The Republican National Convention continued Tuesday night, with the President Donald Trump-led GOP making a direct appeal to women through a series of female speakers, including first lady Melania Trump.
Below my hits – and misses – from the night that was.
* Daniel Cameron: The 34-year-old African American attorney general from Kentucky wasn’t a household name – even in national political circles – before Tuesday night. His speech almost certainly changed that. Cameron, a protégé of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and regarded as the leading candidate to eventually succeed the Kentucky senator, was the most effective speaker of the convention so far when it came to taking some of the shine off of Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Seizing on Biden’s comments that “you ain’t black” if you aren’t supporting him, Cameron unloaded these lines: “Mr. Vice President, look at me. I am Black. We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own. And you can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin.” Wowza. An absolute star turn by Cameron.
* Melania Trump: The first lady has one trait that her husband lacks: empathy. And it was that ability to identify with the struggles, dreams, setbacks and victories of the average person that came through during her speech to close the second night of the convention. Unlike the rest of the speakers on Tuesday night, Melania Trump acknowledged the continued threat of the coronavirus – and the sacrifices it has required of Americans. (More on Covid – or the otherwise lack of it at the convention – below.) Melania Trump talked about her work with children. She spoke out on the horrors of America’s history of slavery while recounting a trip to Ghana. She cast herself as living “my own American dream.” Humanizing Donald Trump is a very hard thing to do, and he himself makes it even more difficult with his daily pronouncements and tweets. But the first lady did what she could to cast her husband’s first term in the kindest light possible. (She was also helped by a made-for-TV background: A clear – if hot – night in Washington with the newly renovated Rose Garden looking absolutely majestic.)
* Tiffany Trump: What a difference four years makes! In 2016, Tiffany Trump, the only child from the President’s marriage to Marla Maples, was a very fleeting presence at the 2016 Republican convention – essentially testifying that her dad had always encouraged her and, well, that was it. Her speech this time around was far more ambitious, as she sought to cast herself as a millennial voice fed up with so-called “cancel culture.” It was a well-written speech that she delivered very well. This line, in particular, stood out: “Our nation suffers by inhibiting our diversity of thought and inclusion of ideas. Working together outside of our political comfort zones will accomplish so much more.”
* Self-milking cows: Cows can now milk themselves! I did not know this until Tuesday’s speech by Cris Peterson, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and, not for nothing, a very good speaker. Cows milking themselves! What a world!
* Coronavirus: You could have watched the majority of Tuesday night’s convention program and totally forgotten that we are still in the grips of a pandemic that has killed more than 177,000 Americans and sickened more than 5.7 million. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow briefly mentioned the virus, but only as a reason for why the economy slowed. Melania Trump, to her credit, dedicated a significant chunk at the top of her speech to thanking front-line workers and promising her husband won’t stop until a vaccine has been found. But other than that, nada. As a former aide to President George W. Bush told CNN’s John Harwood: “Part of the issue is that the RNC seems to saying, ‘let’s assume Covid is over and we’ll go from there.’” (Sidebar: Did you see anyone in a mask on Tuesday night? Me neither!) Polling – like, all the polling – suggests that a majority of the country’s voters believe Covid-19 is the most important issue in this election. It seems very odd for the convention to essentially act as though it doesn’t exist.
* Mike Pompeo: Not only was it inappropriate for the secretary of state to give a speech at a political convention – much more on that here – but the speech he gave was totally lifeless and, well, bad. Pompeo wants to run for president down the line, but he was significantly outshone by the likes of Nikki Haley, Tim Scott and, yes, even Donald Trump Jr.
* Pam Bondi: Look, I get that conventions are about rah-rah speeches for your side and takedowns of the opposition party. And that there’s some level of hyperbole and exaggeration expected. But the former Florida attorney general’s speech, which centered on Hunter Biden, was literally larded with falsehoods about what Joe Biden’s younger son did – and didn’t do – in Ukraine and China. To be clear: Hunter Biden should not have been on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president of the United States. But that doesn’t make the insinuations – and outright untruths – pushed by Bondi fair or right. Also, a speech about the dangers of nepotism on a night when the President’s son, daughter and wife were all speaking at the convention? Er …
*The Hatch Act: In the space of a single night of his party’s political convention, President Trump pardoned a man and held a naturalization ceremony for five people. Talk about the blurring – more like the elimination – of lines between official business and political campaigning. While Trump (and Vice President Mike Pence) are immune from the Hatch Act, which severely curtails any political work a member of the administration can do, they’re the only ones. So having acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on hand for the naturalization ceremony seems like it could be a violation of the Hatch Act. And regardless of Trump’s ability to do it or not, the use of the White House – and official business conducted in it – was, well, gross.