Here are the key takeaways from the night:
Republicans delivered a dark, Trumpian message centered on the alleged dangers of electing Joe Biden as president. Despite party leaders’ promises to paint an optimistic vision about the future of the country, Republicans instead attempted to scare voters into supporting Trump by pushing baseless claims that Democrats would “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door”, as the Florida congressman Matt Gaetz said.
The convention also sought to stoke racial fears, an effort that was emphasized by the appearance of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St Louis couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters. The couple pushed the baseless claim that Democrats would “abolish the suburbs”, telling convention viewers, “These are the policies that are coming to a neighborhood near you. So make no mistake: no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”
The convention kept factcheckers busy as the RNC peddled falsehoods about the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans praised Trump’s response to the pandemic and accused Democrats and the media of failing to recognize the threat posed by coronavirus, even though the president has said as recently as this month that the virus “will go away”. Speakers also celebrated Trump’s “swift action” to protect American lives, even as the country’s coronavirus death toll stands at 177,000, far outpacing every other nation in the world. Health experts dismissed the presentation as “all propaganda”.
Trump made multiple appearances at the convention through pre-taped videos, ensuring he will remain the star of the event. Despite the president’s criticism of Democrats for including many pre-taped videos in their convention last week, Trump appeared in two such segments tonight. The two videos, both filmed at the White House, showed the president in conversation with frontline workers and with former hostages who were released since Trump took office.
Trump is expected to make appearances on each of the four nights of the convention. Considering Republicans did not craft a party platform for the convention, the president’s repeated appearances underscored that this week is certain to become “the Trump Show”.
Nikki Haley tried to walk the line between embracing Trump and promoting her own vision for the future. The former UN ambassador began her speech by celebrating Trump’s foreign policy agenda and accusing the Obama administration of disastrous inaction. But Haley, who previously served as the South Carolina governor, then pivoted to calling for a more inclusive America.
Haley, considered a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, reflected on her decision in 2015 to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol after a white supremacist killed nine members of a historically black church.
“Together, we made the hard choices needed to heal – and removed a divisive symbol, peacefully and respectfully,” Haley said. That comment struck many convention viewers as odd, considering Trump has repeatedly criticized Nascar for banning the Confederate flag from races.
Republicans copied elements of the Democratic convention. Certainly segments and speakers of Monday’s programming appeared to be a direct response to the Democrats’ convention last week. A Democratic state legislator explained why he was supporting Trump, an obvious response to prominent Republicans’ endorsements of Biden last week. A father who lost his daughter in the Parkland shooting also addressed the convention on Monday, a week after another Parkland father spoke at the Democratic convention.
Kimberly Guilfoyle was mocked by critics for her loud and enthusiastic speech, which was delivered to an empty room. Guilfoyle, who serves as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, shouted much of her speech, prompting comparisons to a “North Korean propaganda lady” and a SoulCycle instructor. Guilfoyle’s boyfriend, Donald Trump Jr, followed up by claiming his father had “built the greatest economy our country had ever seen”, which is not true. Democrats were also quick to retort that Trump had “inherited” a booming economy from Barack Obama.
Senator Tim Scott attracted praise for his hopeful speech, which clashed with the overall dark tone of the evening. Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, explained his belief in the American dream, noting that his own grandfather was forced to leave school in the third grade to pick cotton. “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” Scott said. “And that’s why I believe the next American century can be better than the last.”
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