GOP ISSUES DIRE WARNINGS, THEN ENDS CONVENTION’S DAY 1 ON POSITIVE NOTE
WASHINGTON — Two of the Republican Party’s rising stars, both people of color, offered an optimistic view of President Donald Trump’s leadership on Monday night, closing the opening night of the GOP’s scaled-back convention with a positive message at odds with the dark warnings that dominated much of the night.
While other Republicans predicted a national “horror movie” should Trump lose in November, Sen. Tim Scott and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley tried to welcome new voters to the party to help broaden Trump’s appeal beyond his hard-core base.
“I was a brown girl in a black and white world,” Haley said, saying that she faced discrimination but rejecting the idea that “America is a racist country.” She also gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, saying “of course we know that every single Black life is valuable.”
Scrambling to find a message that sticks, Trump’s team tried out multiple themes and tactics over the course of the night: There were humanizing stories about the president along with the optimistic message about America’s future with him at the helm — and plenty of dire talk about the threat posed by a Joe Biden presidency.
Scott, the Republican Party’s only Black senator, leveled the kind of personal attack against Biden that Trump and his white allies could not.
“Joe Biden said if a Black man didn’t vote for him, he wasn’t truly Black. Joe Biden said Black people are a monolithic community,” Scott charged.
He acknowledged that African Americans have sometimes been victimized by police brutality, but later said: “The truth is, our nation’s arc always bends back toward fairness. We are not fully where we want to be . . . but thank God we are not where we used to be.”
Yet efforts to strike an optimistic tone were frequently overshadowed by warnings that Biden would destroy America, allowing communities to be overrun by violence.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida likened the prospect of Biden’s election to a horror movie.
“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door,” Gaetz declared.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both were renominated early in the day. Then Trump, who was not scheduled to deliver his main address until later in the week, made multiple public appearances throughout the first day of the four-day convention. And while the evening programming was carefully scripted, Trump was not.
“The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” Trump told hundreds of Republican delegates gathered in North Carolina, raising anew his unsupported concerns about Americans’ expected reliance on mail voting during the pandemic. Experts say mail voting has proven remarkably secure.
Trump and his supporters on Monday night touted his response to the pandemic while standing alongside front-line workers in the White House, although he glossed over the mounting death toll that exceeds 177,000, the most in the world, and his administration’s struggle to control the disease.
Organizers also repeatedly sought to cast Trump as an empathetic figure, borrowing a page from the Democrats’ convention playbook a week ago that effectively highlighted Biden’s personal connection to voters.
One of several African Americans on the schedule, former football star Herschel Walker, defended the president against those who call him a racist.
“It hurts my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald,” Walker said. “The worst one is ‘racist.’ I take it as a personal insult that people would think I would have a 37-year friendship with a racist.”
Polling shows Black Americans continue to be overwhelmingly negative in their assessments of the president, with his approval hovering around 1 in 10 over the course of his presidency, according to Gallup polling.
The program also featured Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple arrested after pointing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their home.
“Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals, but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens,” the McCloskeys said in remarks that broke from the optimistic vision for America organizers promised.
Some of the planned remarks for the evening program were prerecorded, while others were to be delivered live from a Washington auditorium.
The fact that the Republicans gathered at all stood in contrast to the Democrats, who held an all-virtual convention last week.
While he campaigned aggressively across the country throughout last week’s Democratic convention, Biden made no public appearance on Monday.
Shortly after helping to nominate President Donald Trump for a second term in Charlotte, North Carolina, two top Illinois Republican leaders on Monday embraced the commanderin-chief ’s favorite Chicago trash-talking point.
Illinois Republican Party Chair Tim Schneider and Richard Porter, a Republican National committeeman from Illinois, predicted Trump could carry the deep blue state come November because of the “lawlessness in Chicago.”
But underscoring the uphill battle Trump faces in Illinois, on the same day the state party chair cast the Illinois delegation’s 67 votes for Trump on the first day of the Republican National Convention, the state’s most popular living former Republican governor dubbed the Trump presidency a “near disaster” and announced he is backing Democrat Joe Biden.
In a livestream Monday afternoon, Schneider said “we need to make Illinois Republican again.”
He pointed to looting that has roiled the city in recent months, as well as the heavy security presence around Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s home while “terrible crimes and murders and shootings” happen in the city as reasons the state should swing to the right.
“So, we can institute policies that are positive for the people of Illinois, to keep people from leaving our state,” Schneider said. “Or, as I always say, we’re going to need a wall around Illinois just to keep people in.”
Schneider said Lightfoot has barricaded four blocks in her neighborhood but she hasn’t protected “our downtown and our Loop and our Magnificent Mile.”
Bashing Chicago and its crime problem has been in heavy rotation on Trump’s play list since he first ran four years ago. He’s called it “out of control,” comparing the city to Afghanistan and threatened to send in the feds to restore order. Just last month, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity that “we’re going to have to do something” about crime in Chicago.
Schneider and Porter reflected on the Trump campaign and his prospects for a second term shortly after Trump accepted his party’s nomination for president in Charlotte.
Schneider “proudly” cast Illinois’ votes for Trump in a traditional roll at the convention Monday morning and later lauded the president for running “a great economy.”
Former Gov. Jim Edgar has a different take on Trump.
The state’s 38th governor, serving from 1991 until January of 1999, Edgar told the Chicago Sun-Times he would be voting for Biden because he thinks “the last four years have been a near disaster.”
“I don’t think Trump’s been that good of a president,” said Edgar, a moderate downstate Republican who portrayed his voting decision as putting country over politics. “I think he’s been divisive . . . Some of it is character. He’s a bully, and I don’t think that’s a good trait for a president.”
Edgar’s endorsement comes after former Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill, said he would also back Biden. LaHood served as former President Barack Obama’s transportation secretary. His son, Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., is an enthusiastic Trump supporter, serving as an Illinois co-chair of Trump’s reelection campaign.
A win in Illinois could be a long shot for Trump. Democrats control all six elected statewide constitutional offices, 13 of Illinois’ 18 congressional seats and both seats in the U.S. Senate. Democrats also hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
Mary Morrissey, the executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, said Schneider’s statement about Chicago’s crime leading to a Trump victory is “ludicrous.”
“Trump and the GOP are trying to distract from the chaos they have created in our country — 175,000 lives lost to COVID-19, an economy in shambles and four years of Trump fanning the flames of hatred and division,” Morrissey said in a statement. “Illinoisans are hungry for real leadership to get them out of this very dark time created by Trump and the GOP. Joe Biden is the right person for the job.”
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the Republican Convention Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., closes the Monday schedule of the GOP convention at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
Illinois Republican Party Chair Tim Schneider (left) and Republican National Committeeman Richard Porter in a livestream Monday.