Nearly every speaker who took the stage at an empty auditorium near the White House on Monday predicted fire and brimstone if Democrat Joe Biden becomes president next year, echoing Trump’s tirade earlier in the day after he was formally renominated as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Conservative activist Charlie Kirk opened the GOP convention with a dark warning about a “vengeful mob that wishes to destroy our way of life,” touting Trump as “the bodyguard of Western civilization.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) continued the apocalyptic theme, saying there would be “no refuge for freedom should we fail” to reelect Trump in November.
School choice advocate Rebecca Friedrichs took aim at unions, which she accused of “subverting our Republic” by undermining “educational excellence, morality, law and order.”
“In Joe Biden’s America, we’d be lucky if we could see any doctor,” Natalie Harp, a cancer survivor and member of the president’s campaign advisory board, added in her speech Monday night.
Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter in the February 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, said he believed “the safety of your kids depends on whether” Trump is reelected. The white St. Louis couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home said that Democrats “want to abolish the suburbs altogether. ... These are the policies that are coming to a neighborhood near you,” in one of the evening’s not-so-subtle dog whistles.
In perhaps the most bizarre moment of the night, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle delivered an angry speech, shouting at what seemed to be the top of her voice into an empty room about Democrats trying to “destroy” the country.
A few speakers hit optimistic notes, however. Keynote speaker Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley both spoke of their inspiring and unlikely stories and painted a picture of a bright future for the U.S. under Republican policies.
Here are four other takeaways from the convention’s first night:
Republicans Paint A Rosy Picture Of Trump’s Coronavirus Response
The GOP convention aired videos that heaped praise on Trump’s leadership and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the president’s “historic” actions “saved lives” despite the U.S. leading the world with more than 5.7 million confirmed cases and over 177,000 deaths ― which went unmentioned on Monday.
But the videos, which essentially resembled campaign ads, omitted Trump’s repeated dismissals of the severity of the virus, how he said it would disappear, his praise of China’s handling of the disease, his push for states to reopen prematurely, his conjecture that injecting disinfectants could be a cure and his inaction as severe testing shortfalls persisted months into the crisis.
A Subtle Effort To Make Trump More Palatable To Voters
Public polls show Trump is currently badly lagging behind Biden with suburban voters ― especially women. That’s why some speeches at the GOP convention on Monday night sought to sand down some of the president’s roughest edges by presenting him in a more positive context.
“President Trump sometimes raises his voice ― and a ruckus. He knows that’s what it takes to raise an army of patriots who love America and will protect her,” Gaetz said at one point.
Retired NFL star Hershel Walker similarly defended Trump, whom he counted as a friend for 37 years.
“He leaves nothing on the field. Some people don’t like his style, the way he knocks down obstacles that get in the way of his goals,” Walker said. “People on opposing teams didn’t like it when I ran right over them either. But that’s how you get the job done.”
Walker also said he felt offended by people calling Trump a racist. “He works night and day” to improve the lives of African Americans,” Walker said.
Trump Gets Involved ― And Uses The White House As A Prop
The Republican National Convention aired two videos of Trump interacting with two separate groups ― essential workers and freed U.S. hostages. The short vignettes were filmed at the White House and, while technically the Hatch Act does not apply to the president, the move does raise ethical questions about the role of taxpayer-funded property being used as a campaign prop.
In one of the videos, Trump was met with six Americans who were freed from captivity during his administration, including Andrew Brunson, a pastor who was arrested in Turkey.
“I have to say that, to me, President Erdogan was very good,” Trump told Brunson, who was held in captivity by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Policy Takes A Backseat To Culture Wars
Very few speakers discussed actual policies on the first night of the convention. In fact, the party didn’t write a platform at all this year, preferring instead to endorse Trump’s second-term agenda, as soon as he figures it out.
The event was instead aimed at riling up conservatives with red meat ahead of the November election with speeches from activists and lesser-known voices in the party. As NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald noted on Twitter, the traditional GOP establishment confab resembled the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists and far-right segments of the party.