Concede nothing — that strategy informed the speech of Vice President Mike Pence at the RNC Wednesday night from beginning to end. In this respect at least, the speech showed that Pence has learned something important, and something potentially quite politically potent, from the man with whom he serves. Trump appealed to hardcore members of the Republican base in 2016 because those voters liked that he was a vicious fighter. Pence's delivery of his remarks was smooth and polished, his tone one of sorrow instead of anger. But the speech itself was rabid — a relentless (and often thoroughly mendacious) assault on Democratic nominee Joe Biden and the entire worldview of liberals and progressives.
Just days following what appears to be another unjustified shooting of a Black man by a police officer, this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Pence said nothing to acknowledge the injustice felt by so many Black Americans at the hands of armed agents of the state. Instead he praised the police in general and singled out only the riots that have followed the event and vowed that "the violence must stop," with his voice rising in crescendo to declare, "We will have law and order on the streets of this country."
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, Biden issued a strong statement both acknowledging the suffering of Black Americans and denouncing acts of violence that solve nothing and only harm communities and businesses. But Pence had no time for such nuance. He proclaimed that "you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America." He asserted, against abundant evidence from his long political career, that Biden won't defend the police, "not now, not ever."
And so it was as Pence talked about foreign policy, accusing Biden of being a "cheerleader for Communist China." And as he turned to economics and the culture war, claiming that Biden would be a "Trojan horse" for the "radical left" that would bring "socialism and decline."
Republicans, by contrast, have an agenda "based on freedom," Pence declared, and it's rooted in an American past for which not a single word of ambivalence is permitted and not a single act of progress is required. The country was born great. Donald Trump made it great again. And now in his second term, he can make it great yet again, post-COVID-19. Because nothing bad in America comes from within. The country can fall victim for a time to outside malignancies (a virus, an ideological pathogen), but they can always be banished. As long as a man with "energy and resolve" is at the helm.
That man is supposedly Donald Trump. And on Wednesday night, Mike Pence made a case for his re-election based almost entirely on force of will — and a determination to yield not one millimeter of ground to the opposition.