Republicans began their answer to Democrats’ weeklong campaign informercial in Washington Monday night, but the real Republican convention was actually held earlier Monday, where it was supposed to be all along: Charlotte, N.C.
Delegates met — some in person, some virtually — to renominate President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump and Pence each appeared at the Charlotte Convention Center. Both gave speeches, with Trump’s going on for nearly an hour, completing the necessary business of the GOP convention before most people thought it had even started.
But Trump and his campaign weren’t about to cede four nights of prime-time television with only 10 weeks to go until the election. The first night of their convention began a half-hour earlier than Democrats’, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time — though, unlike the Democratic convention, it actually ended before 11 p.m.
Speakers see-sawed between the upbeat mood Trump and his campaign said would dominate and a dystopian forecast of America with former Vice President Joe Biden in the White House. There were frequent mentions of radical leftists, “the mob” and the civil unrest in America’s cities this summer.
Between the proceedings in Charlotte and the two-and-a-half-hour TV show Monday night, it was a long day for Republicans. Here are the superlatives from the first night of the GOP convention.
Best attendance: Trump and Pence
After Biden accepted his party’s nomination without leaving his adopted hometown of Wilmington, Del., Republicans made a point of going to their convention host city.
“I hope you realize the difference between Republican and Democrat[ic] conventions,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) told delegates in Charlotte. “Our nominees show up.”
Both Trump and Pence spoke to delegates from the stage, careful not to say explicitly they were accepting the nominations they were awarded there, lest they eliminate any rationale for their planned prime-time remarks later this week.
Trump talked about why he was there, before taking a shot at North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, whom he accused, without evidence, of enacting coronavirus restrictions to harm Trump’s political standing.
“I felt an obligation to be here,” Trump said. “You have a governor who’s in a total shutdown mood. I guarantee you on November 4, it will all open up. It will be fine.”
Of course, Trump tried to move the convention from Charlotte to Jacksonville, Fla., in the hope that he could hold a proper convention in a city and state with Republican leadership. But the spread of the virus wouldn’t allow that, either, regardless of which party controls the local government.
The Zell Miller award: Vernon Jones
Democrats last week trotted out a parade of prominent Republican officials to endorse Biden: former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) and others.
Republicans had their own party switcher on Monday: Vernon Jones, a Georgia state representative, who reprised the role of another former Georgia Democrat 16 years ago: the late Sen. Zell Miller, who crossed party lines to back George W. Bush and discredit John Kerry in a sizzling speech at the 2004 GOP convention.
Jones is a long-time figure in Atlanta-area politics, but he won reelection to his state House district with just 21,000 votes — in an uncontested race — the last time he was on the ballot. Kasich won 1.9 million votes when he won reelection in 2014.
“You may be wondering, ‘Why is a lifelong Democrat speaking at the Republican National Convention?’ And that’s a fair question,” Jones said Monday. “And here’s your answer: The Democratic Party does not want Black people to leave their mental plantation.”
The GOP has at least one more former Democrat on its schedule this week: Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), the congressman who switched parties after the House’s 2019 impeachment of Trump.
Most likely to be 2024 candidates: Nikki Haley and Donald Trump Jr.
This convention might be about trying to reelect Trump this fall. But the race to succeed Trump as leader of the party — whether he wins or loses — is well underway.
Trump didn’t replace Pence with Nikki Haley on the ticket, as some had prophesied that he would. But he got a good look at the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations’ political skills on Monday.
Haley, speaking in an empty auditorium, connected with audiences at home. She spoke of growing up in South Carolina as the child of Indian immigrants, describing herself as “a brown girl in a black-and-white world.”
“We faced discrimination and hardship,” Haley said. “But my parents never gave in to grievance and hate.”
Seconds after Haley concluded her remarks, it was Trump Jr.’s turn. In contrast to Haley’s calm-yet-forceful delivery, Trump’s eldest son — who has been floated as a future political candidate — was loud, demonstrative and hyperbolic.
“They want to bully us into submission,” Trump Jr. said of Democrats. “If they get their way, it will no longer be the silent majority.”
