Why the GOP Convention’s First Night Was (Kind of) a Success

The Republicans caught a break from bad polls and bad news.

As the weird facsimile of a Republican National Convention launched on Monday night, the latest polls for President Trump were almost unremittingly bad. He’s behind everywhere that really matters, including by a hair in the most recent surveys out of Texas and Ohio. What’s more, the news environment was bad for Trump, his family, and his political allies.

Closest to home, word got out that Trump’s niece had surreptitiously taped his sister making disparaging and hurtful remarks about him. Someone else had secretly taped his wife Melania dumping on him and her step kids. One of these step kids, Eric Trump, was in hot water for failing to comply with a subpoena issued by the New York attorney general for Trump Organization records. The president had also just lost a court fight with porn star Stormy Daniels and was ordered to pay her legal fees. That came on the heels of him losing a fight in federal court to shield his tax records from the Manhattan District Attorney.

Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell Jr., whose 2016 endorsement of Donald Trump was critical to his success, was embroiled in the most sordid kind of sex scandal and in the process of being forced out as the president of Liberty University. New scrutiny will be applied to the question of whether Trump bagman Michael Cohen blackmailed Falwell about the affair to secure his support.

The news was horrible, too, for the man and woman who replaced Paul Manafort as Trump’s 2016 campaign leaders. Steve Bannon was arrested on a Chinese billionaire’s yacht, and Kellyanne Conway’s daughter took to TikTok to accuse her parents of abuse and say that she would seek to be legally emancipated from their custody. This, in all likelihood, is what prompted Conway to announce her departure from the White House at the end of the month.

Under the circumstances, the first night of the “convention” went off fairly well and was probably more effective than most liberals recognize or want to admit. If nothing else, it took attention away from all the negative stories that were swirling around. The theory behind the first night’s programming wasn’t difficult to discern. Black voices attested to Trump’s lack of racism, while white voices spoke to suburban fears of Black crime. Trump is trying to cut into Biden’s margins in his areas of strength, and he’ll hope to do it without hurting the enthusiasm of his more rural base. Trump also used his primetime slot to rewrite the history of the COVID-19 outbreak, hoping to make his failures less of a liability for him at the polls.

Based on the goals for the night, it seemed like the Trump campaign achieved its goals. The message was necessarily mixed and contradictory, so the programming was anything but consistent or truly coherent, but the Republican National Committee made the arguments it wanted to make—and it made strategic sense. The confab’s organizers were probably pretty pleased with how it went, but it won’t do much to fix the legal and political problems that keep mounting around the president, his family, and his allies.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com