From 'visionary' to 'guardian of America', Republican convention is all about Trump
By Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey
Washington - A symphony of superlatives played loudly Monday on the opening night of the Republican National Convention, as speaker after speaker lavished praise on President Donald Trump and spoke of him in messianic, almost otherworldly terms.
"A builder." "A visionary." "The richest man in the world." "The guardian of America." "The bodyguard of Western civilization."
Political parties typically adopt platforms at their conventions every four years, articulating their policy priorities and core beliefs, but not the Republicans in 2020.
Instead, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution over the weekend stating simply that it "enthusiastically supports President Trump" and that the party "has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president's America-first agenda." In other words, the party's platform is Donald Trump.
If there were still any doubt that Trump had thoroughly appropriated and consumed the Republican Party, it was erased Monday as Republicans kicked off their national convention. The quadrennial showcase of Republicanism began instead this week as a celebration of Trumpism - a nationally televised, high-definition paean to a president known for his outsize ego and taste for the grandiose.
"I pray every night, 'God, give him some more time. Give him four more years,' " said Herschel Walker, a former professional football player. "He has accomplished so much, almost all by himself and under constant attack."
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., gave such a forceful endorsement of Trump that he concluded, "I truly believe the safety of your kids depends on whether this man is reelected."
Political conventions always spotlight a party's presidential nominee, especially when the nominee is an incumbent. But this week's Republican event is on the next level, with a program thoroughly awash in Trump's image. It starred his boosters and excluded his foes, and it focused squarely on his record as well as his grievances, such as his attacks on the media, and his pet priorities, such as his promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus.
Tim Miller, a Republican operative who worked on Jeb Bush's 2016 campaign and now helps run the group Republican Voters Against Trump, wrote Monday in a commentary on The Bulwark: "The Republican Party is a cult in service of Donald Trump's whims and its only stated principle is that the media is mean to them and whatever the Democrats are for is bad."
Underscoring Trump's dominance of the Republican Party is the absence of any of the party's previous presidential nominees. Mitt Romney (2012) is not participating; John McCain (2008) is no longer alive; George W. Bush (2000 and 2004) also is not participating; and although Bob Dole (1996) has expressed support at times for Trump, he has not been announced as part of the program.
The convention got underway as a growing number of Republicans come out against Trump. On Monday morning, Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign announced the endorsements of more than two dozen former GOP lawmakers, including former senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Meanwhile, Miles Taylor, a former top official in Trump's Department of Homeland Security, launched a new group called Repair 45 through which current and former administration officials would work to defeat the president and publish commentaries about him. Taylor said in a brief interview that he had at least two current administration officials helping his effort, along with a range of former officials.
The quasivirtual convention is itself a Trump production. The president is set to appear on each of four straight nights of prime-time programming, concluding with his formal acceptance speech Thursday evening from the South Lawn of the White House. Each night also will feature a keynote address by at least one member of the Trump family, starting with eldest son Donald Trump Jr., who spoke Monday night.
Meanwhile, one of the command centers where Republican officials worked to orchestrate the television production was set up at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
Trump, a former reality television producer, has taken a personal interest in convention programming. Two people familiar with the planning said Trump wanted a large crowd for his Thursday night address despite the raging coronavirus pandemic, so there probably will be 1,000 people or so on the South Lawn.
Organizers have sought to have surprise appearances, and Trump has asked for particular speakers to be invited, including a number of White House staffers. Those scheduled to appear include Kellyanne Conway, his 2016 campaign manager who announced Sunday night that she was leaving her role as senior counselor to the president to focus on her family, and Dan Scavino, his longtime social media aide who now serves as deputy chief of staff.
Trump also asked to include Kim Klacik, a long-shot congressional candidate in Baltimore who has made viral videos supporting Trump and Republicans, according to Republicans involved in the planning. Klacik, who is Black, used her appearance Monday night to try to validate Trump's arguments about crime and decay in Democratic-controlled cities.
"I'm asking you to help President Trump complete the great American comeback, and I'm asking you to help me make Baltimore great again," Klacik said. "Because even though it's going to make Democrat politicians furious to hear this from this un-bossed woman, I'm just going to say it like it is: Donald Trump is hands-down the best president of my lifetime."
Republican operatives said there is a risk inherent in their party centering the convention so completely on Trump. Doing so invites voters to frame the election as a referendum on the president, whereas party officials believe Trump has a better chance of winning a second term if he can shift some attention to Biden and make the election a choice.
"This is an angry country right now," GOP strategist Alex Castellanos said. "Everybody's angry at everybody. So whoever sticks their head out of the foxhole and puts themselves in the spotlight, guess what the country's going to do? Hate them."
Political conventions traditionally host impassioned - and sometimes acrimonious - debates over policy platforms. At recent past GOP conventions, disagreements centered on social issues such as same-sex marriage and foreign policy.
This year, with the convention scaled back because of the pandemic, RNC officials decided to eschew a standard platform and instead simply released a nonbinding statement saying the party supports Trump.
Republican officials say there were disputes among Trump's advisers, including Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, who wanted a short platform that delineated the president's thoughts on a few key issues. There were other discussions over how to handle gay rights in the platform, aides said, and how much the platform should get into foreign policy.
"At the end of the day, we avoided all that, thankfully," said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Lanhee Chen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who worked on the GOP convention platform for President George W. Bush in 2004 and Romney in 2012, said, "The platform is a reflection of what the party stands for and will stand for for the next four years."
This year, he added, Republicans decided "they want voters to evaluate Trump based on his record and based on his personality and who he is."
Some of the president's advisers, including Conway, urged convention planners to incorporate more "real life American stories," according to one senior administration official, citing the perceived success of such moments at Trump's State of the Union speeches.
Amy Ford, a registered nurse who helped treat patients with covid-19, credited Trump with saving thousands of lives.
"Let me be clear so that the media cannot twist my personal story to fit their narrative: As a health-care professional, I can tell you without hesitation, Donald Trump's quick action and leadership saved thousands of lives during covid-19," Ford said.
The United States leads the world - by far - in the number of coronavirus cases (more than 5.7 million) and the number of deaths (more than 173,000).
Some of the speakers - including Charlie Kirk, who opened the convention, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. - have become Republican celebrities of sorts in the Trump era for their vociferous defenses of the president.
"We may not have realized it at the time, but this fact is now clear: Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization," said Kirk, the head of Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump student organization.
Other speakers were likely to have deep appeal to loyal viewers of Fox News Channel and other members of Trump's base, including Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter demonstrators passing by their house.
Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox personality who works on the Trump campaign and is the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., gave a fiery address in which she excoriated "rioters" and "human, sex, drug traffickers" across America. She cast her boyfriend's father as the nation's savior.
"President Trump believes in you," Guilfoyle said. "He emancipates and lifts you up to live your American Dream."