Many of the speakers at this week’s Republican National Convention have painted a scary, high-pitched description of a crumbling America beset by violence. They were met with the perfect visual, as protesters burned car dealerships and other businesses in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after another brutal police shooting of an unarmed Black man was captured on video. As Jacob Blake’s America collides with Donald Trump’s America, today’s Daily Dose explores where we stand on the road to racial justice, the newest stars of the GOP and what it means to have a party with no platform.
— Nick Fouriezos, Senior Politics Reporter
reset america: reality check
1. Not Again
On Tuesday night, it was reported that Blake was paralyzed and still undergoing surgeries to save his life. Meanwhile, both demonstrators and far-right militia members gathered in Kenosha. Two protesters were shot and killed, and police today arrested 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse in connection with the crime. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has turned down a White House offer of federal troops and called for a special legislative session on police brutality. The Blake shooting, and anger around it, reflects how little actual policy progress has been made this summer, even as polls show substantial movement in the public’s acknowledgement of racial bias in policing since the killing of George Floyd in May.
2. Which America Do You Live In?
Last week, Democrats painted a country maligned by historical wrongs — “racial injustice, colonization, misogyny and homophobia,” among others, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez listed succinctly — and blamed Trump for electoral malfeasance, double-digit unemployment and 170,000 (and counting) deaths from COVID-19. This week, Republicans depicted a nation unfairly shuttered by hypocritical Democrats that threatens to turn into tyrannical, socialist Cuba, while former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley emphatically declared that America “is not a racist country.”
Their only common ground? A besieged, radicalized America … a portrayal that typically wouldn’t favor the incumbent.
Attack Line: “Democrats won’t let you go to work, but they’ll let you riot.” — Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.
3. Poison Pill
On the surface, the unrest in Kenosha benefits Republicans, whose only hope amid a flagging economy and a devastating pandemic is to stoke fear among white voters in the burbs. “No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America,” as one half of that gun-toting St. Louis couple said. The only problem? Republicans control two-third of state legislative chambers, and it’s their guy who has been president through all that unrest. The pitch, in essence: Vote for us, or America will descend into chaos — more than it already has under our watch, that is. Or, as Vice President Mike Pence put it on Tuesday:“Make America Great Again, Again.”
4. Radicalized White Voters
The term “All Cops Are Bastards” was originally popularized by white skinheads, and recent Black Lives Matters protests have seen a strange mix of BIPOC and white leftists with right-leaning boogaloos and other anti-police, non-minority groups. While cases of white victims don’t receive as much attention, a recent case in Albuquerque in which Kenneth Reiss was shot and killed by police after calling 911 to report a home invasion has drawn demands for justice from New Mexico advocates. “The lack of accountability and cavalier attitude towards life that law enforcement officers are displaying does nothing but harm an already tarnished reputation,” RJ Warren, a friend of Reiss, tells OZY.
5. Squandering Their Advantage
But will voters really blame Trump and Republicans for the looting, when it’s Democrats lighting the matches? It doesn’t help that Minnesota activists are driving five hours to help those in Kenosha, inviting attacks that Democrats are importing protesters (adding to the craziness, some liberal activists started roaming the streets of D.C. demanding that diners back their cause or get screamed at). For his part, Joe Biden displayed his usual nuance despite pressure from his progressive base: “Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not,” senior adviser Symone Sanders said in a statement.
6. White Flight
Still, while the fiery protests against police brutality have earned criticism, the brutal images have also opened white voters’ eyes to a serious discussion of racism that has many determined to head to the ballot box. Wisconsinites have shown themselves to be swayable across partisan lines. Combine that with potentially activating more Black voters — the drop-off from 2012 to 2016 was fatal for Democrats — to jump through the extra hoops to vote in a pandemic, and the Jacob Blake shooting could change the race more than any convention.
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Despite poor polling and midterm losses, Republicans decided to forgo the tradition of writing a platform this year, instead sticking to the 2016 platform while citing a scaled-back coronavirus convention plus “enthusiastic” support for “the President’s America-first agenda.” It’s fitting for a party lacking ideas, aside from fealty to Trump. One problem? The rollover platform contains more than three dozen harsh criticisms of the “current president” — who in 2016 was Barack Obama.
Still, if you’re wondering what a Trump Term 2.0 may look like, consider the vision outlined in our latest OZY Sunday Magazine, including the “Brown New Deal” and new efforts around school choice, judicial picks and building the wall.
Trampling on the seldom-enforced Hatch Act, which imposes strict rules on federal employees and resources being used for campaign purposes, Trump spent Tuesday’s convention handing out a presidential pardon to Jon Ponder, a bank robber turned criminal justice reformer, and performing a naturalization ceremony with the aid of Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. Toss in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech from Jerusalem (in which he did not mention his official title as he rattled off Trump’s foreign policy accomplishments), and you have what GOP strategist and Trump critic Rick Wilson described on Twitter as “less like a series of Hatch Act violations and more like a Hatch Act violation festival.” For its part, the White House said the campaign simply used publicly available naturalization footage, to stay within the bounds of the act.
