RNC 2020
August 28, 2020

Visually, rhetorically, and thematically, this week's Republican National Convention treated the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as an economic and health problem President Trump had conquered through strong leadership.

There were very few masks in any of the live audiences, including among the 1,500 guests invited to watch Trump's speech. The White House said "those in close proximity to Trump will be tested," CNN's Jim Acosta reported. "But many will not be tested." And a senior White House official, when asked about the lack of masks and social distancing, told Acosta, "Everybody is going to catch this thing eventually."

Lots of Americans, of course, have already caught the coronavirus, and one statistic illustrated for many the ongoing toll of COVID-19. "As of tonight, coronavirus has infected nearly six million Americans, with more than 180,000 souls lost," MSNBC's Brian Williams noted Thursday night. "It's worth repeating, more Americans have died from COVID-19 during the four days of this Republican convention than the number of Americans killed on 9/11."

CNN's Jake Tapper made the same point, with numbers to back it up.

The death toll from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was 2,977. It may seem finicky to use that number as the metric to highlight this week's COVID-19 deaths, but 9/11 was the Republican Party's emotional and foreign policy lodestar for most of this century. Joe Biden, when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 2007, memorably said of Rudy Giuliani, then seeking the GOP nomination: "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, and a verb, and 9/11." Giuliani, now Trump's personal lawyer, was a featured speaker at Thursday's RNC. Peter Weber

August 28, 2020

"For almost 10 hours this week, President Trump and his allies used the unfiltered platform of a national political convention to paint a portrait of two Americas that do not exist," White House reporter Toluse Olorunnipa writes in The Washington Post. "In one — a misrepresentation of life under Trump — the coronavirus has been conquered by presidential leadership, the economy is at its pre-pandemic levels, troops are returning home, and the president is an empathetic figure who supports immigration and would never stoke the nation's racial grievances." The other grossly "mischaracterizes" Democratic rival Joe Biden's proposals.

"While all political confabs involve some level of spin and revisionism," Olorunnipa adds, "the Republican National Convention this year has stood out for its brazen defiance of facts, ethical guidelines, and tradition, according to experts on propaganda and misinformation."

Trump himself "often exaggerated his own accomplishments and skated over his failures while portraying Democrats and Mr. Biden inaccurately," The New York Times said in its fact-check. "Trump claimed accomplishments he didn't earn on the pandemic, energy, and veterans," The Associated Press specified, and "baselessly accused" Black Lives Matter "of coordinating violent protests across the country."

CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale was more direct Thursday night, telling Anderson Cooper: "This president is a serial liar, and he serially lied tonight. I counted, preliminarily, more than 20 false or misleading claims." And then he ran through them, marathon-style.

You can read about the specific things Trump and his allies falsely claimed at the various fact-checks, but The New Yorker's John Cassidy found his (it turned out, recurring) whopper early on in the convention. Peter Weber

August 28, 2020

The Republican National Convention had a whole bunch of federal employees participating in the proceedings. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and dozens of other lower-level workers all took part in the celebration of Donald Trump's nomination for re-election. Trump's speech on Thursday took place on the South Lawn of the White House — the first time the building had been used for such a purpose. To cap it all off, there was a fireworks show on the National Mall (which is public land), displaying Trump campaign slogans.

This is a straightforward violation of the Hatch Act, which limits how federal employees (not including the president and vice president) can participate in partisan election campaigns. They cannot use their "official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election," or "engage in political activity" while on duty, on federal property, wearing a federal uniform, and so on.

Now, one can argue with some justice that the Hatch Act is somewhat ridiculous, at least for top-level Cabinet officials, because they are inherently political. But it is the law, and as Charlie Savage writes at The New York Times, previous administrations have always tried to at least follow the letter of the law. The Trump administration is doing no such thing — instead it is flagrantly disobeying it in full view of everyone, and scoffing at critics. "Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares," White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Politico about the law. (Naturally, when the president was a Democrat, Meadows espoused the exact opposite opinion.) Even if a Cabinet official is inherently political, the point of the Hatch Act is to prevent the president from leveraging his power over the federal bureaucracy to entrench himself in power. That is plainly what Trump is trying to do. Ryan Cooper

August 28, 2020

President Trump walked from the White House to a stage on the South Lawn to give his Republican National Convention acceptance speech Thursday night, turning "the People's House" into "a partisan prop like no politician has ever done before," Michael D. Shear writes at The New York Times.

"Previous presidents have sought to carefully navigate the propriety of mixing campaigning with governing," Shear noted, and while a few have announced their re-election campaigns from inside the White House, none has used it for such an "overtly political event," with "live crowds flanked by giant Jumbotrons on either side of the White House, serving as immense campaign billboards." If Barack Obama or George W. Bush had tried such a stunt during their re-election campaigns, "people's hair would be on fire," Bush's 2004 campaign chief strategist, Matthew Dowd, said on ABC News.

"It's not only, I believe, unethical, misuse of government power," Dowd added. "It may be illegal, what's happening on the South Lawn, and a bad modeling of behavior in the midst of a COVID crisis."

None of the Bushes participated in this year's RNC, nor did any Cheneys, Reagans, or McCains. Also, "several dozen former staffers from Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-Utah) presidential campaign, the George W. Bush administration, and the campaign and Senate staff of former Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have signed on to an effort to elect Joe Biden," Politico reported Thursday. "For the Romney and McCain staffers, they're working to elect the same man they tried to defeat in 2012 and 2008, respectively." (Dowd was not among the Bush alumni who signed a pro-Biden letter.)

