If Donald Trump was looking a bit wobbly in the last few months, he certainly isn’t anymore. Not after the triumph of political communication that was the Republican National Convention last week. It was a slam dunk, a masterpiece – there is no other way to describe it.
Political conventions were always going to be a challenge this year. The old format was off limits. Both the major parties had to go virtual.
The Democrats embraced ‘the new normal’, stitching together a meandering, performative mess that ended up looking like a cross between an interminable Zoom meeting and the evening line-up on Channel 31. It was a ham-fisted ploy to exploit Trump’s supposed electoral vulnerability on the coronavirus. But it backfired, putting a pathologically confused Joe Biden in front of technology with which he was cringe-inducingly uncomfortable.
The Republicans didn’t bother with all that epidemiological virtue-signalling. They just made a brilliant go of a bad situation, preserving the best of American political pageantry while turning the TV-only format to their advantage. Orchestral strains, cinematic-quality videos, crisp shots of the White House and Capitol building, soaring addresses in front of Roman columns and enormous American flags – Covid had given the incumbent party lemons and they made margaritas.
It was Trumpian by design. Achievements were recited in quick succession. Perceived weaknesses were flipped and used to exploit opponents. It attacked and never defended. It welcomed disillusioned Democrats with open arms. It hammered the weaknesses of the opponent over and over and over again. It floated like a butterfly and stung like a hydrogen bomb.
And it was a format clearly designed for their number one electoral asset. The party managed to use every advantage of incumbency while staying true to Trump’s outsider persona – all the gravitas of the Oval Office with the production values of The Apprentice. It took the president’s star power, amplified it, and sent it rocketing out into middle America.
And Trump brought his A-game. He worked the cameras, cracked jokes, indulged in the odd cheeky jab but stayed well out of the gutter. But he also had some serious backup. Mike Pence brought his understated statesmanship. Mike Pompeo beamed in with the old city of Jerusalem as a backdrop. African- American politicians from both parties lined up to assure Biden that, whatever he might believe, they were, in fact, black.
Covington kid-cum-defo millionaire Nicholas Sandmann fronted a slick video about his ordeal. Gun-toting Missourians Mark and Patricia McCloskey gave a pre-recorded message from the house they defended from a horde of protesters. Cuban refugee turned gasoline magnate Maximo Alvarez choked up as he equated the millennial socialism of the Democrats with the bastardry of Fidel Castro.
Small-business owners lined up with success stories from Trump’s tax and red-tape cuts. Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng spoke in support of the President’s handling of Xi Jinping. Clergymen of every denomination rejoiced in Trump’s protection of religious freedom.
There were football coaches, war veterans, factory workers, lobster fishermen and Indian chiefs. Real stories – American stories – each with their own reason for supporting Donald Trump. For all the Left’s talk about ‘coalition-building’, Trump had gone and done it. Bigly.
As for the speeches themselves, none of them missed – not one. The vision was coherent. There was a narrative: freedom, the inherent dignity of the individual, personal choice; life, liberty and keeping America great. Pence drew together the threads when he said that ‘the Democrats’ agenda is based on government control, ours on freedom.’
Other speakers didn’t hold back. They dropped truth bombs like a political Dresden. The Democrats were the racists, because they fixated on race. They were the oppressors, because of their love of taxes, speech codes, attacks on religion and seizure of private property. They were the risk, because a political veteran of 47 years and sidekick to the most ineffectual and underwhelming president since Jimmy Carter would be a step backwards. And as for policy, all the Democrats had to offer was a confused grab bag of esoteric grievances, stitched together with voodoo economics, cultural nihilism and fear and loathing of the incumbent.
If all of this sounds like a glowing endorsement of the Trump administration, it isn’t necessarily meant to be. It’s not like we don’t have our disappointments with Trump. I have a few: social media regulation is probably well-intentioned but will have serious unintended consequences; the deficit is still high (though to be fair, Trump’s budget cuts have been rejected by Congress); it wasn’t right to leave the Kurds high and dry in Syria and Turkey; he has a protectionist streak – though nowhere near as much as is often claimed.
All that said, overall Trump has done a great job and deserves to be re-elected, but that’s not the point. This isn’t about who should win, but about who will win.
He may have his foibles, but Trump has us hooked. He’s made our values come alive in a way they haven’t in a generation, belted out with the showmanship of a billionaire TV star. He praises our heroes, he fights the bad guys. He says what most can’t even say in the tea room at work, let alone to an audience of millions.
We live in Trumpland now, all of us. The Left are obsessed with him to the point of outright insanity. Those on the right fall somewhere between evangelical devotion and begrudging admiration on a handful of issues. And by November, a fair chunk of the middle will gravitate towards the president too.
For all the imagery of Trump as a bumbling oaf, he’s the best political performer America has seen since Abraham Lincoln. And yeah, he fumbles, but he keeps going and in any event, he doesn’t seem to care. And he’s ubiquitous: he’s on our TV screens, our smart phones and our Twitter feeds.
It’s the best show in town. And if the last episode is anything to go by, it’s probably about to be renewed for four more seasons.
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Gideon Rozner is Director of Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs
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