What to expect from the Republican National Convention

We only know a little, but it tells us a lot

An elephant.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

On the eve of this year's Republican National Convention, it is difficult to say almost anything with certainty about the proceedings. Until recently the RNC was the subject of whispers and lunatic speculation, including from President Trump himself, who suggested that he might accept his party's nomination from the field at Gettysburg or at the foot of Mount Rushmore. It now seems he will deliver remarks live from the White House itself on Thursday evening.

Who else will speak, and when, and from where, is clear only in the barest outlines. The first lady will give an address on Tuesday, presumably without as much assistance from her immediate predecessor as she had four years ago. So, too, it appears, will other members of the president's family, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner. On Wednesday Vice President Pence will speak from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the site of the battle in 1814 that inspired the composition of the "Star-Spangled Banner."

All of this is mostly in line with what one would expect at one of these events. Other scheduled participants suggest a somewhat different flavor. One is Nick Sandmann, the student from Covington Catholic High School who recently received a large settlement following a successful defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post. Also set to speak are the couple from St. Louis who became famous, or infamous, after aiming weapons at protesters who were trespassing on the grounds of their large home. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell only recently agreed to take part and it is still difficult to say which other sitting Republican politicians will do so.

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Still, even from these somewhat dim outlines it is possible to draw some conclusions about the eventual shape the convention will take. Republicans are lucky that they are holding their convention after the DNC this year. Not only does it afford them the chance — I say "chance" deliberately — to learn what works and what does not work in the novel format of a virtual convention; it also allows them to tailor their message.

In four nights last week, not a single word was said by any of the DNC speakers, from Democratic nominee Joe Biden on down, about crime, riots, or looting. The calls, which have become a watchword even in moderately liberal circles, for abandoning the electoral college or "packing" the Supreme Court went unmentioned even by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and other progressives. It was a convention that bore very little resemblance to the reality of the Democratic Party in 2020, a tacit admission that its leaders have very little faith in the viability of their own activists' program.

Trump and his colleagues will gladly seize upon this. In the place of fond remembrances of the time the former vice president offered a hug or made a thoughtful phone call, we will likely hear from Americans who had their homes or businesses destroyed and from police officers injured or killed in the line of duty. Whether this law-and-order gambit is successful is another question entirely, but it remains surprising that the Democrats did not attempt to triangulate more last week.

The differences in style and emphasis will extend further, one suspects, to the manner in which the Republican convention is presented to viewers. Flipping through the channels last week it was hard not to notice that while CNN ran very nearly the whole of the proceedings, including the interminable infomercial-like segments, with nary a break, Fox continued with scheduled programming except during the most important speeches. I can say with what I think is not undue confidence that we should expect to see the reverse this week: Fox going commercial-free through patriotic tribute videos while CNN cuts away for "analysis" that consists largely of partisan ranting.

It's almost like the two party system encourages the belief in two different realities or something.

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