We don’t know a whole lot about the messaging and lineup of next week’s Republican National Convention — aside, of course, from the president’s provocative decision to deliver his acceptance speech from the White House grounds and his equally provocative choice to offer a speaking slot to Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who brandished assault weapons at peaceful protesters who were passing the McCloskey’s mega-mansion on their way to the mayor’s house. But we know that Trump’s reelection campaign has been focused on energizing his base and emphasizing those racially abrasive themes that unite his base with suburban swing voters. Here’s how one Trump adviser explained it to Politico:
“Part of our message will focus on how the suburbs are becoming unsafe because inner cities are unsafe, and Biden and Kamala are going to make it even worse. People who have been impacted by the lawlessness will speak,” said the outside Trump adviser.
He might have added that Trump has been crudely promoting the idea that the equal-housing policies Biden is likely to favor will damage suburban property values by letting those people move into previously white areas. In any event, it’s unlikely the Trump campaign will suddenly “pivot to the center” and moderate his pitch this late in the game.
Indeed — as Ron Brownstein points out — for all the president’s troubles, he retains relatively strong support among the non-college-educated white voters who were attracted to his hateful and divisive 2016 message:
Surveys released since August 11 by Monmouth University, CNN, NBC/The Wall Street Journal, and ABC/The Washington Post all found Trump attracting from 57 to 60 percent of white voters without a college education. The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey put his number slightly lower at 55 percent, while the most recent Pew Research Center poll put him higher, at 64 percent. Trump’s margin over Biden on these measures ranges from just more than 20 percentage points to about 30 points.
These are not as strong as the numbers he posted in 2016, but boosting them with raw, race-based MAGA appeals may be the most direct path to another narrow Trump win. And it’s entirely possible that the images being flashed around the country by the Democratic convention will add to the Republican temptation to go feral:
Last night’s proceedings were effectively a tribute to America’s growing diversity. The energetic, quick-cut keynote speech included multiple speakers who were Latino, Black, Asian American, Native American, and LGBTQ, not to mention several women. The brilliantly reimagined convention roll call reinforced the point, with brief testimonials—some somber, others endearingly goofy—from another diverse roster of speakers in every state and territory, a change that drew rave reviews on Twitter and TV news. Some Democratic activists complained that organizers had allocated too much of the event’s limited time to Republicans and too little to nonwhite progressive leaders such as Stacey Abrams and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But average viewers probably absorbed a very different image: On a day when Trump delivered an incendiary speech in Yuma, Arizona, touting his border wall and even reprising the language from his 2015 campaign announcement about immigrants as “murderers” and “rapists,” Democrats offered the 21st-century version of a Norman Rockwell painting.
You have to figure Team Trump has some focus groups registering fear and loathing of this image of an America where 20th-century ideas of “greatness” have not been restored and are threatened anew.
Sure, the RNC will have its own overlapping agendas. You can, for example, expect as many non-white Republican speakers as organizers can find (including Black state legislator Vernon Jones of Georgia, who will serve as a counter to all the cross-party speakers Democrats recruited). But no one will be left with the impression that Trump’s GOP is anything other than the party of a threatened white Christian hegemony that is unhappy about Black Lives Matter, police accountability, and immigrant rights and is nearly twice as exercised about “violent crime” as it is about COVID-19 (according to a recent Pew survey). You can expect four days of subliminal and not-so-subliminal messaging to their worst instincts.