OK, all you armchair political strategists out there, pretend you’re Donald Trump — I know, it’s a stretch — and tell me what you think he has to do now.
This much we know: He’ll go dark and divisive, renew his battle in the culture wars — you think Q might show up? — while placing himself on your TV screens for as much time as humanly possible. He’ll also say that Joe Biden and Democrats can’t win without the election being rigged. He may not say directly that he’ll refuse to accept the results of mail-in voting, but I’m pretty sure he’ll hint as much. And while you may not see much of antifa, you’ll hear a lot about it. He has to be hoping the protesters show up.
If you read or watch any of the fake news, you know Trump is trailing badly in the fake-news polls. And one reason he’s trailing is that Trump’s world — or at least the part that acknowledges the pandemic, the failing economy and those marching for racial justice — seems to be falling apart. It will take one hell of a convention to remedy that.
As we know, Trump considers himself an expert on the topic of TV, as he does on so many other topics. Now all Trump has to do, beginning Monday, is put on a four-night, made-for-TV convention show. We know he loves TV, and now he’s gambling that TV — and maybe a good number of viewers — will love Trump back.
It won’t be easy, and not just because, as Dana Milbank pointed out, it wasn’t Biden’s brain that Trump should have been worried about, but his heart. When Biden spoke of the more than 170,000 who have died from COVID-19, he spoke directly to the families of those who had suffered the loss, saying, “I know how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens up in your chest.” Trump can’t begin to match that. He will say instead that without him, millions would have died.
The Democrats were lucky and good in their convention timing. Going first in his strange socially-distant era was dangerous. The convention could well have been a disaster. But the Dems were lucky — to get to set the tone — and they were also surprisingly good. Even many Republicans admit Biden’s speech was good enough that it may mean Trump has to dump Sleepy Joe and Slow Joe for some other caricature, one that will certainly be just as ugly.
In his own estimation, Trump has to be better than Biden in the coming week. Way better. He doesn’t like pre-taped speeches, like the one Michelle Obama gave. He wants spontaneity as much as possible. He’ll bring in crowds, if smallish and socially-distancing ones. He may even briefly wear a mask, one that you can conveniently buy from the Trump campaign, of course.
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From the early reports on what the GOP convention might look like, it seems we’ll hear a version of Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech and, of course, this continuation of the culture wars. He’ll agree with Biden that we’re in a dark period, but he’ll have a completely different explanation for why. At Mount Rushmore, he warned against a “new far-left fascism” — I don’t make this stuff up, folks — and a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”
Certainly, there will be a reprise of his inaugural American carnage speech, even though, if there’s any carnage out there today, it would have had to happen on Trump’s watch. No matter. He has invited the crazy gun-wielding couple from St. Louis, who infamously pointed weapons at peaceful protesters, some of whom were Black or brown. It will be that kind of convention, a Robert E. Lee statue kind of convention.
Because he’s Trump, who famously said he didn’t take any responsibility for anyone who has died or grown ill or lost their jobs during the pandemic, he’ll blame everyone else, but especially Barack Obama. And Hillary Clinton. And Kamala Harris. And Steph Curry. And Hunter Biden. And Andrew Cuomo. And Jim Comey. And everyone who has indicted, and often locked up, his many campaign advisers.
Steve Bannon was just the latest, and I can’t begin to say how proud I am of the small role Colorado’s own Tom Tancredo apparently played in what has allegedly turned out to be a privately-funded border-wall-building scam, bilking millions from MAGA supporters. (No, Tancredo wasn’t charged with anything. As an advisory board member, he was apparently a bit player. But any time Tancredo is back in the news is a good time for me.)
Trump’s response to the pandemic has been to blame China. You’ll hear a lot of “China virus” during the week and no one will be surprised if Kung Flu shows up. Maybe the My Pillow guy, too. As for the economy, Trump will say (falsely) that he built the world’s greatest economy and that he, alone, can fix it. He’ll make claims about protecting those with pre-existing conditions despite his lawsuit to end Obamacare and those very same protections. And he will approach the Black Lives Matter movement in the way he did at Mount Rushmore, calling for Law & Order.
Meanwhile, he has to hope for no more scandal-like problems to show during the week. This may be impossible. In just the past week, we heard from the Post Office scandal, the Steve Bannon scandal, the back-to-school-early issues, America’s world-record standing on coronavirus cases and deaths. I’m sure I’ve missed a few here, but you get the point. Could anyone have missed the point that Bannon’s arrest, on a luxury yacht, was made by, yes, post office inspectors? An SNL skit in the making.
As I write this on Friday, we haven’t seen a comprehensive list of GOP convention speakers. The First Lady, of course. The Trump adult children, of course. Ivanka Trump is expected to introduce her father before his acceptance speech on the White House lawn. Mitch McConnell (maybe reluctantly) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Mike Pence from Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Nikki Haley, considered among the early GOP frontrunners for 2024. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. Andrew Pollack, the father of Parkland shooting victim Meadow Pollack. Alice Johnson, whose sentence Trump commuted after consultation with Kim Kardashian West.
Will we see Cory Gardner anywhere near the convention? Not if he’s smart. How about Lauren Boebert? I wouldn’t be surprised. How about Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio? You’d think so. Fireworks on the Washington Mall? As I write this, they’re still under negotiation.
In her acceptance speech, Kamala Harris said that we have reached an inflection point in America. Not quite yet, I’d say. Election Day is when the inflection will come, if it does come. What I expect the Republican convention to do well, as the Democratic convention did, is to lay out what the stakes are.
The major difference between the conventions is that there were many questions Biden still had to answer. The, um, conventional wisdom is that he passed the test. After nearly four years of Trump, it’s hard to imagine there’s anything left to learn about him. But if Trump is to be re-elected, what he has to do — and what he’ll clearly try to do in the coming week — is to say that the Democratic convention’s version of Biden and of his running mate, Harris, is a big lie. And who knows more about big lies than Donald Trump himself?
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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