A presidential pardon. A naturalization ceremony. A Secretary of State speaking from Israel. Even the spectacle of holding so many convention events from the White House, capped by a Rose Garden speech from First Lady Melania Trump, is something that no other president has done.
In many ways, the night was less like The Apprentice and more like MTV’s Cribs, with the White House serving as a taxpayer-provided backdrop.
It’s likely to trigger a string of ethics complaints and watchdog lawsuits, but did it make for good television?
For curiosity’s sake, maybe. Jon Ponder, pardoned by Trump, certainly had a compelling story. But less effective was an East Room naturalization ceremony that went on way too long, and the broadcast networks even skipped the segment for their own commentary.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech, breaking with a tradition of secretaries of state steering clear from politics (imagine the reaction if Hillary Clinton spoke before the 2012 Democratic convention), was generally a recitation of the president’s foreign policy accomplishments. It was hard to know why Pompeo’s rather stilted remarks were even necessary, other than for his own presidential ambition.
Unlike the first night, Republicans showed a bit more messaging discipline in the clustering of some speech with like subject matter together. A series of speeches from small business owners, for instance, was to try to bolster Trump for the pre-pandemic economy.
Some of the video segments were better produced, including a segments on women who Trump has put in positions of leadership, and one with Mike Pence and the president’s agenda. But too often speeches were placed in incongruous ways. Cissie Graham talked about religious freedom, then she was followed by Nicholas Sandmann, who railed against media bias. Then followed Pam Bondi, who launched into conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden.
The effect was a bit confusing. As Tim Miller, political director at Republican Voters Against Trump, wrote on Twitter of Bondi, “If you are not a regular Gateway Pundit reader this speech is indecipherable.”
The theme of the night was the softer side of Trump, to counter to the nearly weeklong list of well- and lesser- known speakers at the Democratic convention who vouched for Biden’s empathy.
Trump’s pardon and naturalization ceremonies were presented like the grand gestures of the benevolent leader, while a parade of speakers talked of how Trump changed their lives, including his son Eric Trump. “I miss working alongside you every single day, but I’m damn proud to be on the front lines of this fight,” Eric said, looking into the camera as if certain that his father was on the other side of the screen.
But even that moment was a bit obscured, as it was almost immediately followed by both CNN and MSNBC fact checking what he said, and ABC News pundits wondering whether the speech was aimed at an audience of one.
The trouble for the Trump campaign is that reality intrudes on the reality show — and a few pundits pointed out the omissions. Missing from many of the testimonials were much mention at all of the coronavirus pandemic. Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, even talked about the virus in the past tense.
There’s also the reality of what Trump has said and done over the past three and a half years.
As Rahm Emanuel, appearing as a contributor, said on ABC News: “You cannot start to redraw an image of who he is. It’s not going to last and he needs it to last all the way through November and beyond. I don’t think that’s possible.”
Following a long walk along a White House colonnade and into the renovated Rose Garden, Melania Trump did address the virus directly, expressing sympathy at the top of her remarks to those whose lives were lost. “Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic.”
She also spoke to the racial unrest, and will win plaudits for some of her lines calling for unity. “We still have so much to learn from one another,” she said, while calling on people to “come together in a civil manner.”
But she was standing in about the same spot where her husband, in many a press conference in recent months, has repeatedly spun his administration’s handling of the pandemic and fanned the flames of the culture wars.
Joe Biden, meanwhile, tried to inject himself into the reality check with a video in rebuttal to the evening. Referring to Kimberley Guilfoyle’s remarks from the first night, Biden wrote, “When they say ‘the best is yet to come,’ that’s a threat.”
On Fox News, Chris Wallace may have summed up the lasting legacy of the evening — one that likely will linger in the form of lawsuits and ethics complaints and lots of media talk of the Hatch Act. Wallace said that “two or three weeks ago Donald Trump suggested that he might make his acceptance speech at the White House and there was an uproar in Washington. Republican Senate leaders said that can’t happen, we can’t have that. That barrier was completely blown away tonight for good or for ill.”