GOP IS­SUES DIRE WARN­INGS, THEN ENDS CON­VEN­TION’S DAY 1 ON POS­I­TIVE NOTE

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION/WORLD - BY STEVE PEO­PLES, MICHELLE L. PRICE AND ZEKE MILLER

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.”

TRAVIS DOVE/THE NEW YORK TIMES VIA AP, POOL

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence at the Repub­li­can Con­ven­tion Mon­day in Char­lotte, North Carolina.

CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/GETTY IMAGES

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., closes the Mon­day sched­ule of the GOP con­ven­tion at the Mel­lon Au­di­to­rium in Washington, D.C.

IM­AGE FROM FACE­BOOK

Illi­nois Repub­li­can Party Chair Tim Sch­nei­der (left) and Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee­man Richard Porter in a livestream Mon­day.

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Jim Edgar

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