When he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland four years ago, Tweety McTreason painted a dark and largely unrecognizable portrait of America in crisis. He warned that “attacks on our police and terrorism in our cities threaten our very way of life,” but vowed that the crime and violence “will soon come to an end” if he were elected.
As Trump prepares to accept his party’s nomination again Thursday night, this time from the White House South Lawn, he will make essentially the same grim case for reelection. He will insist that only he can solve the nation’s myriad crises, from urban unrest to a deep recession — and ignore the fact that most worsened in his first term.
The incumbent is trying once again to run as the insurgent.
Vice President Mike Pence encapsulated that challenge Wednesday when he tried to update Trump’s successful 2016 slogan with a twist: “Make America Great Again. Again.”
For his acceptance speech, Trump will address an expected crowd of about 1,000 people on the South Lawn, ignoring ethics rules about using the White House for partisan events and public health guidelines about avoiding crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
His goals include separating his administration’s accomplishments from his polarizing personality and to convince a fractious, nerve-jangled country that his presidency has succeeded.
He also will need to convince independent voters that he can somehow fix the nation’s devastating health, economic and social crises in a second term that he failed to fix — and in some cases exacerbated — in the first.
Trump has struggled in multiple interviews to articulate a policy agenda for a second term, and the Republican National Convention for the first time in its history avoided issuing a detailed platform of goals and intentions, saying simply that it would back Trump’s “America first” policies.
Most reelection contests are a referendum on the incumbent, but Trump hopes to turn the focus on his opponent instead. He plans to unleash a fierce attack on the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, according to an excerpt of his remarks released by his campaign.
“At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies, or two agendas,” Trump will say. “We have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years. At the Democrat convention, you barely heard a word about their agenda. But that’s not because they don’t have one. It’s because their agenda is the most extreme set of proposals ever put forward by a major party nominee.”
After trailing in polls for months, Trump is likely to mix grievance-laden appeals to his base with more optimistic rhetoric aimed at winning back wavering Republicans and swing voters.
“The Republican Party goes forward united, determined and ready to welcome millions of Democrats, independents and anyone who believes in the greatness of America and the righteous heart of the American people,” Trump will say. “This towering American spirit has prevailed over every challenge, and lifted us to the summit of human endeavor.”
Although the RNC has featured a handful of former Democrats, most speakers have made partisan appeals that focused heavily on extolling Trump. Several high-profile speakers are on the Thursday night undercard, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), the president’s daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump, and Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney.
Trump will take the stage hours after Hurricane Laura hit parts of Louisiana and eastern Texas, leaving at least four dead and widespread damage, and as the capstone of a four-day convention where nary a speaker acknowledged the growing danger of human-caused global warming, a phenomenon that Trump has dismissed.
Trump also held a campaign fundraiser at his Washington hotel and visited the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday, saying he planned to visit the Gulf Coast this weekend.
Over the first three nights of the convention, speakers repeatedly distorted the realities of the still expanding coronavirus crisis, which already has killed more than 180,000 Americans, thrown millions out of work and forced the closure of thousands of schools and colleges this fall.
They instead cast Trump as a hero who has vanquished the scourge, ignoring the fact that the United States, with only 4% of the world’s population, has suffered 25% of the global caseload and the highest death toll by far.
They tried to make the case that Biden, despite his history as a relative moderate in the Democratic Party, “would be nothing more than a Trojan horse for a radical left,” as Pence said Wednesday.
None acknowledged Trump’s racially charged rhetoric, including his dire warnings of a “war on our suburbs,” after a summer of mostly peaceful protests of systemic racism and police abuses around the country.
The protests, and scattered vandalism, intensified this week after police in Kenosha, Wis., shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back at close range in front of his children.
Although the protests erupted on Trump’s watch, the speakers uniformly blamed Democrats, warning that Biden would make the country less safe.
Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, was blunt during a TV interview Thursday morning, explaining that Trump and his campaign view the protests as politically advantageous for the president.
“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,” she said.
In comments to reporters while at FEMA, Trump refused to say if he had watched the cellphone video of Blake’s shooting. He criticized protests by NBA players, who canceled Wednesday’s playoff games, claiming that “people are a little tired of the NBA” and calling the league “a political organization.”
Biden, in his first public appearance of the week, blamed Trump for inciting violence and provoking more protests by sending armed troops into cities.
“He just keeps pouring fuel on the fire. He’s encouraging this. He’s not diminishing it at all,” Biden said on MSNBC, rejecting Pence’s claim in his acceptance speech that people “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
“This happens to be Tweety McTreason’s America. Tweety McTreason’s America,” Biden said. “The biggest safety issue is all the people dying from COVID. We’re worse off than any other country in the world.”
After lying low for the first three days of the RNC, Biden’s appearances on MSNBC and then CNN, both arranged only Thursday morning, reflected growing concern by Democrats that Trump’s messaging barrage could be registering with swing voters, especially on the question of protests and policing.
Biden emphatically refuted Trump’s claims that he wants to defund the police or supports violent protests, and noted that the 17-year-old charged with murdering two protesters in Kenosha had voiced support for right-wing militias and had posted a video of himself at a Trump rally in January.
“Where’s the condemnation coming for that?” Biden asked.
Trump will take the stage after days of mixed messages on race. Organizers hope that if they can’t draw Black support for Trump, they can lower enthusiasm in Black communities for Biden.
While RNC speakers sought to brand Black Lives Matter protests as violent mobs of anarchists, the GOP also made a sustained pitch to Black voters, pointing to Trump’s enactment of criminal justice reform and his economic stewardship prior to the pandemic.
They have repeatedly pointed to Biden’s support for the 1994 crime bill, which increased Black incarceration rates, and his comment this year that African Americans who do not support him “ain’t Black.”
The outreach was part of an ambitious airbrushing of the president’s record and rough-hewn persona. Regular Americans, from a Maine lobsterman to a pardoned bank robber, offered testimonials to his policies, and Trump family members insisted he is more compassionate in private than he appears in public.
Trump delivered a grievance-laden speech Monday during the RNC’s delegate roll call in Charlotte, N.C., but has appeared only sporadically since then, mostly in taped segments that sparked complaints he was improperly using his office for personal gain.
Biden announced Thursday that more than 100 former staffers to the 2008 and 2012 GOP presidential nominees, the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, were endorsing him over Trump.
“Given the incumbent president’s lack of competent leadership, his efforts to aggravate rather than bridge divisions among Americans, and his failure to uphold American values, we believe the election of former Vice President Biden is clearly in the national interest,” the former Republican staffers wrote.