The night ended with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only African American Republican in the Senate. Scott isn’t mentioned as a future presidential candidate; he says his next campaign for Senate in 2022 will be his last.
But like his fellow South Carolinan, he described a rapid rise to public life that he said could only happen in the United States: “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime.”
Fitting with the overall message of the night, Scott saved his strongest words for a fulsome condemnation of Biden, seeking to rebut the positive image Democrats amplified of their candidate last week.
“Make no mistake: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want a cultural revolution — a fundamentally different America,” Scott said. “If we let them, they will turn our country into a socialist utopia. And history has taught us that path only leads to pain and misery, especially for hard-working people hoping to rise.”
Most telling speakers: Mark and Patricia McCloskey
There was no greater sign that the culture wars have come to define the Trump-era GOP than two personal injury lawyers making perhaps the most newsworthy appearance of night one of the convention.
Mark and Patty McCloskey, the St. Louis attorneys who brandished guns at protesters earlier this summer, delivered a dark screed against Democrats, falsely accusing Biden of wanting to “abolish the suburbs” and suggesting the Democratic primary victory by congressional candidate Cori Bush earlier this month marked the triumph of an “out-of-control mob.”
“Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America,” Patty McCloskey said.
While the McCloskeys’ video was perhaps the darkest moment of the night, it struck some of the same themes that the party’s headliners hit as well.
Breakout star: The White House
It’s good to be the president. There’s a reason so few of them have lost their reelection campaigns.
Trump’s campaign flexed all the muscles of incumbency on Monday night, cutting two videos from inside the White House — brushing aside any violations of federal law or protocol by politicking from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW — that included the president speaking with guests. In one, Trump talked with essential workers who coped with the coronavirus outbreak or contracted the virus themselves. In the other, the president greeted former prisoners overseas who his administration had repatriated.
The videos provided the first taste of what’s expected to be a packed schedule of convention events at the White House this week. First Lady Melania Trump is slated to deliver her remarks Tuesday from the recently renovated Rose Garden, and Trump himself is reportedly planning his acceptance speech Thursday from somewhere on the White House grounds.
Swampiest Setting: The convention set
One key difference between the first night of Republicans’ convention and the Democrats’ programming: The majority of the GOP speeches were from the same place, the Mellon Auditorium, a federally owned event space a few blocks from the White House in Washington. Democrats took viewers all across the country for their speeches last week.
It was a fine setting: marble columns, American flags, an impressive backdrop. But it was a distinctly Washington setting — as were various cuts to the White House and famous D.C. monuments — for a president who has cast himself as a swamp-draining outsider, though the list of speakers did include some regular folks sprinkled in with the politicians and members of Trump’s family. Perhaps it’s not a choice Trump would have made in 2016. But now, as president, he may figure that the symbols of Washington reflect the office he holds, swampy symbolism or not.
Most likely to prompt a volume adjustment: Kimberly Guilfoyle
Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend and a top fundraiser for the Trump campaign, gave the kind of speech she might have delivered if the convention were at the Spectrum Center in Uptown Charlotte.
But without an audience in the Mellon Auditorium in Northwest Washington, what might have been a rousing speech to an arena full of rowdy, cheering convention delegates was instead an echoing, volume-shattering address that lit up social media.
Every convention for more than 50 years has been TV shows. That’s more true than ever this year — and for the most part, both parties and their speechmakers have adjusted to this new reality. But Guilfoyle’s speech felt more like it was imported from a noisy convention hall than one meant for voters watching TV in their living rooms.
Most shameless self-promotion: Corey Lewandowski
Back in Charlotte, the roll call of states brought some of the same color as Democrats’ roll call last week. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, was the chair of New Hampshire’s delegation — and he was all too happy to insert a little bit of harmless self-promotion into the traditional points of pride from each state.
“New Hampshire is known for our maple syrup, comedian Adam Sandler, poet Robert Frost and New York Times bestselling author Corey Lewandowski,” Lewandowski said, tongue firmly planted in his cheek.