Politics – washingtonpost
This was the script that Trump’s advisers wrote and delivered with remarkable repetition over more than 10 hours of broadcast time at the Republican National Convention this week — a naked appeal to college-educated, minority and independent voters who have been alienated from the president after three years of pugilism, name calling and norm breaking from the Oval Office.
The Trump that the country has long become accustomed to — often fiery on Twitter, combative in person, obsessed with his brand, eager to fan the flames of division and often angry about perceived injustices committed against him — was demoted to a secondary role for much of the week, as his surrogates cast him in a different light, often aided by misleading depictions.
If Trump arrived at his Cleveland convention in 2016 as a disrupter who promised to shake up the political establishment, he returned to the convention stage four years later trying to embody a new national revival while rejecting Democrat Joe Biden’s charge that he had “cloaked America in darkness.” His political vulnerabilities — including harsh language against immigrants, frequent dishonesty and his penchant for pardoning friends and advisers who run afoul of the law — were airbrushed into assets.
The hard edges of Trumpism were still given voice in his final speech, where he declared that Democrats want to stand “with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters and flag burners,” even though the opposing party’s leadership has repeatedly denounced protest violence. Members of the Trump family also repeatedly described Democrats as abiding violent mobs, resulting in a bifurcated and sometimes contradictory message that is not certain to have the desired effect. But many aides and allies, who have been frustrated by Trump’s narrow focus on exciting his base, said they were pleasantly surprised by the proceedings.
“The convention message is much more pleasurable, broader, a sweeter touch than Donald Trump on a typical day-to-day basis,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary to George W. Bush who co-wrote a 2013 report calling on the Republican Party to expand its tent. “It has really been heartening.”
Trump’s own advisers, who were worried about putting together a largely virtual program in just six weeks, also have expressed relief.
“We wanted to offer a warm invitation to independents, Democrats and Republicans alike to come support President Trump,” Trump campaign strategist Jason Miller said. “We wanted to show a more accurate representation of who helped to elect President Trump the first time and our growing base of supporters heading into the fall’s election.”
Convention planners described reviewing a lot of polling beforehand and deciding to have the programming focus substantially on giving voice to Americans who had benefited from Trump’s presidency. The process of selecting speakers — the lobsterman from Maine, the Minnesota logger — was time-consuming, with multiple false starts, according to people involved in convention planning.
At the heart of it was a desire to offer skeptical voters a reason to give Trump a second look and to convince them the president is better than they believe, particularly suburban women weary of his behavior and upset with his handling of the coronavirus response. The goal was to defend Trump’s handling of the pandemic and focus heavily on policies that might persuade wobbly voters that even if they don’t like the president’s rough edges, he is worth the vote. The orchestration of the event was handled by a group of former Trump aides and GOP consultants, according to a person involved, including consultant Boyd Wagner and former White House aides Tony Sayegh, Adam Kennedy, Cliff Sims and Steven Cheung.
The road map they followed is easy to find: Among voters in a July Washington Post-ABC News Poll who said they were certain to vote, Biden held an 11 point lead over Trump when voters were asked who better represented their personal values, a 10 point lead for better understanding their problems, and a 13 point lead in having a better idea of what the United States should represent.
Those Biden advantages have become barriers to Trump’s winning over voters who otherwise might support a Republican candidate in November. “We believe we are dealing with a lot of voters who want to find a reason to vote for us, and we’ve got to give them that reason,” a senior administration official said last week, like others, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Whether it worked won’t be known until new polls are released in a couple of weeks, said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who agreed that many of the most high-profile speeches, including the one delivered by first lady Melania Trump on Tuesday, have the potential of expanding the coalition.
The problem, he said, was that the positive visions were often subsumed by the more aggressive messages. Other critics noted that the convention could have focused more on the coronavirus response, which Trump’s advisers see as his greatest political albatross.
“They have been overwhelmed by most of the other speeches that have been designed to gin up the base,” Ayres said. “But hope springs eternal.”
Trump aides, particularly son-in-law Jared Kushner, have long argued they can secure more of the African American vote than previous Republicans have, and there was a deliberate effort to show Black supporters of the president during the week. They also hoped that that demonstration might pay benefits among moderate White voters worried about Trump’s racial views. Among the speakers Thursday was Ja’Ron Smith, the White House’s top Black aide, who has worked on criminal justice issues, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Secretary Ben Carson and Alice Johnson, a Black woman whom Trump pardoned, freeing her from federal imprisonment for a drug conviction.
The convention organizers recruited Clarence Henderson, an activist who participated in lunch counter protests nearly 60 years ago, who declared that Trump was continuing a struggle “that embraces the spirit of the civil rights movement of the ’60s.”
Other speakers flipped the script on some of the president’s own positions. He has long been a defender of continuing to allow institutions and others to fly the Confederate flag, for example. “When people proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism,” he said in a July interview with Fox News. “It represents the South.”
But he gave prime speaking slots Monday to two non-White Republican politicians from South Carolina, former governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, who were instrumental in removing the flag from the state’s capitol. Haley retold the story of her decision to remove the “divisive symbol” as a proud moment for the country and one, she said, that Republicans and Democrats had agreed on, gliding past Trump’s own views.
In a recent interview, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) had offered a reason for such outreach. “Trump has some problems in the suburbs, even in South Carolina,” Graham said.
To help sell the new pitch, Trump has stayed largely mum throughout the proceedings, a discipline that kept more focus on his convention rebranding. While he complained publicly about the Democrats having too many scripted events during their convention, he allowed the overwhelming majority of his convention to be taped, which gave the organizers maximum control of the message.
There were discussions on Wednesday night about whether Trump should move forward with his address Thursday, given that Hurricane Laura was bearing down on the Gulf Coast, but advisers eventually decided to add a visit to FEMA headquarters to his agenda and keep the speech on the schedule.
His more provocative side went dormant after Monday, when he addressed Republican National Committee members in North Carolina. There he joked that he would seek “12 more years” in office, criticized Fox News for denying him coverage, argued that Air Force One has more televisions “than any plane in history” and said the only way Democrats could win in November is if the election were “rigged.” Even some White House officials were disappointed with the performance, these officials said.
Since then, his tweets have focused on more mundane matters: convention promotion, hurricane preparedness and his calls for more federal and National Guard resources to be deployed in Kenosha, Wis., to deal with violent protests.
Advisers say there is no certainty that Trump will stick to the new script for long. Trump also did as advised at the 2016 convention. But immediately afterward, he held a news conference in which he revived a false suggestion that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It was based on a speculative story in the National Enquirer, which he described as worthy of the Pulitzer Prize.