Talking Points

The surprising optimism of the RNC

Here is a genuine surprise. So far from being a dystopian festival of gloom and violence, the first night of this year's virtual Republican National Convention was a sunny, optimistic affair about the health — literal and otherwise — of the United States of America. There were no mentions of death counts or unemployment statistics. Even the tough-on-crime segments were undercut by praise for President Trump's ostensibly humane attitude on the subject of criminal justice.

This was not the convention I had expected. It was arguably less focused on blood and violence and death than the RNC was in 2016. With the exception of a brief video segment paying tribute to medical professionals, it could have been aired if COVID-19 had never been transmitted to these shores. It seemed to belong to January 2020, when Trump's pitch for re-election was the strength of the economy, the record high minority employment rate, the stock market through the roof, and the president facing nothing more serious than a spiteful impeachment plot.

Part of what contributed to this view was the relatively competent logistics. With the exception of one somewhat bizarre focus-group segment in which Trump asked a self-avowed custodian what her line of work entailed, the evening's proceedings were mostly indistinguishable from what you would have expected at a normal in-person convention. In this Republicans benefited from going a week after Democrats slogged through music videos, montages, group recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, and goofy celebrity cameos. They seemed to understand what worked in the current socially distanced medium and what did not. (You would not have noticed this, though, if you had watched the broadcast on CNN or MSNBC, which periodically interrupted the evening's proceedings in order to tut-tut speakers for not wearing masks.)

Whether this jubilant mood will hold over the course of the next three evenings, including during Trump's own remarks, is an open question.