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The theme of the first night of the Republican National Convention was “America, Land of Promise,” a hopeful message belied by speeches that warned of impending national collapse if Donald Trump isn’t reelected in November.
Here are the key takeaways from day one of the RNC:
A second term for Trump is the country’s only hope
Many of the speakers on Monday echoed the strident, often divisive tone regularly employed by the president in portraying Democrats as godless anarchists, socialists and appeasers. The praise for Trump, meanwhile, was as effusive as that offered for Joe Biden a week earlier, with the president’s reelection cast as the country’s only hope for survival.
“Democrats refuse to denounce the mob,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. “They’re also trying to take away your guns.
“Democrats won’t let you go to church, but they’ll let you protest,” Jordan said. “Democrats won’t let you go to work, but they’ll let you riot. Democrats won’t let you go to school, but they’ll let you loot.”
Shouting from the podium into an empty room, Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News personality who is dating Donald Trump, Jr., said Democrats “want to destroy this country, and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe, so they can control how you live. They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal, victim ideology, to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.”
When it was his turn, Donald Trump Jr., author of the book “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us,” alternated between a more hopeful vision of American greatness and a seething contempt of those that he said were standing in the way of it.
“Joe Biden is basically the Loch Ness Monster of the swamp. For the past half-century, he’s been lurking around in there. He sticks his head up every now and then to run for president, then he disappears and doesn’t do much in between,” said Trump, glossing over Biden’s two terms as vice president.
He continued: “Joe Biden and the radical left are also now coming for our freedom of speech and want to bully us into submission. If they get their way, it will no longer be the ‘silent majority,’ it will be the ‘silenced majority.’”
Trump saved the United States from COVID-19
The elephant in the room at Monday’s convention, so to speak, was the more than 177,000 Americans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. The death toll went unmentioned, as did the number of Americans who have contracted the virus, approaching 6 million.
In a taped segment introducing a panel of health care workers and first responders, Trump made clear that he believes he bears no blame for the number of Americans who have perished or been infected by the virus.
“These are the incredible workers that helped us so much with the COVID. We can call it many different things, from China virus, I don’t want to go through all the names, because some people may get insulted, but that’s the way it is.”
Later, Trump Jr. said the virus had come to the U.S. “courtesy of the Chinese Communist Party.”
A taped montage showed Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, downplaying the threat of COVID-19 early in the outbreak, and Democratic governors, including Andrew Cuomo of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey, thanking Trump for his assistance in fighting the pandemic — something Trump explicitly made a condition of disbursing federal help.
A registered nurse from West Virginia who relocated to New York in April to help fight the virus, Amy Johnson Ford, denounced Cuomo, saying, “His lack of action made my job treating patients who had their worlds turned upside down that much harder.”
By contrast, “President Trump recognized the threat this virus presented for all Americans early on, and made rapid policy changes,” Ford said. “And as a result, telehealth services are now accessible to more than 71 million Americans, including 35 million children.” (Trump in fact has predicted repeatedly that the coronavirus would miraculously disappear on its own.)
Dr. G.E. Ghali, a Louisiana physician who contracted COVID-19, praised Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
“A prompt response led by President Trump cleared away the red tape that usually makes drug approvals a long and drawn-out process,” Ghali said. “By harnessing the resources of the federal government and the private sector, President Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’ is accelerating the testing, supply, development and distribution of therapeutics, diagnostics, and very shortly, effective vaccines to counter COVID-19.”
Trump is just as nice as Biden, or nicer
At last week’s Democratic National Convention, Joe Biden was contrasted with Trump in terms of both policy and character. Biden, who suffered the loss of his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car accident and the death of his son to cancer in 2015, was hailed as a person of empathy whose human connection helps to guide the decisions he makes.
Republicans insisted on Monday that compassion was one of Trump’s defining virtues.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress, segued from an especially harsh attack on Democrats to a heartwarming recounting of the compassion shown by the president upon learning that Jordan’s nephew had died.
