A few thoughts on second night of GOP convention


Traditionally, the second night of a four-night political convention is the weakest night. The first night kicks things off and usually features the keynote address, the third night usually ends with the acceptance speech from the vice president or vice-presidential nominee, and the final night ends with the acceptance speech from the president or presidential nominee. The second night usually gets a grab-bag of speakers who didn’t really fit with the other three nights.

The night brought some surprises, including two official acts of the president as part of convention programming, which will make the president’s critics tear their hair out, and more or less demonstrate that the line between the president’s official duties and political campaigning has blurred to the point of illegibility. First Trump officially pardoned Jon Ponder, a former bank robber who founded a nonprofit prison ministry, and then he presided over a naturalization ceremony at the White House for five new American citizens. Whatever the lawyers say, a naturalization ceremony is always a powerful moment, and made for riveting television. The inability to hold a traditional convention is a blessing in disguise, in that it prompted convention organizers to show the president doing something instead of saying something. Still, a precedent is being set: Every incumbent president will probably use the White House in some fashion for future national party conventions.

For the Republicans, the second night offered a lot of talk about the economy, particularly early on, and a focus on speakers from swing states that was almost obsessive: A lobsterman from Maine, the owner of Schuette Metals in Rothschild, Wis., a small-town Democratic mayor from Minnesota’s Iron Range, an eight-year-old beneficiary of Right to Try in Wisconsin, Judge Cheryl Allen, the first black woman to be elected to the Pennsylvania superior court, Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa talking about the derecho storm that hit her state, Florida lieutenant governor Jeanette Nuñez. . . . For the second straight night, the remarks from not-so-well known Americans, such as pro-life activist Abby Johnson and Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron, packed more punch than those from experienced officeholders such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or the Trump children.

This convention has forefronted a lot of speakers and voices appealing to the American values of tolerance, inclusion, and welcoming, including a naturalization ceremony; Melania Trump, Nikki Haley, and Cuban immigrant Maximo Alvarez talking movingly about theirs and their families’ immigrant stories; and a host of African-American speakers, such as Tim Scott, Herschel Walker, and Cameron. We’ve heard a lot about America as the land of opportunity, about overcoming discrimination, and about opportunity-spreading policies such as school choice. Many of these speakers were compelling on their own terms. Melania’s speech struck a lot of great themes. All of them are fully consistent with conservative principles and Republican traditions.

Which leads me to suggest that perhaps this administration should have considered earlier how popular many of these themes are, and done more to build its rhetoric and policies around them. That doesn’t mean abandoning serious, hard tasks such as more stringent enforcement of the immigration laws on the books, but balancing them with pro-legal immigrant policies, for example, doesn’t need to be inconsistent with that. There are a lot more ways that other Republicans have tried to make the GOP an inclusive party, and some of Donald Trump’s partisans are prone to scoff at that. But this convention shows that even the Trump campaign recognizes the value and virtue, at least in political terms, of an inclusive message.

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