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RNC, night one: It’s hard to figure out what audience was the target

I’m so behind the times that I can’t stop thinking about persuadable voters.

Kimberly Guilfoyle
Kimberly Guilfoyle delivering a pre-recorded speech during the first night of the Republican National Convention.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Night one of the Republican “convention” was, IMHO, awful.

Of course, I find most things Trumpian awful, so, no surprise. I’m way past the point where I’m expecting rationality or honesty from a Trump show. But it’s hard to imagine what category of persuadable voter was the target of Trump and whoever planned the evening. Some analysts seemed to say afterwards that the show seemed designed not to persuade anyone, but to motivate every last member of the electorate who is already drunk on the Donald Trump joy juice and make sure they turn out.

I’m so behind the times that I can’t stop thinking about persuadable voters. My assumption is that President Trump already has his base, the roughly 40 percent of the public that tells pollsters they approve of him, and he needs to add to it. I assume something about last night was designed to accomplish such an addition, but I couldn’t figure out who or why.

The evening’s highlight/lowlight was the speech by Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. It’s hard to tell what swing voters that insane rant was targeting, but if you missed it, you owe it to yourself to watch it. This link will get you a video. It’s pretty amazing. People magazine’s piece on that element of the bizarre evening was headlined “Donald Trump Jr.’s Girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle Shouts Her Endorsement in RNC Speech.” (By the way, Guilfoyle, who has been a prosecutor and a TV personality, was never identified to the viewing audience as Trump Jr.’s girlfriend.)

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Especially compared to that, the POTUS himself could be nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in his few, brief appearances, away from the set, hosting other Americans in uncomfortable conversations. I’ve never seen him less self-obsessed, unless you take into account that he’s decided he wants, contrary to norms, to be in the convention show every night for four nights, ending with his big speech.

The tradition is that the nominee saves it for the last night and makes a speech. I assume he’ll make one on the last night, but has decided that wouldn’t be enough exposure of his charms. So last night, in the first installment of that series, Trump graciously allowed a few “real people” to tell him how great he was and how much they appreciate him, but he didn’t milk it or hog those segments.

The other speakers, and there were many, including former football great Herschel Walker, who testified that Trump is not a racist; Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate, who was calm and fairly effective; former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who praised Trump’s (widely criticized) decision to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, and who said that “America is not a racist country” but a place where “we value and respect every Black life.”

Oh, and Donald Trump Jr., who gave one of three speeches designated as “keynotes,” claimed that his father has handled the COVID pandemic very well, that Joe Biden’s goal is to “crush the working men and women of America,” and that Democrats in general are “against the very principles on which our nation was founded,” including specifically “freedom of religion, of speech, of thought” and “the rule of law” in general.

Trump Jr. also said that “Joe Biden and the radical left” want to “bully us into submission,” the “us” referring to freedom-loving, socialism-hating Americans.

I would rate Donald Jr.’s speech the worst of the evening, but views can differ.

A young speaker named Charles Kirk of “Turning Point USA” said the election presented a choice between “preserving Americans as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.” I’m pretty sure he meant that Trump would preserve, and Joe Biden would eliminate. He also referred to Trump as “the bodyguard of Western civilization.”

Amy Ford, a registered nurse, thanked Trump for his “quick action and leadership” that had saved thousands of American lives from COVID. There was also a short film during the evening that praised Trump’s outstanding management of the COVID stuff, blamed the World Health Organization for what went wrong and even managed to find some out-of-context quotes from Democrats, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others, praising Trump’s masterful handling of the pandemic.

And what’s the story behind this: A Black Democratic legislator from Georgia named Vernon Jones endorsed Trump, complained that Democrats have kept Blacks on their “mental plantation … for decades,” and claimed to be part of a “large and growing” segment of the African-American population who believe that “Donald Trump is the man to lead the nation.”

(A fresh poll reported by Newsweek said that 92 percent of African-Americans support Biden.)

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I tuned in to CNN for a panel of reactions after the evening. Even former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum acknowledged that “we could have done without Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle,” but thought the evening was otherwise good for Trump Sr.’s chances.

That caused liberal commentator Van Jones to blow a small gasket, assuming that Santorum meant that Trump had made progress picking up swing voters and moderate Democrats. Spluttered Jones in astonishment: “If you want a job and need some money, get into the TV repair business fast, because you just had Democrats throwing their shoes and book through their TV screens.”