After a first night that nestled a few mild-mannered speeches amid wild shrieking about Marxism and the sacking of white suburbs, the second night of the Republican National Convention was calmer, at least on average. But if, as we are told, the president himself is the producer of this show, night two really needed an editor. It meandered from endless conservative boilerplate rhetoric about job-creatin’ bidnesses and the evil environmentalists who want to keep them from wresting wealth from the Earth to testimonials from beneficiaries of legislation (e.g., the First Step Act and the CARES Act) that Trump had little to do with shaping. Recent American history was edited into an account of an astonishing national revival that was temporarily interrupted by COVID-19 but would almost immediately reach new heights if the calamity of a Biden president is avoided. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow, sounding like he was selling reverse mortgages, with zero hesitation described the economic mess we are in as a “V-shaped recovery.” It was possible to become drowsy except for the occasional wild-ass rhetoric that sounded like excess passages cut from Kimberly Guilfoyle’s speech on Monday.
In the latter category, you have to include anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson talking about “the smell of abortion,” yet another Cuban-American (this time the lieutenant governor of Florida) suggesting that Joe Biden is America’s Fidel Castro, and Eric Trump’s entire deranged speech, which accused all Democrats of wanting to burn flags, abolish police departments, confiscate guns, and close down houses of worship. He may have stepped in it by quoting from Ronald Reagan’s famous speech opposing the enactment of Medicare, but for viewers needing their regular MAGA fix, it was probably okay. At least he was clearer than his sister Tiffany, who seemed to be making a case for media censorship but couldn’t quite spit it out. Pam Bondi’s attack on Hunter Biden seemed to come out of nowhere, and her lurid account of Biden nepotism was unintentionally humorous in the midst of the Trump-family speaking marathon.
But it was Trump’s own appearances that most exhibited his vice of wanting to turn his presidency into reality TV. With very limited time to deliver his party’s message, Trump took the time to personally pardon a reformed felon and nestled the FBI agent who had arrested him into the warm moment. Later, at excruciating length, convention viewers were treated to an entire citizenship ceremony conducted by the sinister acting secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, with POTUS himself adding a few “Great job!” and “Tremendous people” attaboys toward the new Americans, who seemed to all be from what Trump has called “shithole countries.” If the point was that Trump does not actually think all immigrants are rapists and murderers, he could have just said so.
The underwhelming content became so tedious that I almost missed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech, which could have been boiled down to the words: “Here I am in Jerusalem.” He spoiled the brief buzz created by Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron, who might have earned the kind of praise Tim Scott and Nikki Haley won on day one if he hadn’t himself lapsed into red-baiting.
The snoozefest ended with what can only be described as an overlong and underrehearsed speech by the First Lady. She had her moments, acknowledging the damage wrought by COVID-19 that so many other speakers seemed determined to ignore or minimize. But her calls for “civility” and national unity were undercut by the hateful words of her stepsons and her own little shots at the media and “the other side.” I had no major issue with the address until she described her husband as a man devoted to truth-telling. With great self-discipline, no one in the Rose Garden laughed, though I don’t know what they were saying in the decidedly non-hygienic aftermath when the unmasked listeners were hugging each other.
So halfway through this convention, Trump’s minions are undoubtedly doing their best to feed his insatiable ego, pretend Trump has a great record and genius plans for the future, and hope against hope that the 55th or the 128th lie about Joe Biden’s Marxist suburban-trashing hordes detaches just enough votes to let the 45th president eke out another Electoral College win with a minority of popular votes. We’ll see what pyrotechnics have been reserved for the Big Speech on Thursday. But if Team Trump does a hot-wash review of night two, more attention to pace and thematic dynamism would be a very good idea. Perhaps they could cut Ivanka’s time by a few minutes.