Where was President Trump on Wednesday night?
The president loves the spotlight, and he doesn't much like to share it. It's why he was addicted to rallies before the pandemic, and why he did daily coronavirus briefings until his aides convinced him those performances were hurting him politically. Naturally, Trump's campaign announced he would speak all four nights of the Republican National Convention. The RNC is a TV show, and Donald Trump loves being on TV.
That's how it worked the first two nights of the convention. The president played the role of a talk show host — popping up between speeches to grant live on-camera pardons and host a naturalization ceremony for immigrants becoming citizens.
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And then, on Wednesday, almost nothing. Trump was completely absent until a brief appearance at Fort McHenry at the end of the night after Vice President Mike Pence's speech. He never said a word. It was a decidedly un-Trumpian performance. So what gives?
One possibility: Trump's use of the White House and his official powers during the convention came under widespread criticism on Wednesday, as pundits debated whether the Hatch Act — which prohibits executive branch employees from political activity — had become a dead letter.
But it seems doubtful that the president, who never likes to admit a mistake or that his critics are right, would back down in the face of disapproval. Mark Meadows, Trump's chief of staff, openly scoffed at the naysayers earlier Wednesday. "Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares" about the Hatch Act, he said.
More likely: With Hurricane Laura bearing down on the Gulf Coast, with protesters shot and killed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and with the NBA and other professional sports activities suddenly shutting down in protest of police violence, the president and his advisers may have decided it would look frivolous for him to be playing TV host. Wednesday was a bad day in America. Playing entertainer-in-chief would have been a bad look.
The president will get back in front of cameras on Thursday, giving his official speech accepting the GOP's nomination for re-election. It never takes long for Donald Trump to find the spotlight.
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