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 Trump’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

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 Cruz (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 McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (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 Giuliani (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. 

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 Carson 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 Biden administration “abolishing” the suburbs by reinstating a fair-housing rule.

GOP works to tie Biden to far left

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 Sanders 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 Haley claimed on Monday that Biden and running mate Kamala Harris’s “vision for America is socialism.” Former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, 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

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 Trump 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 Kudlow 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.

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 Trump 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.

Tags 2020 GOP convention Ben Carson Bernie Sanders Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Ivanka Trump Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Kimberly Guilfoyle Larry Kudlow Melania Trump Mitch McConnell Nikki Haley racial justice Rudy Giuliani Ted Cruz Wisconsin
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