But perhaps Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) had the most succinct, on-brand response to Trump's use of the White House as a campaign prop. Peter Weber

August 28, 2020

When you speak for an hour and 10 minutes, you're bound to make a flub or two, and President Trump made a few notable ones during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

At the very beginning, Trump said he "profoundly" accepted this nomination for president of the United States, rather than "proudly." At another point, he should have said "personal protective equipment," but just uttered "personal" before trailing off. However, one slip stood out above the rest.

When talking about the coronavirus pandemic, which has left at least 180,000 Americans dead, Trump was supposed to say, "Thanks to advances we have pioneered, the fatality rate has been reduced by 80 percent since April." Instead, Trump said, "Thanks to advances, we have pioneered the fatality rate." Whoops. Catherine Garcia

August 28, 2020

After four nights of scalding and often shouted slash-and-burn attacks directed at Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, it was quite a shock on Thursday night when Donald Trump nearly lulled America to sleep with his Republican National Convention speech on the south lawn of the White House.

It's not that Trump delivered a soothing address filled with warmth and good feeling. During long passages he savaged Biden as a Trojan Horse who would deliver America-hating socialists and anarchists to power. Those were the more lively sections of the speech. The trouble is that the charges against Biden had been made at the convention by many others before Trump, sometimes in identical language.

But even when the precise words weren't recycled, they still felt like retreads because the speech was mind-numbingly repetitive. How many times did Trump say that if Biden is elected the Democrats would come for America's guns? That it was time to bring jobs back from China? That the stakes in the election couldn't be higher? It's as if the authors of the address thought everything in it was so important it needed to be reiterated two or three times.

And then there were the lists. Lists of personages and events from American history at the beginning of the speech, and then again at the end of the speech. Lists, sprinkled throughout, of all the ways America is gloriously exceptional. Lists of Trump's wonderful, stupendous accomplishments. Lists of the wonderful, stupendous things he will accomplish if he's re-elected. The last of these lists made the latter half of the speech sound more like an interminable State of the Union address than a nomination acceptance.

And all of it was delivered in the slurring, monotonous drone that Trump adopts whenever he's reined in by written remarks on a teleprompter. Throughout the second half of the address, you feel him breaking away from the script for a word here, a phrase there, like he was dying to turn the occasion into one of his vulgarity- and mockery-infused campaign rallies where he riffs for 90 minutes about his enemies.

Or maybe he was just trying to keep himself awake. I know the feeling. Damon Linker

August 27, 2020

Anyone listening to the first half of President Trump’s speech at the conclusion of this year’s Republican National Convention could be mistaken for thinking it was a repeat of his third State of the Union address from January, with its tone of triumphant optimism and its funereal parade of economic statistics.

Where was the chaos and the blood in the streets? Where were the mean-spirited jokes, the impersonations, the comedy bits about the difficulties of walking down a ramp?

It was only when Trump moved to the subject of the coronavirus, when he summarized the cost of another shutdown (rightly) as "increased drug overdoses, depression, alcohol and drug addiction, suicides, heart attacks, economic devastation, and much more," that he began to sound comfortable.

This was not incidental. Whatever his oldest daughter and son-in-law have to say about it, this president does not thrive on peace and optimism. His pitch to the American people remains fundamentally what it was four years ago: this country is a wasteland of crime, addiction, violence, suffering, exploitation, and despair.

Many fair-minded observers, whether they are inclined to support Trump or not, believe that it is still all of those things. This, I think, is why ultimately Trump’s remarks turned from a dreary recitation of his ostensible successes to the issues he feels more comfortable discussing and, perhaps above all, the perfidy of his opponents, including Joe Biden, that "Trojan horse for socialism.”

It was not just that the tone changed. Trump also began to depart from what was evidently his prepared text. "Arsonists” became "anarchists.” A paean to the flag was extemporized. By the time he arrived at his conclusion about the virtues of Davey Crockett and Annie Oakley and the fighting men of Iwo Jima, the message had become unmistakably clear: Only Trump could deliver the people of this country from American carnage and restore a vanished golden age.

Which is exactly what he was telling us four years ago. Matthew Walther

August 27, 2020

There's been a lot of talk at this week's Republican National Convention about the dystopian hellhole of "Joe Biden's America." On Thursday evening, Joe Biden said he wasn't sure President Trump is aware he's been in charge of America for the past three and a half years. "If you think about it, Donald Trump saying, 'You're not going to be safe in Joe Biden's America,'" he told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "All the video being played is in Donald Trump's America." (Or, to be fair, Spain.) Biden formalized that idea in a statement.

"Is Donald Trump even aware he's president?" Biden asked. "These are not images from some imagined 'Joe Biden's America' in the future. These are images from Donald Trump's America today. The violence we're witnessing is happening under Donald Trump. Not me. It's getting worse, and we know why." Trump "refuses to even acknowledge there is a racial justice problem in America," he added. "Instead of looking to calm the waters, he adds fuel to every fire. Violence isn't a problem in his eyes — it's a political strategy. And the more of it, the better for him."

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had actually made a similar point on Thursday morning, telling Fox & Friends that "the more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who's best on public safety and law and order."

Biden said he has "made it clear" there's "no place for violence, looting, or burning. None. Zero." He predicted that Trump would attack him again in his RNC acceptance speech. But, he added, "when Donald Trump says tonight you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America, look around and ask yourself: How safe do you feel in Donald Trump's America?" Peter Weber

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