4. What Pandemic?
The events and a speech by first lady Melania Trump, in which she described her own immigrant tale, could help sandpaper a few of Trump’s sharper edges in the minds of some voters. Still, the first lady was the only speaker to directly address the suffering caused by the pandemic — and she delivered it in a Rose Garden full of mask-less administration officials. It capped off a strange evening in which Republicans repeatedly referred to the pandemic in the past tense, despite infections and deaths remaining persistently high, even as they’ve tailed off slightly in recent weeks.
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personalities to watch
1. Haley/Scott 2024?
GOP elites thinkthey are still the party of Tim Scott and Nikki Haley, two nonwhite South Carolinians who cited aspirational conservatism as a key part of their life stories during their Monday speeches. “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” said Scott, a U.S. senator, evoking the emotional story of how his grandfather picked cotton as a child while never learning to read or write.
2. More Like Trump/Guilfoyle 2024
But the GOP as a whole is the party of Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the Fox News regulars and campaign power couple whose antagonistic speeches channeled the angry populism that brought Trump to power and has only grown under his watch, morphing into Trump’s base of anti-establishment Republicans, anti-abortion evangelicals and QAnon conspiracy theorists. Want numbers? Don Jr.’s Triggered, which attacked the left’s political correctness, spent weeks at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, while Haley’s more cordial memoir, With All Due Respect,simply made the list. Both books were published in November 2019. Sure, the RNC boosted Triggered by buying up copies worth nearly $100,000 … but doesn’t that already tell the story?
3. Kim Klacik
Another Black Republican in the limelight, the 38-year-old is running for Congress to represent the late Elijah Cummings’ district, the same one that Trump attacked as “disgusting” and “rat and rodent infested” a year ago — riffing on that theme with a viral ad that lambasted conditions in West Baltimore as unfit for children or voters. She has next to no chance of winning against her opponent, Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who beat her 74 percent to 25 percent in an April special election. Still, in a party that loves to elevate the few women of color it can get, Klacik likely has a future somewhere in the conservative echosphere.
4. Sean Parnell
Remember the Conor Lamb election? After the suburban Pittsburgh seat went blue in 2018, Republicans drafted Parnell — a U.S. Army vet and author — to take on Lamb in a GOP-leaning district. Parnell’s convention speech hit the right notes, knocking the left for abandoning its working-class roots: “Where Democrats once stood for hardworking, law-abiding Americans who displayed our flag with pride, this new Democrat Party considered them uneducated racists, clinging to guns and Bibles,” Parnell said. “The party of Harry Truman became the party of hedge fund managers, Hollywood celebrities, tech moguls and academia.”
5. Mary Ann Mendoza
The “angel mom” was originally supposed to speak Tuesday about the 2014 death of her son at the hands of an undocumented drunk driver. She was pulled from the program after her actions instead spoke to the modern GOP’s reliance on conspiracy theorists. Usually reporters have to go foraging for damning prior statements, but in Mendoza’s case, she simply tweeted hers the morning before her big speech, directing her 40,000 followers to a lengthy QAnon screed alleging that Jews are looking to control the world. She eventually deleted the tweet, claiming not to have read the full QAnon thread. But the damage was done for a party that has accused the Democrats of anti-Semitism.
6. Daniel Cameron
The first African American attorney general in Kentucky history launched the most direct attack on Joe Biden’s infamous “you ain’t Black” comment while calling the Democratic nominee “a backwards thinker.” “Mr. Vice President, look at me. I am Black. We are not all the same,” he said. The 34-year-old is seen as a rising GOP star, although he will likely get heat in future general election races if he doesn’t move to pursue criminal charges against the accused police officers in the Breonna Taylor case, over which he has jurisdiction … particularly after he declared that Republicans “will never turn a blind eye to unjust acts.”
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1. Closing the Deal
Today, Vice President Mike Pence is the headliner, along with a pair of millennial congressional rising stars, Elise Stefanik (pictured) and Dan Crenshaw, as well as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (of add-Trump-to-Mount-Rushmore fame). Then Thursday will see everyone from Alice Johnson, the Black woman whom Trump pardoned with the help of Kim Kardashian West, to Rudy Giuliani and Sens. Mitch McConnell and Tom Cotton before Trump’s concluding convention speech. The voices that are missing may tell the biggest story, considering that very few Republicans in competitive political races spoke across the four-day event: a sign that not everybody thinks Trump is poised to lift GOP boats … though this is far from the stampede away from the GOP convention that we saw in 2016.
2. Prepare for a Nailbiter
Despite Biden leading by a national average of about 7.6 points in the polls, the swing states have tightened. And many Democrats flew into a panic after GOP focus group expert Frank Luntz pointed out poll numbers showing that Biden’s leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are smaller today than Clinton’s were at the same point four years ago (still, as another expert pointed out, polls today likely better weigh non-college-educated voters). Throw in mail-in balloting delays and we’re in for Election Week or Election Month, not Election Day, which is kind of perfect for the Groundhog Day that is 2020.