go to school, but they’ll let you go loot.” This is classic populist phrasing that should be a linchpin of the Trump 2020 message. Jordan had more.
“President Trump has fought against each of their crazy ideas,” he said. “He’s taken on the Swamp, all of the Swamp. The Democrats, the press, and the Never-Trumpers. And when you take on the Swamp, the Swamp fights back. They tried the Russia hoax, the Mueller investigation, and the fake impeachment.”
Jordan delivered the most unapologetically pro-Trump speech of any elected Republican official on Night One. Yet he was shunted to an early spot on the schedule so that two establishment Republicans could have their ambitions advanced.
Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, reportedly personally asked Trump for a speaking slot at the convention. Her speech transparently served as an audition for a 2024 run of her own. Haley paid lip service to Trump, declaring with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm that he had “earned four more years as president.” She then proceeded to unabashedly espouse a muscular foreign policy stance as if it were a staple of Trump’s America First movement, rather than the antithesis of it. “The former vice president has a record of weakness and failure. Joe Biden is good for Iran and ISIS,” she proclaimed.
Haley also played up her stale Republican version of the identity politics that ran roughshod over the Democratic convention. “I was a brown girl in a black and white world,” she stated of her childhood. But she rose above it. “And the people of South Carolina chose me as their first minority and first female governor.”
Sen. Scott closed out the evening. Which is all the more mystifying given that, of all the speakers, he seemed to stand out as the one who did not want to identify himself with the candidate he was ostensibly endorsing.
“While this election is between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, it is not solely about Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” he flat-out declared at the very beginning of his address. No, it was not about Trump, it was about police reform legislation authored by him. It was about his efforts to “fight for school choice” and economic zones for black Americans. “The president has fought alongside me,” Scott even had the nerve to say. He does realize he’s not the presidential candidate, doesn’t he?
Haley and Scott were speaking for themselves and not Trump on this opening night of a convention aimed at putting him back in the White House. That’s fine to a certain extent, as convention stages have long been used to groom future party stars. However, Trump was giving choice prime-time speaking slots to two politicians who do not share his vision. This may be seen as problematic when you are a president who was explicitly elected to be an alternative to the very kind of establishment machine politics exemplified by miscast Monday Night stars Nikki Haley and Tim Scott.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.