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A Convention Reality Check

It is what it is.
August 26, 2020
A Convention Reality Check

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 68 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day.

We are in the midst of our own season of levity and ferocity, where everything does feel like it is out of nature. Last night, the president not only turned the White House into a political prop, but also hijacked some of the more solemn acts of the presidency, including a naturalization ceremony and a pardon.

There were speeches about cancel culture, abortion, and economics. Trump’s children spoke, without even attempting to humanize him. No one was rude enough to mention that Eric had just plead the Fifth in an ongoing criminal investigation into the Trump business.

There were even a few references to the pandemic that has killed nearly 180,000 Americans. Most of the speakers referred to it in the past tense. Almost no one wore masks.

The first lady gave a very nice speech that was most notable for saying things that Trump himself will never say.

But, as usual, Trump’s GOP also had trouble keeping its Crazy under wraps. One featured speaker had to be dropped after it was revealed that she was peddling Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In 2018, she tweeted: “The Rothschilds have used their globalist media mouthpiece to declare that Donald Trump is threatening to destroy the New World Order!”

There was also Abby Johnson, who was the night’s featured pro-life speaker. Johnson has become a star in Trump World despite (1) believing that households should only have one vote and that women should let their husbands decide, and (2) has said that it would be “smart” for police to racially profile her adopted black son because “statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.”

And then, if irony was not long dead, it would have been pummeled into dust by the decision to have former Florida AG Pam Bondi give a speech about corruption and nepotism, right before the Trump kids were scheduled to speak. This image is purest gold:

By the end of the night, it was redundant to talk about broken and shattered norms, because  the pundits told us this all was going to be effective in winning over suburban housewives. But, it is perhaps worth noting in passing that just last month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told State Department employees that “they should not be engaging in ‘any partisan political activity’ tied to a campaign, political party or political group and should refrain from partaking in ‘partisan political activity’ while abroad.” Last night, he spoke to the convention from Jerusalem, during an official U.S. government mission. The Hatch Act is for cucks.

Pundits swooned. This is working, they told one another.

Our friend Matt K. Lewis was among those who were impressed. “Don’t Fool Yourself, Libs. Trump’s Show Is a Yuge Success.”  Some libs seemed to agree, evidently rattled by the slick production values of a convention that seemed aimed at clawing back reluctant Trump voters by giving them the excuse they needed to vote for Trump.

But how about a reality check, people?

The practice of rank punditry chronically inflates the importance of events that are forgotten within days, if not hours. Perhaps it is the nature of 24/7 opinionating to pump up the significance of moments that will forgotten by the end of the week. That’s how we get puffery about “pivots” and “new tones,” when there is never a pivot and never a new tone.

The thing to remember is the context: the convention is not taking place in a vacuum. Voters have had four years to watch Donald Trump. They have been inundated with Trump, overwhelmed and saturated. They are about to get a whole lot more. His campaign has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars pushing many of the tropes we saw last night.

It may be new to you, but it’s not necessarily new to the voters who are being targeted.

Here’s another question I posed last night: When has any convention ever changed the trajectory of a presidential campaign or materially affected the fundamentals of the race?

The fundamental fact of 2020 hasn’t changed: it still all comes down to Trump, the alpha and omega of our political moment. He may give a good speech Thursday night. But, as we’ve said so often: Give it a minute.

A reminder, via Steve Kornacki:

But, but, but… Axios’s Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Swan remind us how Trump could still win. 

“It feels like August of 2016 all over again,” they write. “Polls show Donald Trump losing big. Pundits proclaim he can’t win. Reporters sneer at Trump voters on Twitter and cable… There are several signs that should give the Trump-is-toast self-assured pause.”

Trump will hate this:

Kenosha is burning and, as I said yesterday, this could be a pivotal moment in the campaign.

The convention is taking place against a background of anger, protests, and violence. In Kenosha last night, two people were shot dead and a third injured after a night of protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. His family made an eloquent appeal for peaceful protest, but the images are increasingly ominous.

I got a call yesterday from a savvy Democratic consultant who worried that the images of violence could be a “disaster” for Democrats if Biden did not speak out forcefully. His campaign issued a statement condemning the violence, but we have yet to hear from Biden himself.

The Cook Report’s Dave Wasserman::

Some key Democrats get it:

Meanwhile some of the protests on the Left have taken a seriously ugly turn.

As David French notes, “This bullying is 1) pathetic; 2) dangerous; and 3) utterly destructive and counterproductive to the protesters’ professed aims — unless confrontation is the only purpose.”

It’s also the kind of thing that could get Trump re-elected.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.