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Five takeaways on GOP's norm-breaking convention

The Republican National Convention concluded Thursday after a week of testimonials from lawmakers, administration officials and Americans making the case for President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE’s reelection.

The Trump campaign is hoping the convention resets the race and boosts Trump in the polls with less than 70 days until Election Day. Here are five takeaways.

It’s Trump’s GOP now

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If any proof were needed as to how completely Trump has taken over the Republican Party, it could be found in the contrast between this year’s convention and the 2016 event.

Four years ago in Cleveland, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzNewly released video from inside Capitol siege shows rioters confronting police, rifling through Senate desks Can we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? Democratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz MORE (R-Texas) caused uproar by conspicuously declining to endorse Trump and telling delegates they should “vote your conscience.” There was even an effort to deny Trump the nomination at the last moment.

This year, pillars of the GOP establishment, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report MORE (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse GOP lawmaker: Trump 'put all of our lives at risk' Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Democrats seize on GOP donor fallout MORE (R-Calif.), lined up to pledge their fealty to Trump.

The convention foregrounded numerous members of the Trump family, as well as stalwart personal allies of the president, such as former New York City Mayor Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial MORE (R) and UFC President Dana White.

Most anti-Trump Republicans have been banished from the party, and the remaining internal skeptics keep their silence, at least in public.

In policy terms, too, Trump’s ideas have replaced what used to be GOP orthodoxy. 

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One of the most striking examples was the apparent acceptance that the Iraq War was a mistake — despite that conflict having been launched by Republican President George W. Bush and defended for years by GOP politicians.

“It’s really about the party of Trump and allegiance to Trump and all that he stands for,” said William Howell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

“This is really a party of grievance and allegiance to one man.”

GOP works overtime to define Trump on race

The convention featured several people of color making the case for Trump’s second term, presenting him as someone who has worked hard on behalf of the African American community and pushing back against characterizations of the president as a racist. 

"President Trump does not dabble in identity politics. He wants everyone to succeed and believes in the adage 'a rising tide lifts all boats,'" Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBen CarsonBiden has an opportunity to win over conservative Christians Ben Carson dismisses 25th Amendment talk: 'As a nation we need to heal' A vaccine, a Burrito and more: 7 lighter, memorable moments from 2020 MORE said in a speech Thursday evening. "Many on the other side love to incite division by claiming that President Trump is a racist. They could not be more wrong."

The first evening of the convention featured former NFL star Herschel Walker, who spoke about his years-long friendship with Trump and how he grows angered to hear people call Trump a racist.

Alice Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate whom Trump granted clemency, commended the president’s work on the First Step Act during her speech on Thursday following Carson’s address.

Trump faces an extreme deficit with African American voters, but his campaign has worked to court the voting bloc in hopes of building his support from 2016 and peeling off some percentage points from Democrats. The GOP’s effort to counter perceptions of Trump as a racist may also be part of a strategy to win over suburban voters. 

Doug Heye, former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in an interview this week that it was unclear whether the effort would be successful in expanding Trump’s support. He said it would depend on who tuned in to the convention. 

He also described the message at the convention as “disjointed” given speakers like Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who brandished guns in front of Black Lives Matter protesters, who perpetuated Trump’s warning about a Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE administration “abolishing” the suburbs by reinstating a fair-housing rule.

GOP works to tie Biden to far left

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Republicans used their convention to paint a dark picture of America if Biden wins the White House in November, casting the former vice president as a sort of Trojan horse for an insidious kind of socialism that would leave the country a shell of its current self.

“Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism,” Trump said on Thursday. “If Joe Biden doesn't have the strength to stand up to wild-eyed Marxists like Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE and his fellow radicals and there are many, there are many, many; we see them all the time then how is he ever going to stand up for you?”

Trump wasn’t the only one to make that accusation. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyCan we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? In calling out Trump, Nikki Haley warns of a more sinister threat Nikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid MORE claimed on Monday that Biden and running mate Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden-Harris team unveils inauguration playlist Trump approval rating relatively unchanged in wake of Capitol rioting: NBC News poll Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday MORE’s “vision for America is socialism.” Former Fox News host Kimberly GuilfoyleKimberly GuilfoyleRepublicans wrestle over removing Trump Singer Taylor Dayne responds to criticism after Mar-a-Lago performance: 'I try to stay non-political' Donald Trump Jr. tests positive for COVID-19 MORE, a top Trump surrogate, cast the 2020 presidential election as a “battle for the soul of America,” warning that “Biden, Harris and the rest of the socialists will fundamentally change this nation.”

The attack isn’t new. For months, Trump and his allies have bandied around the notion that Biden had raced to the left and aligned himself with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The convention, however, marked their most concerted effort yet to actually define the Democratic nominee as a socialist. 

Whether that label catches on with voters outside Trump’s political base remains to be seen. Biden won the Democratic nomination by appealing to more moderate and center-left voters, and his long public record in the Senate and as vice president could make it hard to get the socialist moniker to stick.

Convention casts COVID-19 as a thing of the past

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Viewers tuning into the Republican convention may have had a difficult time discerning that hundreds of people in the U.S. are dying each day from the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1,000 people packed closely together on the South Lawn of the White House for Trump’s speech on Thursday, with few of them wearing masks. Smaller crowds sat side-by-side without masks for speeches by first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpMelania Trump bids farewell to Be Best in new video Garth Brooks, Joan Baez among this year's Kennedy Center honorees Melania Trump says she was 'disappointed and disheartened' watching Capitol riots MORE and Vice President Pence, and guests were not universally tested for the virus.

Few speakers spoke at length about the virus, and those who did offered misleading and dismissive comments on the pandemic.

Trump claimed his response focused “on the science, the facts and the data.” But he refused to wear a mask for months despite guidance from his own administration, urged governors to reopen their state economies even as the virus spread and has in recent weeks claimed COVID-19 is “going away” or will “disappear” even as scientists warn no such thing will happen without a widely administered vaccine.

White House economic adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE referred to the pandemic in the past tense during pre-recorded remarks that aired Tuesday, saying “it was awful. Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere.”

While cases have recently dropped in the United States, the nation has by far the most reported infections and deaths from COVID-19 of any country in the world, with 5.7 million infections and roughly 178,000 deaths.

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Trump’s handling of the pandemic is one of the biggest hurdles to his reelection bid. A CNBC-Change Research poll released this week found 71 percent of likely voters are seriously concerned about the virus, and 42 percent of likely voters approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

Republicans seek to close gender gap

Republicans at the convention aimed to close the gender gap with a number of speakers, hoping to boost Trump’s declining approval women, particularly white suburban women. 

The program featured a number of female speakers who painted Trump as a compassionate man who has used his position to empower women. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany delivered an emotional address on Wednesday, describing how Trump was one of the first people to call her after she underwent a double mastectomy. 

Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report: What to expect for inauguration DC attorney general pushing to interview Trump Jr. Secret Service renting K a month apartment near Ivanka and Jared for bathrooms, office space: report MORE also gave an intimate account of her father in her speech on Thursday, telling the convention audience about how he shows off a Lego replica of the White House made by her son to visiting world leaders. 

A number of speakers tried to appeal to suburban women through claiming that Americans would not be safe under a Biden administration. 

Patricia McCloskey warned that Democrats would abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning.

It’s unclear what kind of impact the messaging will have on the polls, but a number of recent polls show Trump with low support among women in the suburbs. 

An NPR-PBS Newshour-Marist poll released last month showed Trump’s disapproval rating among suburban women at 66 percent, with 58 percent saying they “strongly” disapproved of the job he’s doing.