Trump can still win this election.
Outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, police were using billy clubs and tear gas to beat back anti-Vietnam War protesters. Inside the International Amphitheatre, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff was so enraged by the violence that he put aside his prepared nomination speech and declared, “with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn’t have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.”
The convention’s host, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, and other members of the Illinois delegation stood up and shouted insults at the senator from Connecticut. It was an electrifying moment, a rare case of the reality of the streets intruding on the packaged rhetoric of a political convention.
No such unscripted moment was allowed at this week’s carefully orchestrated Republican National Convention, despite the tumult occurring outside: the protests after the shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, culminating in the arrest of a 17-year-old charged with killing two protesters; the fierce hurricane slamming into coastal Louisiana; the wildfires consuming homes and forests in California; and the continuing march of a pandemic that has left more than 180,000 Americans dead.
With relentless discipline, wrapped in flag-draped videos, the convention hammered home President Donald Trump’s message: that behind closed doors and contrary to all outward signs, he is an ardent feminist who cares deeply about the problems confronted by Black Americans, that Joe Biden is a “Trojan horse” for radical activists and that a Democratic victory in November would spell the end of the American dream. The fact that in his acceptance speech Trump mostly stuck to the teleprompter script vetted by his advisers suggested to Sarah Isgur that “he believes he is losing this race.”
Covid-19 is under control, Trump asserted, and America is reopening. As if to punctuate that message, he assembled 2,000 people on the White House’s South Lawn with few precautions to prevent it from becoming a super spreader event.
David Gergen called the political use of the historic grounds owned by all Americans “an abomination” and urged: “never again should a sitting president be able to commandeer one of the most sacred sites of our democracy and turn it into a political prop.”
It also presented a dangerous image to viewers, he wrote. “At a time when public health experts are trying to persuade Americans to wear masks and practice social distancing, they saw hundreds upon hundreds without masks and jostling close together.”
Americans have seen Donald Trump up close as President for nearly four years and as a reality show star for a lot longer. Their view of him seems unlikely to change in the 70 days before the election. But branding — and rebranding — is what he does.
He particularly needed to after recordings of his sister, retired federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, speaking damningly about her brother, surfaced a week ago, on the eve of the convention. Dean Obeidallah summed them up: “When a sibling says in confidence that her brother is cruel, lies, and is misleading his base with his phoniness, people should take notice.”
Nonetheless, the RNC featured a parade of people vouching for Trump’s magnificence. It “painted a picture of an administration that had completely eradicated myriad scourges, including Covid-19, ISIS, the Middle East conflict, unemployment, the opioid crisis, criminal over-sentencing, sexism, racism and a swamp that needed draining — and Trump alone deserves all the credit,” wrote SE Cupp. None of it was true, she noted, “nor does it tell the story of Trump’s corruption, incompetence, nepotism, cronyism, abuses of power and lawlessness.”
But many people don’t follow politics closely, and if they’re just tuning in, “they also would have heard speakers paying lip service to issues they care about…bad trade deals, disappearing manufacturing jobs, overregulation, endless wars, violence,” Cupp wrote. “And fear is a powerful motivator — sometimes more than the truth.”
Julian Zelizer pointed out that “much of the country has been worn down by the impact of the pandemic, and many voters may want a leader who can either assuage their fears that the virus still looms or who can divert their attention to other issues altogether.”
Republican strategist Doug Heye agreed: “Anyone who looks at the polls and says he can’t win despite being down a large margin, would be making a foolish mistake…
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