Grace Couch | @GCouch99
If you want to be even further baffled by American politics, the Republican National Convention is the place to start. It was relatively non-eventful on the surface, but when digging deeper you begin to realise that this may just be the ‘new normal’ of Trumpian politics that we have all become accustomed to. In 2016, the false-hoods and sweeping statements of the Republican candidate would have made front-page news, but we’re now all relatively numb to Trump’s mannerisms, phraseology and wild claims.
The main question, however, is who were the Republicans aiming for? Many commentators would suggest that Trump’s best strategy would be to appeal to the middle ‘swing’ voters: those that he may need to hold onto as they regret voting for him last time, or the middle-leaning Democrats that have been put off by the likes of AOC and Bernie Sanders, especially amongst the increasingly fragile political environment.
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In the same process as the Democratic National Convention the week before, Trump was formally nominated as the Republican Party candidate – something that was unlikely to be challenged. Incumbents (those already in power) are statistically much more likely to win than their opposition. One of the first controversies was the live audiences of up to 1000 people, without social distancing, and without masks (although it was claimed that everyone there was tested). According to Trump, “what they’re doing is using Covid to steal an election. They’re using Covid to defraud the American people, all of our people, of a fair and free election”.
The main tagline was unfortunately to ‘Make America Great Again … Again’. Cast as the architect of the greatest economy in history, but blameless in its collapse, watching the speeches of the RNC felt like entering a parallel universe in which Coronavirus isn’t a massive issue (spoiler alert, the US has the most cases in the world). It is also an interesting tactic to claim that the election will be ‘rigged’ or ‘unfair’, considering it is the responsibility of his own government to ensure elections run smoothly and democratically.
I think it is symbolic of the disconnection between the president and the actual workings of a government that implements schools, transport, social services, elections and more that resides in the minds of many voters. But if we have learnt anything, it’s that efficiency, public office credentials and smoothing running government is not at the top of the priority list.
Of course, one of the main topics was the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and civil disobedience taking place across the US. Trump used his usual technique of tapping into the fear of Americans by claiming that if Biden won, the country would be overrun by more protests and violence. There was clearly a tug of war between these comments made by the Presidential candidate insisting that systemic racism does not exist, and the wider Republican party scheduling black political leaders such as South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former athletes such as footballer Herschel Walker to attempt to diversify the lineup. Their words are likely to have fallen flat on the ears of those that spent the week outside the White House protesting police brutality.
The next stark contrast was the guest appearance of the McCloskeys. Yep, the white couple that pointed guns at BLM protestors. The video of the two personal injury lawyers waving their guns at demonstrators from the front yard of their St Louis mansion was all over social media. They have defended their actions through the justification that they had entered private property and broken a gate, however other video evidence shows that they remained on the paths and roads. Their public advocacy for Trump at the RNC was no surprise, as the White House has defended the couple on multiple occasions, with White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany telling reporters at the time that President Donald Trump “said it is absolutely absurd, what is happening to the McCloskeys”. Where people stand on the actions of the McCloskeys has been described as a litmus test for BLM support, and may not be the best way to reach across to middle-ground swing voters.
Current Vice-President Mike Pence was of course one of the headliners, choosing to attack Joe Biden in his address, using buzzwords like ‘socialism and decline’, ‘Trump fighting for you’ and reaching the ‘American dream’. In opposition to this, now ex-advisor Kelly-Ann Conway used the opportunity to tell the world just how nice Trump is, especially to women. She said “For decades, he has elevated women to senior positions in business and in government. He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions, and insists that we are on equal footing with the men”.
Iowa Senator Joni Ernst slated the Green New Deal, whilst literally sitting in a barn with bales of hay and a tractor, saying “If given power, they would essentially ban animal agriculture and eliminate gas-powered cars. It would destroy the agriculture industry, not just here in Iowa, but throughout the country”. Biden hasn’t explicitly endorsed the proposal, but even if he had, this is not quite an accurate depiction of what it would actually do. Much of the American conventions are literally aimed at painting a picture for voters, creating images and campaign promises that will stick in their minds – this is definitely something that the RNC may have done better than the DNC. With fireworks behind the Washington Monument on the final day and Ivanka Trump speaking from the White House Rose Garden, it’s no surprise that Trump saw what is known as a ‘convention bounce’ (better outcome in the polls straight after the convention). That being said, the bounce was only 1% up from where he was a week before, as the reality of the political crises in the US hit voters once they stopped looking through the rose-tinted lenses the RNC was filmed through.
So while the DNC saw themes of unity, a promise to serve the American people regardless of which way they vote or what they look like, the RNC sought to sow divisions, and endorse traditional American values. In 2020, this is not unusual for the Republicans. It’s pretty scary to think that Trump has lost his impact – the convention didn’t really shock anyone.
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