“It was a Saturday morning, three days after the accident. I was walking to the car, to go to Eli’s parents’ home, when the president called,” Jordan said. “We talked about a few issues. And then he asked how the family was doing. I said, ‘They’re doing OK, but it’s tough.’ The president said ‘Yeah. Losing a loved one’s always difficult, and it’s really tough when they’re so young.’ I then said, ‘Mr. President, I’m actually walking into their house right now. Obviously, they don’t know I’m talking to you. But if you’d be willing to say hello to Eli’s dad, you’d make a terrible day a little less terrible.’ ‘What’s his name?’ the president asked. I walked through the door, and said, ‘Todd, the president wants to talk to you.’”
Rep. Steve Scalise, himself the victim of a gunshot attack in Washington, D.C., also hailed a side of Trump that is rarely on display on Twitter or at his campaign events.
“I’ve worked closely with Donald Trump over the last few years, and if there’s one constant theme to how he approaches problems, it’s how much he cares about the hard-working people that Washington left behind,” Scalise said. “I’ve seen this firsthand. After I was shot on a baseball field by a leftist gunman, first responders rushed me to a hospital, where I battled for my life. That same night, Donald Trump came to the hospital, along with first lady Melania Trump. They consoled my wife, Jennifer. They were there for my family in my darkest hours. Donald Trump would call to check on me throughout the following weeks, just to see how I was doing. That’s the kind of person he is. That’s the side of Donald Trump that the media will never show you.”
Trump’s hospital visit to Scalise was, in fact, widely reported in the mainstream media.
Blacks for Trump
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump’s pitch to Black voters was summed up in the line: “What the hell do you have to lose?” But Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police seemed to present an easy answer to that question, and to have made Trump’s play for support from African-American voters an uphill struggle. Still, Monday’s convention included a number of compelling speeches from Black supporters.
Former N.F.L. running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker has a long history with the president and appeared as a cast member on the second season of Trump’s TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“It hurts my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald. The worst one is ‘racist.’ I take it as a personal insult that people would think I would have a 37-year friendship with a racist,” Walker said on Monday. “People who think that don’t know what they are talking about. Growing up in the Deep South, I have seen racism up close. I know what it is. And it isn’t Donald Trump.”
Kim Klacik, a Republican candidate for Congress in Maryland’s Seventh District, lashed out at Biden over comments he made during a radio interview with a Black host, in which the former vice president quipped,“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”
Biden later apologized for the remark.
“Joe Biden believes we can’t think for ourselves: that the color of someone’s skin dictates their political views,” Klacik said. “We’re not buying the lies anymore. You and your party have ignored us for too long.”
Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones, the only Democrat to appear at the convention in support of Trump, echoed Klacik’s remarks.
“The Democratic Party does not want Black people to leave the mental plantation they've had us on for decades,” Jones said. “But I have news for them: We are free people with free minds. I am part of a large and growing segment of the Black community who are independent thinkers. And we believe that Donald Trump is the president that America needs to lead us forward.”
But Jones overstated his case, giving Trump credit for ending the “policy of incarcerating Black people,” by signing the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform measure, into law.
Joining the pile-on was Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who was put in charge of the Republican legislative response to what lawmakers, for a time, seemed to agree was a widespread problem of systemic police racism.
“Joe Biden said Black people are a monolithic community,” Scott said, referring to another interview in which Biden was contrasting Hispanic Americans with Blacks.
Despite these dissenting views, an average of polls of African-American voters through July showed Biden leading Trump by a margin of 83 percent to 8 percent.
Nikki Haley shines
Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, showed why many Republicans believe that she is the future of her party, delivering a strong speech that, while hammering Biden for what she called his socialist views, also told an American success story.
“In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country,” Haley said. “This is personal for me. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants that came to America and settled in a small Southern town. My father wore a turban. My mother wore a sari. I was a brown girl in a black and white world. We faced discrimination and hardship, but my parents never gave in to grievance and hate. My mom built a successful business. My dad taught 30 years at a historically Black college. And the people of South Carolina chose me as their first minority and first female governor.”
While rumors circulated in the lead-up to the convention that Trump might ditch Mike Pence and name Haley as his running mate for the 2020 election, that didn’t happen. Her speech on Monday, however, boosted Haley’s prospects of rising to the top of the Republican Party.
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