Trump’s Convention Invokes Fear of Biden in Appeal to GOP Base
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s convention opened with a dark portrait of fear in America painted largely for the benefit of his base -- mixing appeals to Black and Latino voters with warnings of “mobs” bent on destroying the status quo.
Monday’s Republican convention programming offered few appeals for independent voters disenchanted by Trump. Instead, it stitched together a series of tributes to Trump himself, leaned heavily on accusations that Democrats would damage the very fabric of American society and offered a revisionist vision of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which now threatens his re-election chances.
Promises that the convention would present an optimistic vision of the next four years quickly gave way to dire warnings of a Joe Biden-led America, branding the Democratic nominee both as a radical and a failure, despite a 40-plus-year record in the U.S. Senate and the vice president’s office as a moderate Democrat.
Speakers warned of rioters besieging the nation -- referring in part to protests for racial justice after several high-profile police killings of Black people -- and of higher taxes and socialist upheavals if Trump loses.
“They want to destroy this country and everything we hold dear,” Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Trump campaign aide and girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., said, at times raising her voice to a shout. “They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe, so they can control how you live! They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal victim ideology, to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.”
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said Biden would forever change American culture.
”Our side is working on policy -- while Joe Biden’s radical Democrats are trying to permanently transform what it means to be an American. Make no mistake: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want a cultural revolution, a fundamentally different America,” Scott said of the Democratic ticket.
Trump is looking to the convention to spark a rebound in support and close the gap with Biden, who polls show is leading nationally and in swing states that will decide the presidency. The Democratic convention last week aimed squarely at Trump, wooing support from progressives and Republicans alike with the singular goal of ousting him.
But the strategy Trump’s team put on display Monday carries enormous risks for the president’s chances of re-election. He won in 2016 by the thinnest of margins -- 80,000 votes in three states. With so little outreach to new voters, Trump is forced to rely on the same coalition to return him to the White House, even as polls show some of his supporters from last time have abandoned him.
Trump’s convention did go on attack against some of the Democrats’ most loyal voters, including teachers’ unions and African Americans. Many of the remarks directly addressed Trump, who appeared in parts of the convention throughout the day and tweeted out clips of the event into the night. This year’s convention ditched a formal platform and instead pledged loyalty to Trump.
There was almost no talk of what he would do with a second term, and the president himself has not laid out a detailed agenda, beyond talking about restoring the economy to its pre-Covid-19 heights, with few specifics as to how he would achieve that.
Some speeches offered a glimpse of potential stars in 2024, whether Trump wins or not. Those included Nikki Haley, a former United Nations ambassador and governor of South Carolina, who endorsed Trump but skipped the lofty tributes of other speakers, and Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate.
Monday’s convention delivered a selective retelling of the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Trump regularly minimized. It touted his restriction on flights from China and his spurring of manufacturing of medical equipment, glossing over delays in responding to the virus and weeks of downplaying its footprint, spread and scope.
Trump said Democrats were trying to take advantage of the pandemic in a renewed attack on vote by mail.
“What they’re doing is using Covid to steal an election,” Trump said earlier in the day after he was nominated for a second term by delegates in Charlotte, North Carolina. “They’re using Covid to defraud the American people, all of our people, of a fair and free election. We can’t do that.”
Video montages also featured clips of Democratic leaders praising him -- including some who’ve also criticized him -- and a West Virginia nurse claiming he saved thousands of lives, even as the death toll has far exceeded Trump’s own estimates. The U.S. leads the world in publicly confirmed cases and deaths.
Another nurse praised Trump for his “positive spirit” on the pandemic. “We just need to make this China virus go away, and it’s happening,” Trump replied, in one segment filmed from the White House.
Some of Monday’s speakers sought to smooth over Trump’s incendiary comments on race by presenting a vision of a united America and overtures to Latino and Black Americans -- including a largely autobiographical address by Scott.
“Our side is working on policy while Joe Biden’s radical Democrats are trying to permanently transform what it means to be an American,” Scott said.
Other speakers went further, explicitly denying that Trump is racist and that the U.S. has a racism problem. “I’ve seen racism up close, I know what it is, and it isn’t Donald Trump,” said former National Football League player Herschel Walker, who is Black.
“In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist,” said Haley, describing herself as the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. “That is a lie. America is not a racist country.”
Kim Klacik, a Black Republican candidate in a Democratic stronghold district in Baltimore, said Democrats take Black voters for granted.
“The Democrats still assume that Black people will vote for them, no matter how much they let us down and take us for granted. We’re sick of it,” she said. “The days of blindly supporting the Democrats are coming to an end.”
Georgia State Representative Vernon Jones, a Democrat, also appeared and accused his party of keeping Black voters on a “mental plantation.”
Yet the appeals to Black voters to consider the Republican Party contrasted with loaded language and racial overtones in other remarks. Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who have been criminally charged in connection with aiming weapons from their yard at a Black Lives Matter protest, warned that “what you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to you.”
“The radicals are not content just marching in the streets. They want to walk the halls of Congress. They want power. This is Joe Biden’s party,” Mark McCloskey said.
Biden leads Trump nationally among Black voters, 87% to 9%, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Biden’s support is consistent with Hillary Clinton’s in 2016.
But Black voters also failed to turn out for Clinton in the same numbers as in 2012, when President Barack Obama was on the ballot. Then, Black turnout reached an all-time high of 66.6%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. In 2016 it dropped to 59.6%.
Even a small shift in the Black vote could have big consequences for Biden, because of large Black voting populations in key swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, where Trump’s support among Black voters is in the single-digits but where margins could be razor-thin. For Trump, winning over Black voters or spurring undecided ones to stay home could prove decisive.
The convention continues Tuesday, featuring Secretary of State Michael Pompeo from Jerusalem and first lady Melania Trump from the Rose Garden. Trump plans to attend her remarks.
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