As the third night of the Republican National Convention concluded, I felt compelled to come out and say something that I think is more or less undeniable at this point: As a matter of production, watchability, and messaging, the GOP is straight-up putting on a better event than the Democrats did a week ago. It's not particularly close, really. That's not a commentary on the substance or the ideas being conveyed. But the execution is superior in almost every way. That's the good news for Republicans. The less good news is that many swing voters simply aren't watching these conventions, so the impact of the advantage they've earned remains murky.
There's some anxiety-inducing news, too. Joe Biden and the Democrats didn't achieve any bounce following their four-night infomercial. As I mentioned yesterday, they can afford that whiff because they're ahead. But if the GOP's superior show, coupled with narrative-affirming chaos in swing states like Minnesota and Wisconsin (this is truly beyond parody), can't move the needle, the Trump campaign will find itself out of options and praying for a huge, unforeseen game-changer -- possibly in the debates. We'll know if any of this broke through soon enough; Team Trump will have to hold its collective breath and wait for those numbers to come in. But based on what they can control, Republicans are making the most out of their quadrennial event. They're showcasing compelling and inspiring speakers, mixing in personal narratives with policy, and making an aggressive and overt effort to woo to black voters. It might be working.
The cleanup hitter last night was Vice President Mike Pence, who delivered his acceptance speech from Ft. McHenry. The visuals were stunning. The pageantry was stirring. The rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, sung at the very site that inspired the anthem -- with wounded warriors standing -- was memorable. And although the fact-checkers -- who seemed to be mostly napping last week -- will probably pick apart some of the claims advanced (as I did to Kamala Harris' remarks after her veep launch here), Pence landed some serious and tough blows against the Democratic nominee. Three stood out:
(1) "When President Trump gave the order to take out the world’s most dangerous terrorist, Iran’s top general will not harm another American, because Qassem Soleimani is gone. My fellow Americans, you deserve to know, Joe Biden criticized President Trump following those decisions. Decisions to rid the world of two terrorist leaders. But it’s not surprising, because history says Joe Biden opposed the operation that took down Osama bin Laden. It is no wonder that the secretary of defense under the Obama-Biden administration once said that Joe Biden has been, and I quote, “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
(2) "Joe Biden has referred to himself as a transition candidate, and many were asking, “Transition to what?” Last week, Democrats did not talk very much about their agenda. And if I were them, I wouldn’t either. I mean, Bernie Sanders did tell his followers Joe Biden would be the most liberal president. In fact, he said, and I quote, that many of the ideas he fought for that just a few years ago were considered radical are now mainstream in the Democratic Party...When you consider their agenda, it is clear. Joe Biden would be nothing more than a Trojan horse for the radical left. The choice in this election has never been clearer, and the stakes have never been higher."
(3) "In the midst of this global pandemic, just as our nation had begun to recover, we have seen violence and chaos in the streets of our major cities. President Trump and I will always support the right of Americans to peacefully protest. But rioting and looting is not peaceful protest. Tearing down statues is not free speech, and those who do so will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Last week, Joe Biden did not say one word about the violence and chaos engulfing cities across this country. So let be clear. The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha -- too many heroes have died defending our freedom to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color."
Pence, who is straight out of central casting for a Vice President, didn't thunder and rage -- but he ruthlessly executed the designated and traditional 'attack dog' duties of presidential running mates (though this president enjoys being his own chief attack dog). It's true that Biden opposed the Bin Laden raid and that Robert Gates said what he said. It's true that Bernie Sanders made the GOP's 'trojan horse' bank shot a little easier in his DNC speech, by bragging that his own radical Socialist ideas are now mainstream, and no longer considered radical, within the modern Democratic Party.
And it's true that in the midst of months of riots, looting, and violence across numerous American cities, the Democratic convention did not even attempt to acknowledge any of it. Biden put out a perfunctory statement via a spokesperson Tuesday night, then finally added a video the next day. Unlike some Democrats, Biden will occasionally say a few words condemning rioting. But his campaign has obviously been making a calculated decision to downplay and sidestep the issue, doing so very noticeably last week. Republicans are making them pay for it as the chaos has spilled into a swing state suburb, and even Trump-critical commentators think and fear it could have resonance:
“After feeling “100 percent on the fence” about who he will vote for in November, he is increasingly nervous that Democratic state leaders seem unable to contain the spiraling crisis.” https://t.co/ZVNixkn5FW— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) August 27, 2020
I'm not the only one who thought Pence got the job done. And now, we wait for the GOP's grand finale (which could be partially tempered by the hurricane), and for the data that will tell us whether any of this made a difference. I'll leave you with this: