Night two of the Republican National Convention was more uneven and slightly less effective than Monday's solid showing, in my view, but it was still rather good and was punctuated by a string of potent moments. Overall, with a few exceptions on both ends, I'd have replaced the middle 45 minutes of the program with the first 45 minutes, which I found more resonant and impressive -- and therefore worthy of more valuable airtime. A few takeaways from round two of four:
(1) I'm not an expert on the underlying legal questions, but even if Trump critics believe they have an open-and-shut case on potential Hatch Act violations (which don't apply to POTUS), they should tread carefully. Making a stink over the president pardoning a rehabilitated felon and swearing in five immigrants of color as new American citizens would play directly into the Trump campaign's hands. They'd welcome and relish that 'controversy' because it cuts against widely-held perceptions of the president, very much design:
he’s going to get them to attack him for pardoning a black ex-felon & naturalizing five immigrants of color on primetime television— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) August 26, 2020
From the campaign's perspective, the more oxygen either moment gets, the better. Critics will call this cynical; supporters will call it a brilliant piece of political jujitsu. I also can't help but wonder how many of the people exercised about Trump 'exploiting' a pardon for political reasons mustered any outrage over this. Or this.
(2) The First Lady's speech could have used a bit of editing for length and flow, but I suspect she helped her husband's cause. Melania Trump opened with a lengthy and sympathetic passage about COVID-19, the largest issue of our time that looms over this election, and that had been almost entirely ignored all evening long. She also passionately addressed the opioid epidemic, which passed virtually unmentioned last week. She later spoke quite directly and movingly about race, violence, empathy, and unity, appealing to Americans' better angels. She acknowledged America's current and past flaws, even as she spoke glowingly of America's promise and creed:
Like all of you, I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country it is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history. I encourage people to focus on our future while still learning from our past. You must remember that today we are all one community, comprised of many races, religions, and ethnicities. Our diverse and storied history is what makes our country strong, and yes, we still have so much to learn from one another. With that in mind, I would like to call on the citizens of this country to take a moment, pause, and look at things from all perspectives. I urge people to come together in a civil manner so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals. I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice. And never make assumptions based on the color of a person’s skin. Instead of tearing things down, let’s reflect on our mistakes. Be proud of our evolution and look to a way forward. Every day, let us remember that we are one nation under God and we need to cherish one another.
Trump detractors will scoff at some glaring inconsistencies and ironies (Mrs. Trump lamenting the meanness of social media and extolling the importance of honest politicians spring to mind), but her soft-around-the edges message was strategically smart. We'll see if this hunch plays out in upcoming polling and focus groups:
One thing that has struck me these interviews is that they are often looking *for* a reason to reelect Trump. Any data point that helps them feel more comfortable doing so -- like seeing the first lady evince something like compassion -- thus becomes very, very meaningful.— Elaina Plott (@elainaplott) August 26, 2020
(3) Daniel Cameron -- the young, newly-elected Attorney General of Kentucky -- was already generating some low-level buzz among politicos as a GOP star in the making. That star was introduced to the nation last night, in the heart of the key 10pm ET hour. He made the most of it. Cameron was confident, cheerful and optimistic, but also delivered some tough critiques Joe Biden, echoing some of Sen. Tim Scott's message from the night prior:
I think often about my ancestors who struggled for freedom. And as I think of those giants and their broad shoulders, I also think about Joe Biden, who says, if you aren’t voting for me, “you ain’t black.” Who argued that Republicans would put us “back in chains.” Who says there is no “diversity” of thought in the Black community. Mr. Vice President look at me, I am Black. We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own. And you can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin...Joe Biden is a backwards thinker in a world craving forward-looking leadership. There’s no wisdom in his record or plan, just a trail of discredited ideas and offensive statements.
Republicans are making a real play for black votes at this convention. Cameron touched on racial injustice and unrest in the streets, invoking the names of both Breonna Taylor (who was killed by police in Kentucky) and David Dorn. He blasted 'cancel culture' and its practitioners. And he made a broad-based case for a conservative agenda. If you missed it, his full speech is below. It's hard to argue this McConnell protege isn't someone to keep an eye on for the future: