GOP wants more vision, policy from Trump at convention
The first night of the Republican National Convention received mixed reviews Tuesday from GOP strategists and lawmakers who said they liked that the annual gathering showcased diverse faces in the party but that the tone was too dark to appeal to voters beyond President Trump’s base.
During the next three nights of the gathering, these Republicans argued, Trump’s team needs to lay out a vision and specific policy proposals for what the next four years under the incumbent president would look like. But Republicans were quick to point out that Trump and the Republican National Committee did not even publish a policy platform for this year’s convention, which outlines the party’s values.
“The lack of a clear platform is disconcerting,” said one GOP lawmaker, who spoke on background to be more candid. “What do Republicans stand for and believe — not just DJT!”
The convention is very much a production by and for President Trump, who is slated to speak each of the four nights. All of his adult children are also speaking, as are first lady Melania Trump, who will address the convention on Tuesday night, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend.
Guilfoyle, a Trump campaign aide, painted a picture Monday night of an American dystopia under Democratic nominee Joe Biden and the Democrats. Liberals, she said, have already turned California “into a land of discarded heroin needles in parks, riots in streets and blackouts in homes.” She neglected to mention she used to be first lady of San Francisco, when her then-husband, Gavin Newsom, was mayor; he’s now governor of the Golden State.
GOP strategist Ron Bonjean, a former veteran spokesman on Capitol Hill, said the first night of the Republican convention was much more effective than that of the Democrats’ convention last week which featured speeches by former first lady Michelle Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).
But he said the Trump campaign needs to figure out how to draw a sharper contrast with former Vice President Biden, who’s spent nearly a half-century in Washington, to expand the president’s support beyond just his staunch loyalists.
Many Republicans feel it is critical for Trump to turn the presidential election into a choice between himself and Biden and not a referendum on his presidency. Polls show Biden ahead of Trump nationally and in key swing states.
Throughout his presidency, “We’ve seen that the Trump base has been largely at 42, 44 percent of approval ratings for the president; he hasn’t moved. So he needs to reach in to that a little bit. There needs to be a little bit more there for President Trump to bring it across the finish line,” Bonjean said during The Hill’s virtual event on the GOP convention.
“And by contrasting Joe Biden as somebody that is, you know, that is part of the failed, tired policies that have not solved their country’s problems,” he said, “I think it’s gonna go a long way.”
A number of Republicans contacted by The Hill said they had not watched the first night. The convention is being held virtually, so unlike traditional conventions, lawmakers are not arriving together at a gathering.
While some wanted to see more emphasis on the administration’s vision for the future, others said the tone struck by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and daughter of Indian immigrants; and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the sole black GOP senator, delivered a message of hope and highlighted diversity within the party.
They’re two areas GOP lawmakers said they feel the party can build upon in the coming days of the virtual gathering.
“Tim Scott’s speech was my highlight, speaking from the heart about the opportunity and future for all Americans, Americans of all races and religions. If [Scott] runs in 2024, I will work for him,” Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.), who is retiring at the end of this Congress, told The Hill on Tuesday.
Rep. Denver Riggleman (Va.), who lost his GOP primary this year, said he believes that Republicans have a political advantage by holding their convention a week after the Democrats. They can better tailor their strategy after watching the Democratic gathering. The Virginia lawmaker also said he believes embracing positive messaging is the right course of action to energize voters.
“Tim and Nikki did a really good job and I think if they build on that type of positivity it’s going to be very difficult for the Democrats. I think there’s an advantage to having a convention afterwards so the Republicans can answer some of the things that the Democrats said last week that I completely disagreed with,” Riggleman said.
“It’s good to know what you need to do in the bottom of the inning, right? What you need to do to win and what you need to do to rebut what the Democrats said,” he said.
Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who lost his Miami-area swing district in 2018, expressed worried that the GOP was becoming the party of Trump.
“That was a bit disconcerting because parties that become only about one person or about the cult of personality, don’t tend to do well in the long term,” Curbelo said during a virtual event with The Hill’s Bob Cusack on Tuesday.
Curbelo, who has frequently criticized Trump, said Night One of the GOP convention could be summed up as a juxtaposition between dueling visions of America: one hopeful and diverse, the other doom and gloom.
“There were colorful people which, as a person of color, I was very happy to see the diversity that Republicans put on stage,” said Curbelo, who is Cuban American. “However, the messaging was fairly dark, there was a lot of fear. There was a lot of demonizing of the other side, and I am a fan of campaigns and candidates who propose ideas and alternatives and try to inspire people with new solutions.
“So give them high marks for the imagery, for the diversity that they put on stage, but unfortunately I think the message, probably left a lot of people wishing for more. What are President Trump’s plans for the next four years?”