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The GOP’s Absurdist Convention

August 24, 2020
The GOP’s Absurdist Convention
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This weekend was the calm between the quasi-virtual conventions, but we start the week with wildfires, audiotapes, bickering over the Rose Garden, a fight over the Postal Service and a politicized FDA, and more than 177,000 coronavirus deaths. So far this month, the United States has been averaging more than 1,000 deaths and 50,000 new infections a day.. A widely used model now predicts that the country will have 252,000 deaths by Election Day and nearly 310,000 by December 1.

Over the weekend a new poll found that 57 percent of Republicans said that the number of pandemic deaths was “acceptable.”

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 70 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day.

The GOP convention kicks off tonight, with a decidedly absurdist flair. By long tradition, party platforms don’t generally amount to what FDR’s vice president John Nance Garner once refused to a “bucket of warm spit.” (Editor’s note: Garner actually was referring to the vice presidency, and likely did not use the word “spit.”)

But this year’s Festival of Trumpist Adulation has taken the audacious step of doing away with the thing altogether. Instead we get this resolution, which, as God is my witness, is somehow Not A Parody. 

RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda; RESOVLVED,  [sic] That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention;

RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention calls on the media to engage in accurate and unbiased reporting, especially as it relates to the strong support of the RNC for President Trump and his Administration…

In other words, the party will not only forego laying out a new platform, it declares that it has no ideas except that it supports whatever Trump does, fails to do, or fuqs up.

As Jonathan Chait notes, “Previous conventions have convened to support Republican incumbents who were genuinely respected by the public (Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower) without prostrating themselves like this. Why would the party, and its candidates running for office at every level, define themselves so thoroughly with a president who has never even briefly held the support of half the country?”

Well, we know that answer, because we’ve gotten it good and hard over the last four years.

I’ll hold off on the deep commentary about the RNC until it actually happens. But it was notable that fully half of this early slate of speakers were members of the Trump family.

When the full convention list was released, it didn’t look much better. Arc Digital’s Nicholas Grossman wrote that the roster of speakers “highlights how Trumpism isn’t really an ideology. It’s culture war grievance-stoking at the bottom facilitating corruption at the top, wrapped up in a cult of personality.”

We will also get Trump Himself. Every. Single. Night.

It’s redundant by now to point out that the president lies incessantly and openly embraces crazed conspiracy theories. But it’s worth taking a moment to consider the information ecosystem that has formed around him. Two examples from the weekend stand out. On Saturday he tweeted out:

Well, no they didn’t. As Politifact: (and every other fact-checker) noted: “On the first night of the DNC, participants sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” instead of saying the Pledge of Allegiance. On the secondthird and fourth nights, “under God” was included in the pledge. You can watch the video. Right. Here.

But, Trump’s false statement was retweeted more than 87,000 times, and got more than 230,000 likes. And millions of people believed it, even when they were confronted with evidence of its falsity. Here’s former congressman Joe Walsh:

A second example. After Biden’s acceptance speech on Thursday night, Rush Limbaugh floated the bizarre theory that Biden’s speech was so good because it wasn’t actually live.

Some people are of the opinion that it had to be taped — and that it had to be taped in segments, and the segments had to be edited together — because [Biden] is not capable of 22 minutes, even reading a prompter, with no screw-ups. This is the prevailing theory.

I have heard from some professional video people, who say that they have studied it. They’re trying to find out if it was taped or live, based on the premise that there isn’t any evidence that Joe Biden has the ability to go 22 minutes, even on a prompter, without making a mistake, without some kind of a flub.

The Biden-wasn’t-live theory was picked up by other trolls, including this guy.

And, over at the American Thinker, someone named Patricia McCarthy asked: “Did Joe Biden really deliver that speech live? Probably not.”

But, like the lie about the pledge, this was also easily refuted because there were around three dozen reporters present when Biden spoke, along with a camera crew, Secret Service agents, and staffers.

In other words, these two claims were not merely false, they were demonstrably false.  But undoubtedly millions of voters still believe them; and there is a reason for that. Try googling “Youtube DNC pledge under God.” Go ahead, do it. Look at the results.

We have 70 days to go and we are floating in an ocean of bullshit. 

The state of the virus in one chart. Remember when we were afraid that things here might get as bad as Italy?

The new CBS Battleground Poll shows no convention bump for Biden, but also gives him a double-digit lead, 52 percent to 42 percent.

This also doesn’t seem like a good number for an incumbent:

The good news for Biden is that the convention raised his favorable ratings. As Harry Enten noted, “While it does not look like former Vice President Joe Biden‘s lead over President Donald Trump had widened, Biden may have made his advantage more durable by raising his own popularity.” An Axios-Survey Monkey poll also found that Biden “gained ground with skeptical Democrats and a key slice of independents” during the DNC.

More than two dozen former GOP member of Congress, including former Senator Jeff Flake, have joined “Republicans for Biden.”

We got another glimpse at the bizarre family dynamics of the Trump family over the weekend.

Maryanne Trump Barry was serving as a federal judge when she heard her brother, President Trump, suggest on Fox News, “maybe I’ll have to put her at the border” amid a wave of refugees entering the United States. At the time, children were being separated from their parents and put in cramped quarters while court hearings dragged on.

“All he wants to do is appeal to his base,” Barry said in a conversation secretly recorded by her niece, Mary L. Trump. “He has no principles. None. None. And his base, I mean my God, if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this.”

Barry, 83, was aghast at how her 74-year-old brother operated as president. “His goddamned tweet and lying, oh my God,” she said. “I’m talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit.”

Whatever the headlines may say, and however historians will remember today, the most talked about political story this Monday is the announcement that White House Kellyanne Conway will be leaving, and her husband, Never Trump warrior, George, will be stepping away from the Lincoln Project and Twitter.

This appears to be one of the rare instances where the explanation about family concerns appears be true. We wish them the best.

The Guardian asked me for some thoughts about the election and I served up some dark ones: 

Charlie Sykes, a conservative author and broadcaster, asked: “Who needs Vladimir Putin when we have Donald Trump? If you were Vladimir Putin and you wanted to disrupt this election, what would you do? You’d spread disinformation. You’d make people doubt the legitimacy of the vote. You’d peddle conspiracy theories and you might want to mess with mail-in voting. That’s all happening without him. Our president is doing that.”

Sykes, founder and editor-at-large of the Bulwark website, warned of a “very ugly” post-election period. “It’s very clear that Trump will use every lever of governmental power to stay in office. There’ll be many mail-in votes and the mail-in votes will be very different than the same-day votes.

“What he will do – and it will be very much on brand for Donald Trump – is declare victory on election night and then, as the mail-in votes are counted, he will insist that that they are not legitimate, that the election is being stolen from him, and I think that has the potential to create massive doubt and chaos.”

We have 70 days to go.

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.