You have to hand it to Donald Trump and his team. They entered this
RNC robbed of the president’s cherished in-person rally atmosphere. And their two unavoidable strategic goals looked very daunting: He had to somehow rehabilitate a record that had never for a moment gained him a positive job-approval rating from a majority of Americans, a truly historic accomplishment, and a personal image that had about half the electorate in recent polls giving him a very unfavorable assessment, which pretty much means they wouldn’t vote for him for dogcatcher. And his second strategic goal, given his unwillingness to abandon a strict focus on feeding red meat to his base, was to make his Democratic opponent so demonic a figure that even voters unhappy with the status quo might give Trump a second look — a goal which took a huge hit when Democrats nominated Joe Biden, who radiated moderation and reasonableness throughout the campaign.
Team Trump dealt with their first problem, the necessity of a virtual convention, by plunging right ahead with a big cheering crowd on the White House lawn, crammed together and maskless. That’s quite a gamble.
Just as predictably, this entire convention, reflected perfectly in Trump’s own acceptance speech, accepted the challenge of building up the incumbent and tearing down his opponent with big, audacious lies, repeated so monotonously as to seem less remarkable. And the Big Liar himself, described incredibly as an inveterate truth-teller by his wife on the second night of the convention, put an exclamation report on every lie.
How many times did we hear that prior to the China Virus Trump had compiled the most stunning record of accomplishment of any president, who kept absolutely every promise he made in 2016? This is the president who, with partisan control of both houses of Congress, could boast just one significant legislative victory in his first two years, a reactionary tax-cut package that helped buy Republican loyalty. After his party lost the House, the Trump legislative agenda basically died with the exception of occasional deals to end or avoid government shutdowns he had triggered or brought near. We are still waiting on his health-care plan and his infrastructure plan.
How many times were we regaled with tales of his stunning achievement of criminal justice reform via the First Step Act, as contrasted with Joe Biden’s (and even Kamala Harris’s) shameful lock-’em-up policies (which they pursued when they weren’t urging rioters to sack the suburbs)? In truth, Trump’s 2016 campaign stopped an earlier and much more significant bipartisan criminal justice effort dead in its tracks, a fate reinforced by his first attorney general Jeff Sessions and his staunch ally Tom Cotton, until finally, begged by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, he grudgingly signed a half-measure.
How often were we assured of Trump’s deep and abiding compassion for the downtrodden, those suffering from injustice and poverty and poor health? This is the president with a lifelong habit of sneering at hurting and vulnerable people as “losers,” who struggled almost visibly during his daily coronavirus briefings to treat the pandemic as anything other than an annoyance that threatened his reelection.
And how often did politicians and handpicked “real people” alike testify to Trump’s steadfast and stolid character, a man who (as Ivanka Trump said in her introduction tonight) never left doubt as to where he stood? This is the president who constantly maddens his congressional allies with constant flip-flops and tirades, and his own staff with mood swings and bouts of paranoia.
For people who view truth-telling as a matter of bedrock values, it was most remarkable how often we heard of Donald Trump as a man of deep religious convictions, surrounded by the most sectarian of conservative Christians. This is the president who once confessed he had never done anything that required divine forgiveness, and who needs a coterie of religious advisers to keep him from laughable indications of his scriptural ignorance and spiritual poverty.
So often had his record been lied about that by the time Trump rose to praise himself, such amazing statements as this didn’t even seem out of the ordinary:
I have done more for the African-American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president.
More than Ulysses Grant, who fought for Reconstruction against the men honored in neo-Confederate monuments that Trump has defended? More than FDR, whose New Deal began chipping away at entrenched Black poverty? More than Eisenhower, who forced the desegregation of schools with the deployment of federal troops? More than LBJ, who pushed through Congress the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the legacy that Trump’s Supreme Court appointees are working to undermine? Trump’s arrogance is unsurprising, but that his allies let him say this in public is simply terrifying.
The Big Lies about Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, however, match those about his own record as exercises in chutzpah. Perhaps Trump can be forgiven for attributing trade agreements, globalization policies, immigration legislation, and overseas adventures mostly championed by and entirely supported by members of his own party to Biden; Trump has attacked Republicans for them as well. But it probably took three days of speaker after speaker lying through their teeth in saying that Biden and all Democrats favor “defunding the police” for Trump to get away with this assertion:
Make no mistake, if you give power to Joe Biden, the radical left will defund Police Departments all across America. They will pass federal legislation to reduce law enforcement nationwide. They will make every city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon. No one will be safe in Biden’s America.
And it got worse:
Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism. If Joe Biden doesn’t have the strength to stand up to wild-eyed Marxists like Bernie Sanders and his fellow radicals, then how is he ever going to stand up FOR you?
… If the left gains power, they will demolish the suburbs, confiscate your guns, and appoint justices who will wipe away your Second Amendment and other constitutional freedoms.
That is what is known as a pack of lies, uttered in such close succession that it’s tough to process them all. Bernie Sanders is not a “Marxist.” The suburbs are rapidly becoming a Democratic base, not places they want to demolish. Nobody in the Democratic Party has talked about “confiscating” guns, or even regulating them unless they are assault weapons. And all the attacks on Biden and Democrats for allegedly defending late-term abortions (only in very limited cases where there is a medically established threat to the woman’s health) might be fairer if Trump and nearly all Republicans didn’t support outlawing all abortions from the moment of conception.
Perhaps the biggest lie of all was the twinned assertion that Biden is a prophet of darkness and division, compared to a president who embodies national unity and absolutely owns patriotism (as illustrated, presumably, by the cavalier way in which he appropriated the White House as a campaign staging area, complete with giant Trump-Pence signs). As Mike Pence boldly claimed in his gesture of maximum loyalty on night three of the RNC, Trump’s enemies are fundamentally un-American, while the 45th president loves real Americans. Yet at the same time, Trump is running against the “anarchy” in “Democrat-run” cities, for which he is somehow entirely blameless, and against which he darkly threatens to rain down fire.
The question remains: Will it work? It seems unlikely. As noted above, very nearly a majority of voters have probably already decided to vote against Trump, and it’s unlikely many of them tuned into a convention so clearly tailored to MAGA tastes. Trump is unlikely to make it until November 3 living up to the image on Mount Rushmore this convention projected for him, and Biden isn’t going to live down to the bizarre caricature of him as a sort of communist fellow traveler who hates his country. Most of all, the biggest lodestone on Trump’s reelection campaign, his mismanagement of COVID-19, isn’t going to miraculously go away, even if his acceptance speech doesn’t turn out to be a superspreader event.
Perhaps through his impressive willingness to lie and inspire others to lie, Trump can put himself into a sufficiently competitive position to lose the popular vote but either squeak out another improbable Electoral College majority, or more likely, to muddy the waters on Election Night and hope through chicanery and perhaps a Supreme Court ruling he can turn defeat into victory before January. It’s the hand he has dealt himself, and if all else fails, he has enjoyed at least one more egregious White House display of the power he craves and the glory he believes he deserves.